Past – What happened?
The first recorded evidence of settlement on the site that is now known as Watchet, emerges in the Dark Ages with the arrival of St Decuman, a Celtic Holy man who acted as pastor, arbitrator and physician to remote communities. Legend has it that he arrived on a raft with a cow as companion. A pebble stone mosaic beside the Library on the Esplanade, depicts his journey.
St Decuman is still remembered today through the dedication of the local Church in his name, and to the continued existence of the Holy Well, where some of his healing took place.
The Harbour area has always been the hub of the town and it is from here that a lot of Watchet’s early prosperity was based. Small locally owned vessels traded coastally and to Ireland with a host of commodities that can be seen in the cargo manifests still held in the Market House Museum. In the 19th Century Iron Ore was exported from the Mines in the Brendon Hills to the Smelters at Ebbw Vale in South Wales. Latterly wood pulp was imported from Scandinavia and Portugal for the local Paper Mill and general cargo passing through the Harbour included sand, cement, fertilizer, lead ingots, tractors, potatoes and coal.
Much more about the social, political and maritime history of Watchet can be found in the town’s two Museums: Watchet Market House Museum and the Boat Museum.
Present – What’s happening?
Watchet is a forward-thinking town, with a history of voluntary engagement and Community-led support and regeneration projects. A community Strategic Plan was drawn up in 2009 by Watchet Online, a steering group of volunteers drawn from the Community. More recently, a Watchet regeneration social enterprise called Onion Collective was established, in 2013. Their vision is that every community has the power to build a strong and secure future for itself. Using extensive community consultation, they have devised many regeneration schemes. One of these being the New Watchet Visitor Centre and Boat Museum, which opened its doors to the public in July 2016 and also houses the Watchet Town Council Offices.
Watchet Town Council secured 50% matched funding from Somerset West & Taunton Council Section 106 fund to refurbish the existing Multi-Use-Games-Area next to the Community Centre. The full refurbishment, which included a new multi-use, all weather 2g surface, new boundary fencing including new recess goals and basketball hoops, and new accessible LED floodlightlight, re-opened in October 2020. The facility is for the whole community to enjoy and can also be booked for individual groups who require sole use for a minimal fee of just £5.00 per hour.
Future – Regeneration & Progression
Watchet Bowling Club – Planning permission has been obtained to expand the facilities into the community of Watchet.
East Quay Developments – Following extensive community consultation Onion Collective has worked closely with architects Invisible Studio to create concept designs for a workspace cultural development at Watchet’s East Quay, including workshop studios, gallery, restaurant, self catering accommodation ‘pods’ and public space. The project is now in it’s final stages and should be opening to the public in September 2021.
Splash Point – The area is open for public enjoyment and use, for picnics, for cloud gazing, stargazing and watching the sunset. There is a ‘Field Kitchen’ for all to enjoy. The land owner recently joined forces with the Watchet Conservation Society to enhance the area. The Watchet Conservation Society have installed a Great Western Railway bench which offer a wonderful view across the Marina and East Quay for all to enjoy.
The South West Coastal Path follows the edge of the land adjacent to the railway line.
The Coastal Community Team – Key Projects and Bodies of Work Project Time-frame
The Coastal Community Team is a collaborated group of local members including:
Onion Collective, Watchet Town Council, West Somerset Council, Somerset County Council, West Somerset Railway, Theatre Melange, Summertime, Somerset Museums, Watchet Boat Museum, Market House, South West Heritage Trust, Steam Coast Trail, Watchet Live (festival), WACET (CoT), Watchet Conservation Society, Watchet Harbour Marina, Contains Art and Local retailer Jaquelyn Reynolds and Tracey Thomas. In January 2016 , the CCT adopted the ‘Economic Plan’ which aims to secure a stronger future for Watchet through a series of regeneration projects, small and large, short and long term. Watchet is lucky to have a very strong CCT with regular attendance and committed membership. The individual members leave their ‘vested interest’ at the door and work hard together to get the best outcome for their town. The Team has developed through a series of mechanisms and plans and the CCT plan is the latest and most ambitious variation on this. The key aims and objectives are to:
Build a strong tourism economy with infrastructure support
Develop a vibrant & compelling brand
Create jobs and enterprise
Support retail development &opportunities
Enhance cultural opportunities for visitors and locals
Work collaboratively to get the best outcomes