110 The Jam Jar


Location: BRISTOL


It was during my time working at The Bristol Cable that I discovered The Jam Jar. It’s one of those places that you sort of have to know about to notice it. It’s hidden away in an industrial estate close to the centre. Behind an unsuspecting black door lies a secret haven. Technicolour sculptures suspended from the ceiling, trippy artwork on the walls, a peculiar Victorian building, and a triumphant stage immediately capture your eye. The longer you stay, the more you notice! The bunting, a gold tandem bicycle, ancient spider plants, and all manner of strange curiosities fill the hall. 

From the moment the team behind the building first saw the space they knew they would have their work cut out. I caught up with Hadie who is one of the founding members. “At the time our group was a relatively unskilled ragtag bunch of people in their early twenties. Needless to say we were as naive as we were ambitious. We had no idea just how much work we would have to do in order to get the place ship shape. From dodgy plumbing, electrics, carpentry, single pane windows. All this needed to be solved on a shoestring budget. We started renting the space in June 2014 and set ourselves the nigh impossible deadline of October 2014, just three and a half months, with our pre launch event in July! By the pre launch we had realised just how ridiculous our deadline was. We opened the doors whilst still finishing a staircase, having to stagger the opening of certain areas of the building. The food was late, some of the acts fell through, but somehow the event was still a success. By the time we had finished we knew what we had to do if we wanted to launch in October (by which time we had booked and paid the deposit for a five piece band to come over from Denmark). It worked and we opened on the day by the skin of our teeth!”

As a result of being a voluntary organisation, the crew of people that keep the ball rolling is ever changing, and new members are as important as founding members. “Without the constant stream of fresh energy we would not have lasted this long. Some of the older members of the group were all introduced over several years of hanging around in the same circles and sharing similar interests. But if we were to put a pin on the point the Jam Jar began formulating I would have to say that it all pivoted around an event that used to run in Bristol, Squid Party. Squid Party was a self professed multi room mixed medium extravaganza, combining theatre, costume, art and music with a nautical theme. After a successful first event, the founding members had all been introduced and worked together to help make future events happen. By the time the last large scale Squid Party had happened a large industrial unit had been found and plans were made. It was all a bit of a whirlwind but we found ourselves working 80 hour weeks to create the space we now call the Jam Jar.” 

The Jam Jar is used by all manner of people and since it opened it has hosted a plethora of musicians of uncountable genres, radical film screenings, wacky dance classes, obscure conferences and fascinating workshops. “It seems a shame to choose one moment over others when each has its own special qualities, but judging by popular opinion I think it is hard to deny the pride we as a group share when it comes to our regular Jam sessions. Inviting scores of musicians to come together in the space and improvise is something we do regularly. The event is called “The Door is Ajar” and happens periodically. The music is eclectic, and the energy is fantastic. The quality of the musicianship is absolutely jaw dropping, and we are hugely thankful to all those who take part and contribute to these sessions. We consider this one of the cornerstones of what we do and have a massive amount of love and respect for the community who have developed around the Jam.”

The Jam Jar plays an essential role in the communities that utilise its services. “Despite having only been around for 3 years, we have seen a loyal and vibrant array of communities entering and leaving orbit of the space periodically. We see the same faces week in week out, creating bonds between people and providing people with a place to smile and express themselves. Whilst this may not have been why we started, this is why we do what we do. The electric atmosphere in the building when troves of people from different backgrounds have come together to create something beautiful and share it with others is what drives us. There is no feeling quite like the buzz that comes from pulling off something spectacular and sending people away knowing that what they have experienced is entirely unique and will never be replicated in quite the same way.”

Recently The Jam Jar have been focusing on their midweek program, which is gaining popularity. “Every Monday we host a Latin dance class and a therapeutic creative writing class. Life Drawing classes and a circus workshop on Tuesday evenings. Every other Thursday there is a Lindy-hop workshop with live swing music and dance instructors. We often have pop up workshops and events, but these are currently our regular groups. Aside from these weekday events we from time to time host touring acts, this includes theatre groups, speakers and live musician. Oh and who could forget Divide and Conker – The Conkers World Cup, the Jam Jars annual sporting event. The Jam Jar is still a work in progress, we close from time to time to improve and refine what we have done, every now and then there is a change in direction and we start things again. I’m not sure it will ever be finished. The future of the Jam Jar is unclear to us. Every time we have planned to push the space in a specific direction circumstances change or a new variable presents its self, the organisation is very reactionary, and responds to the challenges it faces. For this reason, none of us know quite where we are headed. It is hard to predict where we will be this time next week, let alone in 3 years!”

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