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We’re going to need a bigger shed! Another arts venue to expand

Created in 1982 as Britain’s first media centre, over the past 20 years Watershed has continually grown, building a reputation for inclusive talent development, diverse cultural cinema, and innovation.

In that time, cinema audience has grown from 85,000 to 170,000, the range of films shown has diversified from 33 producing countries to 52, and the number of artists worked with each year has expanded from 50 to over 150. This growth has been enabled by embracing digital technologies, the building of Cinema Three, and the opening of the Pervasive Media Studio.

Watershed has now submitted a Pre App to Bristol City Council – which is a way to ask the Council for formal advice before a a full planning application is made. Continuing Watershed’s journey of leadership and stewardship and to meet increasing demand, they have shared an ambitious vision for physical expansion that will deliver improved environmental sustainability and financial security for years to come.

“Watershed’s expansion is a project driven by the why rather than what we will do,” says Clare Reddington, creative director and CEO. “It is about fulfilling increasing demand from people who want to visit, work and co-locate with us. It is about celebrating the new ideas that are developed under our roof and giving them increased visibility in the heart of the city. It is about ensuring our building is the most welcoming and inclusive space it can be. A bigger shed is a bigger home for creativity and will be a powerful celebration of Bristol’s flourishing cluster.”

With the submission of the Pre App, Watershed is entering into a period of discussion and exploration with stakeholders, public, artists, industry, neighbours and partners. This will test thinking and help further develop plans. This period is expected to run until March 2019 and following a period of evaluation, the team will publish findings from these discussions and formulate a timetable for the progression of their ambitions.

The building will increase from 4,400sqm to 6,360sqm with new work space for over 100 creatives in the four floors above the rear of the existing building. The planned re-development will house the Pervasive Media Studio, new incubation and grow-on studios, an additional cinema screen (taking the total to four), additional flexible event spaces (taking the total to five), and the café and bar – to help to sustain the growth of new talent and ideas.

Ambitious aims, ensuring the environmental sustainability of the whole venue is improved, are at the heart of plans, and new spaces will see improved access and accessibility through an extended ground-floor street-front presence and improved physical access to the upper floors of the building. They also plan to improve the toilets and facilities for people who are disabled and young children; gender neutral facilities will also be introduced.

“As well as increasing our capacity for creativity and inclusive innovation, our new expanded building will radically improve our sustainability, securing a bright future for our historic building and boosting the resilience of our economic model,” says Miriam Randall, executive director. “Sustainable design and energy efficient facilities and materials across our workspaces, studios, cinemas and event spaces will transform our environmental impact and significantly improve the visitor experience.”

There will be a number of open forums which will be advertised as part of the public programme and the team will be meeting with interested groups and stakeholders. The first open forum will be on 10 January 2019 at 6pm in Pervasive Media Studio and is open to all who have booked a free ticket.

“Watershed is a space where I am accepted for just being me,” says Pervasive Media Studio resident Lawrence Hoo. “Expansion means they will be able to spread their all-inclusive ethos to a greater number of people whilst also enabling more engagement with diverse and marginalised communities.”