The next economy in action
We set up Onion Collective CIC in 2013, when plans for a major development of flats on the marina quayside of our hometown in Watchet had just fallen through. Rather than witness more commercial development that had no community benefit, we realised that by pooling our skills and resources we could help empower our community to make the decisions about what developments take place themselves.
We spent two months asking people 'What does Watchet need for a stronger future?' From that consultation, we then built a purpose built Visitor Centre and restored Boat Museum in 2016, and in 2021 opened a £7.3m arts Centre called East Quay. We are now developing a mapping tool with gaming company Free Ice Cream called Understory, and have a pilot facility growing mushrooms and mushroom products called Mycomill. The experience we have gained from these projects mean that we can now help other communities achieve the same.
Onion Collective's directors have a wide-ranging previous experience, from establishing and running community facilities, managing tourist attractions, academic and government research and consultancy, TV production management, local environmental conservation work and staging exhibitions and cultural events. Naomi and Jessica were key players in the delivery of the Minehead EYE project, a youth centre initiative built with a £3.2m Myplace grant.
Meet the Onions:
Naomi Griffith, Director
Naomi grew up at Tropiquaria which her parents created when she was a child. Building a zoo in an old 1930s BBC transmitter hall helped form a big part of Naomi's guiding principle that 'anything is possible!' After running Tropiquaria for some years, Naomi was the driving force behind the Minehead EYE project, a youth centre/skate park which won a £3.2m Lottery grant, and openned in 2010, for which she remains the Chairman. Last year Minehead EYE took on the running of youth clubs across West Somerset, including Watchet, in the face of county council cuts. She is also behind Contains Art CIC, a quayside gallery and artist studio space on Watchet's East Quay.
Jessica Prendergrast, Director
Having grown up in West Somerset with her sisters Naomi (above) and Hannah, Jessica studied at Oxford University, and then afterwards became a social researcher working for the Government and then at an independent think tank in Westminster. With a strong economics background, Jess previously worked for Oxford Economics, a leading economic consultancy. Jess was one of the team behind the £3m Minehead Eye project, for which she remains Director. Jess was instrumental in the establishment of Contains Art, artist studios and exhibition space in shipping containers in Watchet. Jess was a West Somerset District Councillor between 2005 and 2007 and is passionate about improving opportunities in West Somerset and in her hometown of Watchet.
Georgie Grant, Director
Georgie is a co-Director of Onion Collective and one of its original founders. She leads on Understory, a digital platform which maps community action in place. It maps who is connected to who and what organisations and groups are working towards. It was created in partnership with Free Ice Cream, a design studio . She also leads on community engagement and wider public relations for all Onion projects including East Quay, an arts centre on the harbourside in Watchet, opened by OC in 2021. Her motivations lie in building community power and realising a future where community collaboration becomes a key mechanism for decisions that shape civic life. Georgie teaches with Invisible Studio on social impact in architecture at the University of Reading and is a regular contributor to the School of Social Entrepreneurs.
Sally Lowndes, Director
Sally joined Onion Collective in 2016, and leads on all areas of sustainability. She holds an MSc in Sustainable Development – with a focus on community - from the University of Exeter, and has worked across the environment sector, from waste journalism to sustainable food marketing, meanwhile spending years volunteering across various community projects, from food hubs to gardening projects.
Sally has led on the Biomill project since its inception in 2018, from the feasibility stage, assessing possible industrial futures for the town, to delivering on the ideas developed here. She also co-founded the Understory Project with partners Free Ice Cream, which is a platform to map and interrogate social capital in places.
Sally is interested in alternative, regenerative business models, the power of imagination to re-write our futures, and stimulating systems change from the ground up.
Kiri Carter, Office Manager
Kiri is responsible for the smooth running of the office and all administrative tasks,including supporting the Finance Director. This work helps to free up the other Onions to focus on direct delivery and strategic development. She joins us from an accountancy firm in Taunton where she has worked for the past three years managing client and internal administrative tasks.
Tim Robb, Finance Manager
Tim trained with the NHS in Birmingham as a Public Finance Accountant. He worked for several NHS organisations in Birmingham and Kent, variously as Head of Financial Management, Strategy Lead, and Head of Contracts. He then moved into the education sector as a Chief Finance Officer for a Multi Academy Trust, firstly in Kent, and then in Somerset from 2018. He completed an MA focussed on Victorian poetry part-time through the Open University whilst training with the NHS, and has since taken several political, economic, planetary, and life science Open University modules. His earliest childhood memory is camping at Blue Anchor near Watchet, and he has been a regular visitor to Watchet throughout his adult life.
Cat Smith, Head Of Learning
Originally contracted in April 2018 as Contains Art’s Education Engagement Officer, Cat Smith’s role now encompasses education and engagement with students and young people across all strands of Onion Collective’s work including the creative and cultural side at the East Quay development as well as the bio-manufacturing factory at the Paper Mill site. Having worked as a primary school teacher and arts coordinator across Somerset for 13 years, Cat has an extensive background in education and arts provision for young people. Cat manages Contains Art’s Studio Digital programme and will be leading the education element of a forthcoming Maritime Heritage Project. Cat will also construct education programmes for East Quay and the bio-manufacturing project.
Alison Hoare, Creative Assistant
Coming to the Onion team from a heritage marketing background with the National Trust, Alison also has a keen interest in curatorial practices with research interests in contemporary, conceptual and moving image art works. Alison will be dividing her time between cultural, arts and heritage projects with both Onion Collective and Contains Art CIC in an administration and communications role.
Fiona Payne, Watchet Visitor Centre Manager
Fiona is our most recent addition to Onion Collective, joining us in April 2019 as our Visitor Centre Manager. Fiona has a wealth of experience in the tourism industry having worked at Haven's Doniford Bay Caravan Park for the past 8 years. She has also been running, managing and maintaining her 6 Watchet holiday let's for the past 10 years.
Fiona is very well known in the community, and is the conductor of the Watchet Community Choir, is involved in with the Watchet Panto and is also involved with Community Drama with the children at Knights Templar School. As the Visitor Centre Manager Fiona will help promote Watchet as a tourism destination and help to ensure that visitors who arrive here have all the information they need for a fantastic stay.
Rachel Kelly, Non Executive Director
Rachel has enjoyed a successful career in London and Bristol working for the BBC and Channel 4, where she delivered multi-million pound Natural History and Investigative documentaries; filming all over the world. Since moving to West Somerset Rachel has worked for the Exmoor Tourism Association, 10Radio and for Organic Herb Trading Company. At Onion Rachel specialises in Project Management of capital projects.
Tessa Jackson OBE, Non Executive Director
Tessa has worked in key positions within the UK arts and cultural sectors for more than twenty-five years. She was appointed Head of Visual Arts & Architecture for Glasgow 1990 – European Capital of Culture. From 1991 to 1999 she was Director of Arnolfini, one of the UK’s most significant international centres for the arts. From 1999 to 2001 Tessa became Director of the Scottish Arts Council. From 2002 Tessa Jackson divided her time between running her own consultancy company, International Cultural Development, and being the founding Artistic Director / Chief Executive of Artes Mundi, Wales International Visual Arts Prize. From 2009 - 2015 she was Chief Executive of Iniva (Institute of International Visual Arts). She has now returned to working independently as a cultural advisor, curator and writer and recent clients include the National Portrait Gallery, National Trust, British Council, Heong Galley – Cambridge, Creative Scotland and Bedford Creative Arts . In 2011 she was awarded an OBE for sevices to Art.
David Blair, Non Executive Director
David is the Global CEO of international brand and retail consultancy FITCH. He joined in 2005 as part of the newly formed Global Development team, which was set up to strategically manage and grow FITCH’s largest clients across the agency network and the wider WPP group of companies.
In late 2012, David returned to London to take up the role of Managing Director for Europe and Russia, taking on a broader regional role to include the Middle East in 2014. In 2017 David was promoted to Global CEO. Prior to joining FITCH, David completed his MBA at the Bath School of Management before which he was a founder member of a digital marketing agency, working with Tesco, Honda and Fidelity among others. In the more distant past, David had five
successful years as a derivative broker in the City after completing his first degree in History and History of Art at Bristol University.