June Burrough started the Pierian Centre in 2002 as a centre for training and self-development – expanding it over the years into a Conference centre and busy focus of community development.
The values underpinning our work were Authenticity, Social Justice, Service and Creativity. They manifested themselves in the belief that everyone is remarkable; the principle that every organisation is part of the community in which it exists; and an ethos of welcoming and taking care of everyone who came to the door.
The name was inspired by lines from Alexander Pope’s Essay on Criticism (1711):
A little learning is a dangerous thing,
Drink deep or taste not the Pierian Spring.
Pieria is the ancient home of the Muses on Mount Olympus; and the adjective Pierian therefore means of Knowledge or Inspiration.
The Centre was based in a 5-storey Georgian building in Grade-1 listed Portland Square. Number 27 was lucky to have retained many of its original features – and delegates and visitors were greeted by a working environment filled with the aesthetic and spiritual ethos of the Enlightenment. From the 20ft well in the basement to the conical lantern that crowns the spiralling staircase, the building radiates a deep and productive calm. But the Pierian Centre was never a museum, it was a 21st century working building used for practical purposes by people from every walk of life. And people loved our contribution to Doors Open Day when we received between 300 and 600 visitors every year!
The Centre attracted a wide range of people, from blue-chip management teams to community groups, musicians, healers and voice coaches. From our first involvement with the Zimbabwean community and Refugee Week in 2005, we steadily expanded the role we played in the wider life of Bristol. Bells Unbound in 2007 was a global event (Antarctica to Zimbabwe), marking the 200th anniversary of the Abolition of the Slave Trade. The next year we hung seventeen 4-metre high banners of Tom Stoddart’s photo-journalism on Platform 5 at Temple Meads station – and 2009’s Anne Frank [+ you} exhibition at Bristol Cathedral was a breakthrough in terms of partnerships and collaboration.
The Centre became a Community Interest Company (CIC) in 2008, and became the first CIC to be awarded the Social Enterprise Mark. We were appointed lead project partner for Bristol’s response to EY2010: the European Year for Combating Poverty & Social Exclusion. Our EY2010 events included the community art installation Portents, filling College Green with 49 tents each printed with artwork by groups and individuals from across Bristol. Our crowning achievement though was the launch of Bristol as a City of Sanctuary – the culmination of 4 years work that saw 750 people fill the Council House, College Green and Bristol Cathedral with passion, laughter and dancing blue brollies.