The Boat Museum and Visitor Centre project is looking pretty shipshape, and if there are no hitches (you know us, positive thinkers all the way!) we will aim to start the build autumn 2015. But, that ol’ devil called reality means that the ‘if’ is a big one. We have now submitted a funding bid to the Hinkley Community Impact Mitigation fund, for around £250k and are about to submit our planning application to West Somerset District Council. So, we will know whether it’s all hands to the deck early summer when we hear about the funding decision. (Cue secret brown paper bag breathing!)
Should we be successful, we will have the opportunity to improve a much loved but often overlooked traditional Boat Museum, and provide a desperately needed new build Visitor Centre for Watchet. The revitalized and refurbished Boat Museum and new build Visitor Centre will act as a welcome to the town, clearly marking where visitors begin their trip, where they will find information, things to do, and importantly, understand the connection between the railway and the port upon arrival. Co-location of the Town Council offices into the new build will also help improve civic facilities in the town and help ensure the financial sustainability of the project by sharing costs. Public space within the Centre will be multi-use, and enable larger Council meetings to take place there.
Our project proposes to repair the existing Boat Museum, making it safe and fit for purpose, and to also modernize the building, for example the plans include a large glazed window at the southern end, bringing light and life into the building and enabling visitors to see into the museum as they arrive in the town (see design below). The project will also reclaim the unused land at the junction to create public space, providing a safe landing for footbridge pedestrians and a focal point and gateway to Watchet which will properly welcome visitors to the town. It will also help direct the ‘flow’ of visitors to the top of Swain Street, helping businesses in the often ignored top end of the street.
Our plans also include installing a wonderful traditional rope making machine, which will operate along its own set of tracks parallel to the railway line. This will run alongside a new path we are looking to create at railway level to run from the Boat Museum to the Goviers Lane crossing area. The path will give new sightlines along the railway tracks directly to the Boat Museum and Watchet Station.
The new build extension will appear as an ‘insert’ into the Boat Museum; almost like a carriage entering the old goods shed, and will house a Visitor Centre, civic offices and facilities. This element of the project also proposes to provide professional paid tourism staff to run the Visitor Centre complemented by trained volunteers. We would hope that the current tourism volunteers join us in the new Centre and are looking to offer training as suits their needs. We will also engage new volunteers in the new Centre with the appropriate skills around internet and technology use.
We believe this project will be the catalyst needed to give a real boost to tourism in Watchet. It will provide a purpose built Visitor Centre to point visitors to all the other fantastic places to go and see and do in Watchet. It is a project that is all about celebrating this town, caring for its assets and being proud of what we have here.
So fingers crossed and we will keep you posted!