An illustration of the exterior of Watershed building covered in greenery with people swimming in the floating harbour.

Illustration of Watershed Wild and Generous by Zoe Williams

Posted by:

Clare Reddington CEO

on Tue 12 March

Watershed Wild and Generous

Posted on Tue 12 March

What will the world want from a cultural venue in a climate crisis?  

 Over the last year we have been asking ourselves...

‘What will the world want from a cultural venue in a climate crisis?’ we think about the future of our (often leaking) building.  

As Watershed continues to prioritise our work in this area, we wanted to share some of our thinking. Firstly, why should a cultural organisation be taking steps to address climate change? Given the lack of resources in the sector, should it be a priority?  

Watershed’s mission is to create space for artists and audiences to connect and be hopeful about the future.  

In March last year, IPCC scientists delivered a report that demonstrated that only swift and drastic action would avert irrevocable climate damage.  

The damage that the impacts of the climate crisis will do to our resources, communities and building, will threaten our very ability to fulfil our mission – therefore we believe action is highly aligned to our purpose.  

And audiences agree - The ACT Green report stated that 80% of audiences think cultural organisations have a responsibility to influence society to make radical change to address the climate emergency.  

We believe it is important that the action we take is action is rooted in creativity, care and community. 

"We need to rewild our imagination. We must learn how to dream again, and we have to learn that together" Extinction Rebellion 

In 2019, we declared a climate emergency, committing our carbon emissions to net zero by 2030. After an extensive year of diving deeper into our carbon footprint, we know that our building makes up nearly 40% of our emissions - we occupy a creaky heritage building with substantial environmental challenges and the public spaces around us are unloved and configured for cars not humans. 

We must retrofit our old building to hit our net zero target – but also realise that this must be grounded in a longer-term vision.  In Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics she identifies generosity as a necessary business behaviour. We would like the generosity of our spaces and building to honour and support the generosity of the communities we work within.  

  • We are interested in stewardship, not ownership.  
  • We think the world will want compelling stories, resting spaces, places to cool down, hopeful visions and togetherness from a culture venue in a climate crisis.  

We are calling this Watershed Wild and Generous - a holistic vision for Watershed and the Canon’s Road area that centres notions of wildness and generosity and creates more welcoming and inclusive spaces in a key part of the city centre. 

We know we will need to face head on the tensions of balancing the preservation of a heritage asset with future sustainability. We want to connect with Watershed’s past (the marshes, industry) and its possible futures. 

We want our building and public spaces to tell a story and catalyse the imagination of visitors, residents and stewards in pursuit of a more hopeful future. We want them to function as a showcase for innovative environmental materials and technologies that will inspire and engage the public and the culture sector across the country.  

This is a vision that is fraught with challenge. We don’t yet have the money! We don’t yet own the land!  But, we are currently part of Arts Council England’s Transforming Energy Capital Investment Ready Programme and Constructivist’s Regenerative Design Policy Accelerator, to develop the thinking into a vision that will serve generations of Bristol in 100 years time.  

We are really grateful to the audiences who have already helped support our climate justice work this year – thank you! You can read more about our climate action plan here.  

We are doing some foundational work on Watershed Wild and Generous at the moment which will help us understand how we might prioritise and resource the work we would like to explore. After that we will start sharing ways we would love you to get more involved with shaping and sharing a nature-rich vision for Canon’s Road.   

"Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen. In the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act." Rebecca Solnit 

If you have ideas, expertise or feedback that could help us realise our vision please email us on

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