I’m going to let you in on a secret; I don’t particularly like the word ‘regeneration’. It’s a feeling that is gaining momentum the further we get into the project. It’s partly because there something a bit Dr. Who about it, as if in working to ‘regenerate’ Watchet the development should be part flesh, part titanium and part roving robotic eye. Also because every time I say or read it The Who’s ‘My Generation’ goes round and round in my head (‘Talking ‘bout regenerashe-on’) Not to say The Who aren’t fab, but it’s starting to drive me mad! But mostly because if you put the words ‘regeneration development’ into google what comes up is a list of not particularly appealing high rise buildings, policy papers and gov.uk websites. I don’t recognise what we want to do in these google listings.
What we want to do is take a loved, beautiful, interesting but underrated town and help it to flourish; we want more jobs, more for visitors, more support for communities, more! Actually what we really want is more Cool Stuff. We want people to be able to make, sell, play Cool Stuff; we want people to visit Watchet, look around, relax and feel happy. We want to create a vibe of colour and music and good times, for the food to be interesting and delicious, to tell stories through art and performance that will be retold by the people who see them and for all of this to increase everyone’s understanding of what it means to be in Watchet.
We want to create spaces where local people feel completely connected to their town and their sense of belonging; where they can meet and chat and sip coffee while their kids play and during a lull in the conversation look around and get a rush of pride. We want to show how the future of a town can be envisioned by the people who live here, robustly, expertly, together and how it is possible for that vision to be realised.
So where else is this happening? There are loads of really inspiring projects out there, from the culture-led regeneration in the South East, around Hastings, Margate, Folkestone and Whitstable, to the growing Incredible Edible community projects in places like Todmorden and the wonderful Cloughmills ‘Happiness Project, Peas and Love’ in N. Ireland. Towns like Frome and Totnes show how local craft, local food and local events mixed with beautiful surroundings are a recipe for success, and towns like St. Ives and Padstow are perhaps examples of how reinvention can sometimes be too successful, to the detriment of local people.
Interestingly some of the most successful ‘regeneration’ projects are the ones with the most community involvement, which of course makes sense. These are the people who know their town the best. So maybe the word regeneration should be seen more in the light of the generations of people who live in that place, and be steeped in history, knowledge, experience, understanding. A way of moving forward grounded in the knowledge of the past.
Uh oh – I can feel Pete Townshend coming on…. (click here)
If you would like to see the four schemes we are proposing to build a stronger future for Watchet click here