Bristol City Council: Citizen needs for Bristol Harbourside

Colourful houses lining Bristol Harbourside.
Bristol’s Harbour is an iconic space at the heart of the city. Bristol City Council (BCC) is committed to making it more accessible and inclusive for all visitors and is creating a long-term strategy for its future.

They commissioned us to run a discovery to help them understand the behaviour and needs of people who visit the harbour. The team wanted to uncover insight from stakeholders and users to understand citizen needs and feed these into a vision for the future.

What we did

We designed a piece of mixed methods research, involving stakeholder engagement, observational research, intercept and depth interviews. To explore the challenges and opportunities we engaged with a broad range of people involved in the design, use and management of the space. 

We also involved representatives from disabled groups, community safety groups, the ‘night time economy czar’ and groups representing businesses with a commercial stake in the success of harbourside.

We spent four days across nine locations running observational research, intercept and depth interviews to capture a snapshot of who was using the harbour and dig into some deeper needs, attitudes and behaviours.

People we spoke to mostly used the harbour for leisure - roller skating, running, visiting museums, eating and drinking, and arts and cultural events. We learnt that people value the iconic views and industrial heritage.

But there’s also an appetite for change: new performance spaces, sculptures, cafes, making areas more accessible for people with disabilities, more greenery and more child-friendly features. People wanted a balance of commercial and public spaces that retains the harbourside's unique identity.


The work has provided BCC with robust research insights grounded in actual usage behaviour, plus a reusable research methodology that can be used to inform similar research throughout the year. 

This work emphasises the importance of stakeholder engagement, observational research, and demonstrates Bristol’s commitment to citizen-centred services. The insights uncovered will inform the preparation of a Harbour Placeshaping Strategy which is to be commissioned in 2023.

The strategy will demonstrate how the harbour’s public realm and waterspace can be designed to better meet the needs of a growing population and increased visitors over the next 20 years, guiding decision-making and investment to make the harbour more inclusive and accessible for everyone.

Bristol City Council said:

“We needed to be confident we had a clear understanding of the needs of citizens who use Bristol Harbourside, so that concepts for future changes to the space can be based around these. We chose to work with Mace & Menter because of their experience in discovery and mixed methods research for public spaces.

“The work has given us detailed insights into the groups typically using the harbour, their reasons for visiting and their aspirations for the future of some of the harbours key spaces.

"I’d recommend Mace & Menter because of their ability to get under the skin of a place and capture those user insights that are so important to the design of successful public spaces."