East Quay Cultural and Enterprise Development

A community, culture and enterprise development at East Quay in Watchet, Somerset. Developed by local people for local people. It will include workshops and studios, a gallery, restaurant, and self-catering accommodation pods, set within beautiful landscaped public space overlooking the marina.  
Currently in construction, East Quay will open its doors summer 2021 - see you then!

About East Quay

East Quay is an ambitious and proudly community focussed social enterprise demonstrating that when communities, culture and enterprise come together a better future is possible. 

Situated on the quayside it will include 14 workshops/studio spaces for a variety of makers and artists, a state of the art gallery, education space, restaurant, paper mill, geology lab, accommodation pods and outdoor space for events.  It's about sharing public space, reimagining what is possible and connecting.  it's a space for making, performance, music and fun.  


The development led by Onion Collective CIC aims to bring jobs, nurture creative enterprise and attract visitors to Watchet in a flagship £7m cultural enterprise scheme. Funded by Coastal Communities Fund, Arts Council England, Esmee Fairburn Foundation, Magnox among others.


The flexible external spaces will create a focal point for year-round activities including housing visitor attractions such as Two Rivers Paper, allowing visitors to see how artisan hand made paper is made, plus a rock and fossil preparation lab by geology company Geckoella, an enlarged state of the art gallery for Contains Art CIC will also be a main attraction. The development will include outdoor performance space for live music and theatre performances as well as acting as the perfect space for communal gathering.  East Quay will include 14 workshop/studio/enterprise units for a wide variety of businesses, artists and makers. As well as a brasserie-style restaurant with fabulous views of sea.  It  will also house brand new marina facilities for boatowners,  and new small self-catering ‘pods’ for visiting tourists.

The project has been carefully planned following many months of consultations with local people, during which time the scheme has been adapted to meet the shared priorities of the community, and will take up one third of the quayside space.


The scheme has been designed by Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio, with executive architects Ellis Williams alongside landscape architects LT Studio.  The construction is being undertaken by Midas Group UK.

Image: LT Studio Landscape Architects

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the East Quay Community, Cultural and Enterprise Development?

The East Quay Development in Watchet will be a lively workspace development of workshops and studios, for makers of all types from light-industrial to fine art to web-based. It will include a high quality gallery and harbour side restaurant.  The development is about improving public realm space, for performances, music and all kinds of entertainment. It will be a place of activity, buzz, creativity and industry.

Why, what’s it all about?

The idea for a workspace tourism development at East Quay was born when a previous plan for a development of 80 flats by property developer Urban Splash fell through.  It was clear that local people wanted any development on that site to benefit the town and should not be solely for commercial gain for an outside developer. 

This proposal represents a unique opportunity, to create a scheme in the heart of the town that has real economic and social benefit; a game changing impact for those that live in and around West Somerset. The development is about work, tourism and culture. It is also about containing and protecting public space by bringing activity and vibrancy to the quayside.

How big is it?

The size of the site is 

0.37 hectares or  3,700m2  which is

roughly one third of the whole

East Quay site.


In terms of the buildings the Gross

Internal Area totals 1293.1m2


This includes the following elements:

  •  5 self-catering holiday-let pods for between 2 and 4 people 

  • A double storey gallery and  ancillary offices; 

  • 14 Workshops/studio units 

  • Restaurant with both indoor and outdoor eating area;

  • Associated landscaping and infrastructure works. 

How will your build be managed?

The building work will start on 9th December 2019, and whilst we realise the build will have a level of impact on everyone in the community we are fully committed to making the build as painless as possible. In fact this was a key requirement during our tender process and we were very impressed with the track record of the company we selected as a Considerate Contractor.  The company we chose is Midas

To find out more about how we chose our contractor, what opportunities we are giving to local contractors, how long it will take, parking during the build and more, please follow this link

Our 41 page Construction Environment Management Plan will be available on the Somerset West & Taunton Planning Portal, but until then you can access the draft of this document here:  



You say the project is ‘community-led’; what does that mean?

It means that this development is by local people for local people.  Onion Collective is made up of people who live in and around Watchet.   The East Quay project has under gone four rounds of whole town community consultation.  Each round involving workshops, public meetings, surveys  and drop –ins.  For a detailed understanding of our consultation you can read our ‘Statement of Community Involvement’ here.

In brief however,  in 2014 Onion Collective began a programme of intensive public consultation asking ‘What does Watchet need for a stronger future?’ We held 10 workshops, produced comment cards and questionnaires, visited school fetes, held market stalls, made videos – everything we could conceive of to ask people what they thought. The consultation ran for two months, in April and May 2014. From that consultation a number of common objectives emerged, including the need for more visitors to the town and more for those visitors to do. People also expressed the need for jobs in the town, the need to nurture local skills and the provision of training, the need to enable entrepreneurship, the need to cultivate a strong arts scene to bring in visitors, the need for more accommodation for visitors and the need for a good quality but affordable restaurant that is open all day and in the evenings.

From this we created a masterplan for the town of four projects we believe will bring about the changes people have told us Watchet needs.  The first project, the Visitor Centre and Boat Museum, opened in July 2016. East Quay is the second project in the masterplan. Initial concept designs were presented to local people in late 2014. Following this consultation, designs were updated to include changes people had asked for, and a second round of drawings were presented to the town in 2016. In 2017 we incorporated further changes that came out of that last round of consultations, most significantly, removing the tower and adding high quality landscaping. We brought landscape architects, LT Studio into the project to work with architects, Invisible Studio in order to create really high quality public realm. Finally, in 2018, as part of the planning process, we ran another round of consultations, before receiving planning permission in July 2018.

Who is Onion Collective and how are we involved in the development?

Onion Collective CIC is a social enterprise based in Watchet.

We work with communities and organisations across the country to help them with development projects. Our business model is two-fold.  On the one hand we carry out business support consultancy across the country, and on the other we deliver community development projects in our hometown of Watchet.  For our consultancy, we offer tailored business support to social enterprises, charities, schools, councils and organisations, helping them with financial and project management, funding and business planning, governance and capacity building.  We then use our profits from this consultancy work to help us carry out community work in our hometown of Watchet. 


The projects that we deliver have been identified in various community consultations and currently include: Watchet Community Makers, Industry for Watchet (further info coming soon), Watchet Visitor CentreSplash Point Community Space and this current East Quay Development.


We also apply for grant funds to help pay for the costs of delivering some of these projects.

All projects that we work on in Watchet have the central aim of furthering the social and economic development of the town. In essence we want to help give Watchet a stronger future. 


How will this development create jobs?

The East Quay development will create 203 new direct and indirect jobs. This figure includes 37 new jobs within the development plus 5 apprenticeships. The jobs will be created in the workspaces, gallery, accommodation, enterprises and restaurant.  Tenants will be encouraged and helped to take on new apprentices and trainees.  It will safeguard  17 jobs, and  create a further 70 or so temporary construction jobs over the course of the 16 month build.  The remaining jobs will be created indirectly due to the increased tourism spend.

How will this improve the economy?

The development will generate more than £2.1 million annually in social and economic value in West Somerset.  The impact of the project will be felt widely, with a catchment audience of 1.5 million people. It is expected to attract tens of thousands of additional visitors annually (based on the impact of this kind of development elsewhere).  The additional tourism spend will generate an additional 109 indirect jobs in Watchet and a further 57 in the wider district overall.

Why Invisible Studio architects?

Based in Bath, Invisible Studio is headed by Piers Taylor, who is an award winning architect, broadcaster and academic. He is a former Studio Master at the Architectural Association, Design Fellow at the University of Cambridge.  The Invisible Studio team has designed a number of seminal buildings, including the RIBA award winning Westonbirt Mess Building. This building received a National RIBA award in 2017, as well as several regional RIBA awards.  Piers also presents the BBC2 Series ‘The House that £100k Built’ and ‘The World’s Most Extraordinary Homes’. 

Piers has developed and built a number of buildings in a collaborative way, often using exceptionally local materials and unskilled labour as a mechanism for training and upskilling workers. Piers led the project to build the Splash Point pavilion, which we made over a single weekend with 50 volunteers. It was an extraordinarily inspiring and empowering weekend.  We hope that we can continue this theme of using construction to up-skill and train local people in part of the build of East Quay. Find out more about his work here: www.invisiblestudio.org

The design is unusual, where do the ideas come from?

We asked Piers to design us a ‘playful, distinct, off-beat cultural tourism workspace development that was identifiably born of Watchet and celebrates its geology, its coast and its maritime heritage’.

The design is based on a solid base ground floor, with lighter weight buildings above.  This simple idea was inspired by the view of Watchet from the sea, a solid base plinth (represented by the esplanade for example), with individual and characterful buildings above.  The inspiration for the small light-weight studios and self-catering accommodation pods came from many of the unusual coastal buildings along this stretch of coast.  The Burnham-On-Sea lighthouse in particular, as well as West Somerset Railway with its many unusual, light weight ‘pods’ that form station buildings and waiting rooms, which are eccentric and charming.  Another essential element of the scheme is public space that encourages visitors to walk around and explore the development. We also wanted to reflect the tradition of unusual coastal structures up and down the country, and how they combine imaginative design, with engineering and a sense of fun.

We love this Edwardian description of Watchet by a Mrs Osborn Hann. She came to Watchet in the as she had been commissioned to write a book on Somerset by A&C Black and she wrote the following:

"Watchet, that little, quaint and higgledy-piggledy town which is more like a foreign quay than any place I know of. Here the houses seem to have dropped willy-nilly from the skies, falling north, south, east or west with careless unconcern." 

How will this development be run and funded?

Onion Collective will own and run the main site.  We are a Community Interest Company (CIC), which means that any profits from the development will be re-invested into the project and other community work. West Somerset and Taunton Deane Council will continue to own the road which runs along the quayside, and which will serve as the main access point for marina vehicles.

The development will cost £7m.  We have raised this through grant funding from the Coastal Community Fund for (£5 million) Magnox, Arts Council, the Coastal Revival Fund, the Esmee Fairburn Foundation.  We have also agreed with West Somerset and Taunton Deane Council the facility of a £1.5 million loan, should we need it. 

The East Quay development’s revenue streams will be from workshop and studio rental, holiday lets from the accommodation pods, income from the gallery and shop, revenue from the cafe and running courses, events and performances. We will secure contract and grant income for training, support and culture programmes.

What will happen if Onion Collective folds?

If the worst should happen, and Onion Collective were forced to fold, as a community interest company, all our assets must be passed to another community organisation with similar aims. This is called an ‘Asset Lock’. Our lease with the Council will also mean that the land and buildings revert to the Council in the event of our failure, and any loan agreement is expected to contain further conditions to protect the public nature of the space. Of course, we will do everything in our power not to let this happen. This is our home and we are in it for the long run!

I heard the site is complicated. What’s the history?

Watchet’s prosperity was founded on trade as a commercial port. The closure of the harbour for commercial trade had a severe adverse impact on the town. Regeneration has focused on the harbour area of the town and boosting tourism, beginning with successful conversion of part of the harbour into a marina, completed in 2001, and enhancements to the Esplanade. It was always the understanding that further mixed development of

the East Quay would follow. In 2005 Urban Splash were selected as developers for the East Quay and the Council

approved a conditional development agreement in 2006. Negotiations and various public consultations took place over the period to 2008. This culminated in an approved planning application in November 2008. By 2012, despite on-going discussions between the Marina and WSC, Urban Splash failed to broker an agreed contract. The negotiations revolved around a twice reduced scheme to allow for more space for marina activities. This culminated in Urban Splash offering WSC a land value that was deemed unacceptable given the lack of community benefit and the break clause was invoked in the spring of 2014. Subsequently Onion Collective applied for and won ‘preferred bidder status’ as developer for the site.

How will the development be maintained?

Onion Collective will own the site under the terms of a long-term lease from Somerset West and Taunton Council.  We will therefore be responsible for running the site and for its maintenance.  When the site is up and running we will employ a caretaker to be in charge of maintenance and upkeep.  

What is happening on the existing site?

The East Quay site is approximately 0.37 hectares. It fronts the Marina to the west, Helwell beach to the east, and the Bristol Channel over the East Pier wall. The Watchet Harbour Marina's lease allows them to use a proportion of the site as a boatyard. There are cranes and a varying number of boats on the site associated with this activity. The East Quay development takes up a third of the whole site, with two-thirds remaining as hard-standing for the Marina.

How will the development be landscaped?

The 2017 consultation showed how much local people care about the external public space on the site, an element of the scheme we absolutely agree on. We have therefore employed Landscape Architect LT Studio to develop ideas of how the external public space can be best utilised.

The landscape scheme will  aim to reflect the maritime industrial nature of the site, complement the creative work taking place and act as a welcoming piece of public realm, attracting visitors and makers to wander, sit and absorb the buzzing atmosphere of creativity and work. The landscape design approach will be closely associated with the principles behind the building design proposals and shall focus on defining the planned and spontaneous activities that could take place in the external spaces.  Anticipated uses include maker events, outdoor performances, community gathering and summer barbeques.

What about wheelchair and pushchair access?

There are multiple access points to the site, and easy access is an important factor. Access to the first floor walkways is from the railway line side, along the footpath that runs next to the railway.  The landscape design will also incorporate external seating, and perching places for the mobility impaired. There is also a lift to all floors.

Where’s the parking?

There will be parking in the development for studio holders and staff. It will not be for general public use. We are not party to the discussions between the Marina and the Council but as we understand it, parking for the Marina will remain in the dry dock area, in the northern portion of the East Quay. During the development of the plans, we reduced the scope of our proposed site in order to give more land to enable parking to fit in that portion of the site.

Who will stay in the accommodation ‘pods’?

The self-catering accommodation will be made up of beautiful designed pods for the ‘adventurous’ traveller, those who enjoy staying somewhere full of buzz and vibe.  They will be designed to be little ‘gems’ that are individual and idiosyncratic.   Each one will be different, perhaps made from different materials with clever use of a small space.  They will help provide revenue for the project, and mean that out of season they can be used as accommodation for training courses taking place within the development.

What has happened to the Contains Art shipping containers that were on the site?

Contains Art will become a key tenant of the site, and the containers will return as they are the seed from which the idea of the development began.  They will continue to be used as studio space for artists.  However, so that they are in keeping with the new development, they will be refurbished and re-positioned, to fit with the development.  Two of the containers will help define the public space and protect it from the on-shore winds.  One of the containers will become a workshop and store area.  Whilst the construction takes place the containers are in storage.

Won’t the new restaurant take away from local business?

It is important that the restaurant in the new development does not take away from local business and we have made careful considerations on how to provide a service that would attract more visitors to Watchet, whilst not harming current businesses.  As competition to the cafes in town was expressed as a concern during consultation, we decided to remove the take-away hatch option from the ground floor.  The restaurant will aim to provide refreshment to visitors both day and evening, including the late afternoon / early evening period when there is currently very little offering in the town.

If you would like to view the documents we have submitted for the planning permission application, please click on the link here
Tell us your thoughts!
Send us a message using the form below:
This project has been funded by: 
Blogs about the project:

Unlocking East Quay

We promise never to share or sell your information to other organisations or businesses and you can opt out of our communications at any time by telephoning 01984 633496, writing to Onion Collective CIC, Harbour Studios, Harbour Road, Watchet, Somerset, TA23 0AQ or by sending an email to kiri@onioncollective.co.uk

Copyright Onion Collective CIC 2013

Company Number 08323538