Found in: What we do
Daytime view of Watershed with visualisation of new building.
Pre App Image Proposed: Image courtesy of childs+sulzmann architects

BIGGER SHED read more details here:

Posted on Wed 28 Nov 2018

The planned re-developed building will house four cinemas, five flexible event spaces, the Pervasive Media Studio and new incubation and grow-on Studios, to sustain the growth of new talent and ideas. The building will increase from 4,400 sqm to 6,360 sqm with new work space for 100+ creatives in the four floors above the rear of the existing building. You can read much more about our plans in this article.

“Watershed feels like a home for all”
Sammy Payne, Open Bionics

Created in 1982 as Britain's first Media Centre. Over the past twenty years Watershed has continually grown, building a reputation for inclusive talent development, diverse cultural cinema, and innovation:

In that 20 years:

  • Cinema audience has grown from 85,000 to 170,000
  • The range of films we show has diversified from 33 producing countries to 52
  • Artists we work with each year have expanded from 50 to over 150
  • Staffing has grown to 101 Full Time Equivalent

 This growth has been enabled by embracing digital technologies, the building of Cinema Three, and the opening of the Pervasive Media Studio.

Continuing Watershed’s journey of leadership and stewardship and to meet the increasing demand for what we offer, we are now sharing our ambitious vision for physical expansion that will deliver improved environmental sustainability and financial security for years to come.

The planned re-developed building will house four cinemas, five flexible event spaces, the Pervasive Media Studio and new incubation and grow-on Studios, to sustain the growth of new talent and ideas.  The building will increase from 4,400 sqm to 6,360 sqm with new work space for 100+ creatives in the four floors above the rear of the existing building.

"Watershed’s expansion is a project driven by the why rather than what we will do. 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."
Clare Reddington, Creative Director and CEO, Watershed

How did we make this decision?

In 2013 we began to explore options for expansion, which included looking at offsite space with partners, the potential and impact of using more of E & W Sheds for Watershed, moving somewhere completely new, and the feasibility of extending on site.

As part of this process we identified the 'dead zone' between Watershed and the IMAX as in urgent need of improvement and having potential to be the site for our expansion. Detailed investigation revealed a wide range of services in the ground making a modest extension the most appropriate plan.  Historical research concluded that the most practical option is a discrete addition which makes minimum intervention into the existing building.

Why are we going to do this?

“Watershed is central to so much of the work that I do as a young creative - a reimagining of the building would give it space to continue to engage and change the lives of others - just as it has done with mine.“
Euella Jackson, Rife Magazine Alumni

Watershed is a creative hub for Bristol and an international exemplar of cultural innovation in the digital age.  The physical expansion of our historic dockside building will:

  • Generate additional income through a combination of more intensive use of existing space and the creation of new conferencing, studio and cinema space
  • Improve the environmental performance of the building
  • Improve the public realm around Watershed
  • Make the activity of Watershed more visible and more accessible


 An extension to Watershed at the back of the building will animate a dingy spot on Anchor Road, improve the public realm and encourage more pedestrian traffic onto this side of Watershed to relieve the sometimes heavily congested waterside covered walkway.

What impact will it have?

“Watershed is a space where I am accepted for just being me. 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…”
Lawrence Hoo, Pervasive Media Studio Resident                            

Creativity and innovation at the heart of a growing city region

Affordable space for creative talent to work and collaborate in the heart of the city is a key part of inclusive Bristol place making, however there is a growing shortage of suitable workspace - just as demand increases.  We plan to create new workspace with affordable and flexible rentals so that we can support new creative enterprises.

New workspaces will also include physical space for more young people to work alongside the Watershed cluster to develop their digital creativity and to take the first steps on the pathway to working in the creative industries.

Wider choice of cultural representation

Film is increasingly the international cultural medium through which diverse cultures can share their experience and identity. Our plans include new cinema provision to further expand both programme choice and audience access to cultural cinema.

Conservation and environment

Ambitious plans for ensuring we improve the environmental sustainability of the whole venue are at the core of our approach. This will serve as a best practice case study for others wishing to pursue similar goals in complex city centre environments.

View of Watershed buildings dated 1935

E-shed in 1935 during The Queen's visit. Image courtesy of Bristol Museums Galleries & Archives

“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. 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.”  
Miriam Randall, Executive Director, Watershed

 Welcoming everyone

Our new spaces will improve access and accessibility through extending our ground floor street front presence with improved physical access to the upper floors of the building. We will also improve our toilets and facilities including for people who are disabled and young children plus the introduction of gender neutral facilities.

What will it look like?

Our proposal is for a six storey extension on the Canons Road side of W Shed built partly over the existing structure. The approach is to build in sustainable timber as far as possible with a concrete platform above the existing first floor so that we make minimum intervention into the existing fabric.

On this new platform we plan four new floors of studio and event space built in sustainable timber which can be fabricated off-site. The height of the extension is in the context of the IMAX, One Cathedral Square, Marriott Royal Hotel and Broad Quay House.

Design decisions will be made according to the most sustainable solutions - we will use passive ventilation as far as possible and utilise new south facing roof pitches and south facing facade to maximise Photovoltaic power generation. The join of the extension will be glazed to ensure the existing facade remains visible. The upper floors will be clad in ceramic fins to reflect the surrounding brick buildings and to provide shading.

What's next?

This week (30 November 2018) Watershed has submitted a Pre App to Bristol City Council - which is a way to ask the Council for formal advice before we make a full planning application.

With the submission of the Pre App we begin a period of discussion and exploration with stakeholders, public, artists, industry, neighbours and partners. This will test our thinking and help us to further develop our plans. We expect this period of exploration to run until March 2019 and following a period of evaluation we will publish the findings from these discussions and formulate a timetable for progression of our ambitions.

We estimate the cost at £12m and expect the process of securing permissions, raising the funding and delivering the build to take about 4 years. We will continue to deliver improvements and we will remain open throughout ensuring the minimum of disruption to our neighbours, our audiences and our partners.

We will be hosting a number of open meetings which will be advertised as part of our public programme and we will be meeting with interested groups and stakeholders.  The first open meeting will be on 10th January 2019 at 6pm in Pervasive Media Studio and is open to all. You can book a free ticket here.

Read the full Pre-application (63 page PDF)

Some facts and figures about Watershed

For 2017/18 key performance headlines include:

  • 1.5 million people visited us on the web
  • 450,000 visitors to our venue
  • 174,000 tickets purchased for our venue screenings and events
  • 104,000 people engaged with projects beyond the venue
  • 36,000 young people engaged with our programmes
  • 153 artists and creatives are resident in the Pervasive Media Studio, 45% identify as female, 12% are BAME, 17% received free school meals, 44% were the first in their family to go to university
  • 101 full time equivalent jobs at Watershed
  • Films from 52 countries exhibited
  • 6 continents hosted Watershed events or collaborations
  • Watershed Group turnover in 2017/18 is £5.8 million
  • Watershed’s direct economic impact in 2017/18 including residents is £16.2 million : Pervasive Media Studio residents reported turnover in excess of £5.4 million and secured in excess of £5 million in research funding

“For every artist they support in Bristol , there are perhaps another 10 in our city they can’t, due to limited space and facilities. This new development for Watershed is perfectly timed and defines a creative pathway for Bristol, set for the next 20 years.“
Luke Jerram, Artist

Derelict sheds in 1981

Derelict sheds in 1981. Image courtesy of Bristol Museums Galleries & Archives