I often get phonecalls and messages asking if I would be interested in a project that ‘may or may not happen’ or starts out with a ‘we’re not sure if this is your kind of thing but…’. One such call from the team down at Upfest Gallery sent a bolt of fear down my spine…

The beautiful but derelict 1930s cinema at the top of Winterstoke Road, Bristol was being completely redeveloped into a state of the art indoor climbing centre. An inspired idea really as the cathedral like interior had morphed from cinema, to bingo hall, to kids play centre and then finally shut down after years of neglect. Step in Tom Gape, a successful businessman and massive climbing enthusiast. He bought the entire building and then embarked on a £1.5 million refit. I was called in to see if I would be interested in painting the ceiling. I’ve never felt so daunted when I saw how high the ceilings were – at its peak they are 50ft high. I swallowed hard and of course said ‘no problem’.

What followed was a year long project with an amazing set of people. I’d never really met anyone from the climbing fraternity before and part of the intrigue of what I do is entering another world that I know very little about and try to absorb at least part of their culture to understand, above and beyond their business and needs, what they love about what they do and why they do it.

Climbers are strong, physically and mentally and have a head for heights too not unsurprisingly. I was terrified of heights when I signed up, ignoring as best I could the thumping in my throat and eyesight intermittently cutting out as I battled for days up and down a 45ft scissor lift that swayed back and forth at the top of one of the main murals like a cruise ship in a storm. It was hell. I had no end of support from the team and their apparent lack of fear actually ended up helping me push through it. They seemed confident so why shouldn’t I?

As I finished one wall they would say ‘Looks great, what could you do with that?’ Pointing at another area. From then on in I had the run of the place internally and turned my attention to their branding, internal signage, posters flyers, PR and advertising. I even got strong armed to climb the highest wall there thanks to a tenacious instructor. Without doubt my client of the year – A superb place run by a great set of people. Special thanks to Tom Gape, Tom Jewel, Jack Griffiths, Matt & Rose Williams.