The Onion has landed!

We have an office! It’s beautiful, tiny and oh so perfectly formed. It is on Swain Street in Watchet, between St. Margaret’s Hospice and The Sanctuary, in a very pretty courtyard that catches the afternoon sun. Our address is Mayfly Studio, 41b Swain Street, Watchet. It is big enough for the 4 of us to work, to meet small groups of people and to display ideas on the walls as the project progresses. It’s essentially somewhere you can come and find us, drink coffee (freshly brewed) and chat through ideas. Broadband arrives on 1st of May, so the hope is that from that date one of us will be there as much as possible Monday – Friday, so do come and say hi.

Consultation is now in full swing, we’ve always known that one of Watchet’s strengths is its community spirit, and our plan is to meet with as many community and business groups as we can to work out shared priorities. We have had small informal chats with groups like Theatre Melange and Watchet Boat Owners Association, larger post-it sessions with groups like The Harbour Advisory Group, and slightly more formal presentations to groups like the West Somerset Policy and Advisory Committee. These meetings in all their various forms will continue throughout April and May so that we meet with as many groups as possible (probably meeting with around 30 groups in about 15 meetings). Our aim is to work out what everyone’s main priorities are for Watchet as a whole. By holding numerous meetings with small groups, we can hold talks that are actually valuable and meaningful and capture a true sense of people’s beliefs around the issue of regeneration and revitalisation for the town.

These meetings are only part of the picture, we now have visitor comment boxes set up in the Cornerhouse Café, Watchet Museum and on the Station platform, an online questionnaire and bite sized 30 second videos, all providing opportunities for everyone to say what they think Watchet needs for regeneration. We will also be having a stall at the Market on 14th May for anyone to come and see us and feed in their views. We will try to reach as many of you as we can, but don't forget, you can also come and find us if you have any ideas or thoughts.

It’s a really interesting process to be a part of; some people have so many ideas that we can’t write on the post-it’s quick enough. Using the mud in the marina to make Watchet branded materials like bricks or pottery is one of my favourites. (Can you make bricks from silt? Who knows but I love the thinking behind the idea.) Roof top bistros, community cafes and cliff top walkways are some of the others. Whether or not these ideas are possible, it’s really exciting to be part of an ideas sharing process like this.

Others have been through this process too many times before and have ‘consultation malaise’ why are we so special that we think we can make it work when so many proposals have failed? A good point and in truth, only time will tell. But here’s why we think we can make this happen: We have the funding to get the proposal to the point it is ready for a large scale funding application. Including architectural drawings to RIBA stage D, a cost prohibitively large for many previous proposals. We have a track record for winning multi-million pound grants, Jess and Naomi were instrumental in winning the £3.2m Lottery Grant for Minehead Eye and importantly for us, Watchet is our town, where our kids are growing up, and we are committed to helping to enable a stronger future for Watchet because of that.

So, here we are in the midst of collecting ideas and knowledge and experience, by the end of May we will have had multiple meetings, collected surveys and comment cards and as much historical information as we can. From then we will begin the process of working out how the town’s priorities might be realised. How it all fits together, where various components might go, (we are currently looking at the southern portion of the East Quay area, the Youth Club area and many people have talked to us about the broader opportunities to improve the entrance to town around the Cross and along Harbour Road as any other possible spaces), and what this development project will look like. We will display all these ideas at ‘camp Onion’, so why not come and see us, enjoy a coffee, have a chat and see our ideas on the wall, tell us what you think and be part of the project as it unfolds.

Photo: Georgie Grant, Naomi Griffith, Rachel Kelly and Jess Prendergrast

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