Biomill Watchet

Biomill Watchet is a pilot research and production facility, working towards creating fungus (mycelium) based bio materials.  We aim to create new nature inspired materials in Watchet that will support people and the planet.

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Exploring a new industry in Watchet

When Wansbrough Papermill closed in 2015, Watchet lost 175 jobs and a major part of its identity. The mill had been in operation for 250 years. Not only was it a trailblazer for the era of recycling, it also provided opportunities, nurtured skills and supported the development of the town. But the loss of the commercial railway and docks here, coupled with the shift to a globalised and market-driven economy, meant that Watchet stopped being a viable industrial location. It was always just a matter of time before it was closed. When it happened, most were devastated, few were surprised. Without the mill, the only real economic driver left for Watchet was tourism, with its predominantly low paid and seasonal employment.

 

Determined not to let this happen to our beautiful town, in 2017, with seed funding from the FORE Trust, we began Phase 1 of a project to bring industry back to Watchet. We ran an 18-month long feasibility study to identify what a new time, place and community appropriate industry could be, and to understand how we could provide meaningful work and reinvigorate the town.

 

Following this piece of work, we determined that bio-based material development (manufacturing products from living / once living materials) would be the best opportunity for the area, especially given the context of climate emergency and resource depletion. We had a particular interest in mycelium and its ability to consume waste, and in the process, grow new products, as we felt this was a perfect nod to our industrial heritage, but with a biophilic, 21st century approach, appropriate for the challenges of our time.

 

Through Phase 2, we worked with an industrial partner to develop a pilot facility on the old mill site and get proof of concept for these processes, working also with the site developers to try to retain space on the site for jobs and industry. Together we built the pilot facility and recruited three members of staff – a Master Mycologist (Mandy), Production Manager (Chris) and Bio-Technician (Tim). Unfortunately, during this time, the effects of the pandemic and Brexit meant that we lost our partners. However, with three talented and tenacious members of staff in place, we still have a strong team to take ideas forward.

The Biomill staff team, supported by Sally Lowndes, Tim Robb and Jess Prendergrast, are now working with a wonderful and engaged community panel to rethink what might be possible in the space and grow a new, nature inspired solution.

 

The aim is still the same as it’s ever been: we are determined to create a new industry here in Watchet that will have a positive impact on the planet, manufacturing products in a way that sequesters carbon and replaces damaging petro-chemical based alternatives. We also aim to have a beneficial effect in our place, showcasing a different industrial approach; not just creating jobs, but engaging employees and the local community in its development, and reinvesting profits into the project and the town.

 

 The community panel includes:

Sara Summers

Frank Cammidge

Liz McGrath

Elaine Watson

John Thwaites

Oliver Harvey

John Irven

Martin Stevens​

​This project has been funded by the Friends Provident Foundation, Waitrose Plan Plastic and the Power To Change Trust, with initial seed funding from the FORE Trust.

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Below are a number of links to further scientific evidence:

Online Article - not strictly academic but explains things in a much more accessible way:

 

List of academic papers referenced in the article above as well as others:

 

Can I feed in to the project?

We welcome local input and ideas throughout this period and will be holding large scale community meetings every six months to enable this. You can also contact us direct at any time with your thoughts – please email info@onioncollective.co.uk, or call 01984 633496.