The world was a very different place 40 years ago when Watershed, Channel 4 and The Barbican Centre were all launched. As the UK's first media centre, Watershed has adapted to the many changes in technology and culture – establishing ourselves as one of few truly cross-art form organisations in the UK, and continuously configuring ourselves for innovation and difference.
More than a venue (or any one of the multiple front doors you might know us by), we have grown to understand ourselves as a cultural organisation focussed on togetherness. And in a world facing multiple crises (from wealth inequality to the climate), we believe in the necessity of coming together: to share, witness, disagree, love and make change.
If that sounds a bit abstract, this is what we mean:
We are one of Europe's leading independent cultural cinemas, the only multi- screen cultural cinema in the South West and one of very few places outside London where UK audiences can engage with a year- round programme of world cinema. Our cultural programme engages audiences with global stories, offering a shared cinematic experience and deeper immersion than is possible when streaming a film in your lounge. The films we show transport, transform and entertain, building meaning through togetherness in both the viewing and the conversations around the screening of a film.
We invest in shared wonder and discovery - our lives are increasingly mediated by technology, so thinking deeply and experimenting responsibly with tech has never been more important. We established the Pervasive Media Studio in 2008 and our ethos of collaborative innovation has grown an international reputation and network. In a light-filled studio at the back of Watershed we gift space to over 170 residents to make work which uses creative technology in imaginative ways, developing projects which are ethical and inclusive. In return for our support, they share their learning, enabling everyone to achieve more than they could working alone.
Our Café & Bar and events spaces attract people from across Bristol and the wider region to meet and gather. Our menu is designed to be seasonal, environmentally responsible and inclusive – a vegan, a celiac and meat eater can walk into our bar (this is not the start of a catering joke) and each find multiple items on the menu to choose from.
Over the rest of our 40th birthday year we will be working with our communities including those who don't currently come to Watershed to explore our relevance and refresh our purpose and values. We will re-boot our talent development work, continue our focus on inclusion and climate justice and explore how we hold difference and disagreement as a vital part of togetherness and social change.
But this week is all about gratitude and celebration. Our 40th birthday celebration centres our belief in togetherness with an evening designed by Studio Susegad for comfort and kindness. Rather than only handpicking from funders, partners and collaborators - we opened up the guest list to draw attendees from a lottery of audiences, supporters and friends.
We'll gather to share a feast created by Fozia Ismail of Arawelo Eats and Houria, a social enterprise which uses food to support women affected by modern slavery. The welcome drink has been made by pupils from Bannerman Road Community School, and the evening will feature work by Asmaa Jama, Tom Marshman, Purple Girls and a speech made by everybody, mixed by Jen Bell.
From today you will also see some changes in the Café & Bar, designed to join up our spaces and share a bit more about what we do in our venue, online and across the world. New pictures and plants are a small physical signal of the changes we are making - and next month we will begin building our new toilets, designed as a bright, inclusive space which will be welcoming to everyone.
So, please raise a glass of something to us today for our 40th birthday, but better still pop in over the next few weeks, fire up your imagination and join us in fore-fronting togetherness as a positive force in a complicated and challenging world.