Build begins for Boat Museum Visitor Centre

Builders from local construction firm Barratt & Canniford begin work

Work begins this week on major new refurbishment and repairs to Watchet Boat Museum and an attached new build Visitor Centre, ready to open its doors for visitors in time for the summer season 2016.

Construction can begin thanks to the final piece of funding secured through a grant from Trusthouse Charitable Foundation who was so impressed by the quality of the project, they increased their grant offer from £30k to £100k. When funds permit, Trusthouse choses one or two projects a year from all those submitted which they think especially worth of support to make a ‘surprise’ offer of a significantly larger grant than usual.

Lady Balfour of Burleigh, Chairman of Trusthouse’s Grants Committee said:

“We are delighted to be able to support this project which has the potential to make so much difference to the economy of the town of Watchet. We were very impressed by the commitment, passion and enthusiasm the members of the Onion Collective show to reviving the fortunes of the town.”

The project is also funded by EDF’s Community Impact Mitigation Fund for capital costs, and the Coastal Revival Fund for the construction of a footpath and interactive rope making machine leading from the Govier’s Lane Crossing to the new Visitor Centre, and with a contribution from Watchet Town Council for the provision of their new office space.

The Boat Museum is an important part of the industrial and maritime story of Watchet and has been long overdue some attention. Situated at the Lime Cross area, directly in front of the West Somerset Railway, the site is the ‘gateway’ into Watchet, and clearly heralds Watchet’s story as one of maritime heritage.

Overseen by Invisible Studio Architects, the new works to the Boat Museum, which was designed by Brunel as the railway goods shed, and built in 1853, will include lime pointing to the building, repairs to the roller doors, new guttering and attention to stonework where needed. New large glass panels will be installed where the taxi office stood, allowing for better visibility into the museum, as well as making the museum much lighter inside. The addition of plumbing for a shared staff kitchen as well as a staff and disabled toilet will mean that the space becomes more pleasant for volunteers to spend periods of time. Keeping the authenticity of the museum is important, and so the re-fit of the museum interior will be low key and will use existing contents and materials, ensuring that it does not lose its ‘gritty’ and ‘real’ feel!

The addition of a brand new Visitor Centre will mean that visitors have a dedicated first port-of-call to find out about all the great things to do and see in Watchet. They will be able to collect one of the new visitor maps, and it will naturally increase footfall to the Boat Museum, which celebrates the maritime history of the time. The aim is to encourage visitors to spend more time, and therefore more money in the town. It also means that opening hours for the Boat Museum can be extended up to 9-5, 7 days a week.

Alongside the visitor and mu­seum offering the building will also provide up-to-date, fully ac­cessible and much-needed new offices for Watchet Town Coun­cil. The main reception area will double up as a Council Chamber in the evenings, providing mod­ern facilities and around twice as much space as at present. It will mean that the whole space becomes a community hub for the town.

Onion Collective Director Naomi Griffith said:

“We are delighted to see this project begin in earnest and were thrilled to receive Trusthouse’s increased grant. We have been working towards this project for two years now, following intense community consultation, and to see the ideas of Watchet people become a reality is truly exciting. We would like to thank everyone who has helped us to get this far, and very much look forward to opening the doors in Summer 2016.”

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