This spring, Onion Collective was awarded just under £80k from the Social Investment Business (SIB) to create a proposal for developing key areas in Watchet for community and economic benefit, this is the story of how the project began.
The idea for this project was born in the Esplanade Club on a freezing January evening in 2013 armed with a pint of cider each. Too many times had we had the same conversation: “Wouldn’t it be amazing if Watchet had…” Wouldn’t it be amazing if Watchet had things to do all year round instead of virtually closing down in the winter? Wouldn’t it be amazing if Watchet had some kind of community space that people could use for all kinds of reasons? Wouldn’t it be amazing if older kids had somewhere to go that made them feel important and great about themselves, and jobs existed that would give them opportunities? Wouldn’t it be amazing if….
It turns out that between us we have the skills to maybe do something about this. Jess is a social researcher and expert at writing funding bids, Naomi (also known as Spadge) has run visitor attractions and is now Chairman of Minehead Eye (Jess and Spadge were both instrumental in winning the £3.2m Lottery grant for the creation of Minehead Eye), Rachel has run multi million pound programming projects for the BBC and C4 and I have worked in marketing and communications for over a decade. So we decided to stop talking about what we wanted our town to be like, and instead do something about it. We set ourselves up as a Community Interest Company*, used Jess’s incredible skills to write a funding bid to the Social Investment Business (SIB) and won just under £80k to write a proposal on how regeneration for Watchet could mean a stronger more prosperous future. ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if…’ just got a little bit more real.
We have lots and lots of ideas on how we could make this happen; many a Thursday night at the Esplanade Club is testament to that. We would love to see East Quay buzzing with entertainment activities, great food, music, performance and art all celebrating the beautiful marina, and the maritime history and heritage of Watchet. We would love to see a state of the art facility for community groups and kids, we would love to see workshops and workspaces that promote industry, help businesses to start up and grow, and give young people a chance to gain skills and jobs. But we also know that you have loads of ideas too, great ideas that could really work, if only they were given the chance. We know that there is history of ideas, particularly for the East Quay site, which have fallen by the wayside, we know that you care about Watchet and its future, just like we do. So this Spring we are asking as many people as possible to come together, share ideas, concerns, hopes and worries and from these collective thoughts produce a proposal that would work.
The point of the funding we have secured is to make a real difference to communities – so that they can have the resources to decide and act for themselves to improve their communities. We will spend the money we have been granted on proper business planning; surveys, legal fees, work out economic viability and potential forecasts.
We must be realistic – whatever we decide, together, must be able to run successfully for many years. We will create a plan that stems from a desire to give Watchet a really strong future, so that all of our kids can grow up in a town full of opportunities, where they don’t have to leave to find a job. Where people from far and wide might come and enjoy a pint of (local!) cider and marvel at how great our town is, how interesting its history is, how they have to keep coming back to sample the differing delicious food and retail offers, how they can’t wait for the next exhibition or performance, how buzzing it is, even in winter. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
So tell us your ideas on our facebook page (/OnionCollective) or on Twitter (@onioncollective) fill out our survey here or come to one of our meetings (dates to be arranged). Let’s germinate some great ideas this spring, nuture them over the summer and harvest a robust and exciting plan for Watchet come the autumn.
Photo: Rachel Kelly, Georgie Grant, Naomi Griffith and one eye of Jess Prendergrast.
*A Community Interest Company is a special kind of company that is also known as a social enterprise. This means it is run with business acumen but for social good rather than private profit.