New flagship cultural venue, East Quay opens in Watchet, Somerset

Social enterprise Onion Collective CIC is excited to announce the opening of East Quay in Watchet.  A community preview is taking place today with normal opening hours from Tuesday 21st September.

Home to two contemporary art galleries, 11 artist studios, a paper mill, a geology workshop, print studio, restaurant, education space and 5 extraordinary accommodation pods, all on the quayside in Watchet,  on Somerset’s coast.  At its heart East Quay is about connection, gathering and culture. Run by Onion Collective CIC, a Watchet grown, female-led, not-for-profit social enterprise.  East Quay illustrates that when local people have the space and time to imagine collectively, the results can be fantastically creative, welcoming, ambitious and fun. It can point the way to a different future.

Funded by the Coastal Communities Fund, Arts Council England supported through the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund: Cultural Capital Kickstart programme, Heart of the South West LEP’s Getting Building Fund, Magnox Socio-economic Fund and the NDA, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and the HPC Community Fund.  This £7.3m building is intended to support economic and cultural regeneration in the area as well as act as a place for people to gather, imagine, discuss and take part in activities that explore what a better, more connected future might look like.

East Quay has been designed by Piers Taylor of Invisible Studio and Ellis Williams Architects. Its design intentionally reflects a contemporary version of Watchet, with the heavy base reflecting the harbour wall and surrounding cliffs, with characterful and idiosyncratic ‘human sized’ buildings above reflecting the eclectic and often unusual built environment of the town.

Five extraordinary accommodation pods, two of which stand on stilts above the building, have been created for the adventurous traveller. Designed internally by architect-makers PEARCE+Fægen. Each of the 5 pods reflect Watchet in some way. The pods include an Object Exchange pod, Stories and Imagination pod, a Luxury Industrial pod, a Playful pod and a Participatory Art Pod. Each sleeping 2-4 people.

Visitors can also enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner at East Quay Kitchen, an in-house restaurant which has Mediterranean and Middle Eastern inspired dishes, which will be served from 8am to late, sitting inside in the restaurant or out in the courtyard, soaking up the atmosphere from the artist studios and watching the boats in the marina.

The Creator Space provides a unique creative learning experience far from the conventions of regular learning environments. Year 8 students from local schools worked alongside architects PEARCE+Faegan and environmental psychologist Helen King, to imagine a space that maximises young people’s creativity. The Creator Space can be used by all age groups and has an adaptable layout and lighting design to fulfil a range of workshop needs.

East Quay will also run year-round events, offering music, theatre performances, art workshops, courses and film nights to keep you entertained during your time in Watchet.

Georgie Grant, Onion Collective Co Director said:

“East Quay demonstrates how communities can drive regeneration in towns in ways that support the well-being of place, both in terms of people and planet. East Quay is exciting because it brings the best, most welcoming and creative thinking of communities, with the professional expertise of business together with the democratic ideology of public life. It’s an example of how collaborative, community thinking can lead the way to a better future for our towns.”

Nicholas Serota, Chair, Arts Council England, said:

“I am delighted to be attending the launch of this extraordinary new development on Watchet quayside. East Quay offers so many exciting experiences for the people in West Somerset and the wider region, putting this rural coastal town further on the cultural map while boosting its economy and creating jobs. With support from the Arts Council’s Small Capital funding programme and the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund Capital Kickstart, the Onion Collective have successfully led this vibrant community vision to fruition during the pandemic, thanks to their determination and hard work. We congratulate them on creating this fantastic new flexible space, which will make a strong contribution to local placemaking by enhancing the area’s cultural credentials as well as providing a hub for the community.”

Karl Tucker, Chair of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership, said:

“East Quay is a hugely exciting project that will support economic and cultural regeneration in the area and create a vibrant creative space for businesses, residents and visitors to enjoy. We are pleased to have supported the development with just over £560,000 from the HotSW LEP’s Getting Building Fund, which aims to support ready-to-go projects that will deliver new jobs and contribute to our area’s post-COVID recovery.”