At the end of last year, we released a proposal for expansion to our Bristol home and submitted a Pre-App to Bristol City Council. Since then we have consulted with conservation and planning groups and hosted three public events to gather feedback, talk about the plans and the reasons for bringing them forward at this time. Input from audiences, consulted groups and other stakeholders was extremely positive, with a couple of surprises along the way:
First, the outpouring of feeling from audiences and friends of Watershed was incredible, demonstrating a palpable sense of public ownership and loyalty
“It looks like a really good plan but promise us that you won’t mess up OUR Watershed”.
Second, many people were surprised at the range, depth and scale of activity which Watershed produces and facilitates, as cultural cinema is generally the main activity that the majority of audiences know Watershed for.
These headlines from 2017/18 demonstrate the breadth of our work beyond cultural cinema:
- 450,000 visitors to our Harbourside home
- 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
- 101 full time equivalent jobs at Watershed
- 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 Pervasive Media Studio residents is £16.2 million
Cultural cinema is a key part of Watershed’s programme, and our audiences have grown from 85,000 to 170,000 in the last 20 years, the range of films we show have diversified from 33 producing countries to 52. Alongside this growth in cinema we have also seen the artists we work with each year expanding from 50 to over 150, all of this growth has been enabled by digital technologies, the building of Cinema 3 in 2005, the opening of the Pervasive Media Studio in 2008, and strong, collaborative partnerships.
As part of our expansion conversations, we have been encouraged to explore making more use of the existing building. We believe that a mix of use is important for the vibrancy of the Harbourside, so do not wish to occupy the whole building, but are also keen to provide a home for the cultural and creative digital cluster that we sit at the heart of. As such we have recently re-fitted the old Bristol Energy unit as Studio 5, a new mixed cultural hub, which will also act as a home for Bristol+Bath Creative R+D (a £6M investment in Bristol and Bath) and Limina - the first Cultural VR theatre in the UK.
Following the recent period of consultation we are now ready to develop our capital plans in two distinct phases:
We have just submitted a planning application for the creation of Cinema 4 and a supporting catering offer, in the ground floor unit next to our main entrance. This work is planned to take place in 2020 when we will also completely remodel and expand our upstairs (cinema side) toilets to provide better visitor facilities for people of all genders, people with disabilities and people with young children.
Since we created Cinema 3 in 2005, a sustained commitment to programme diversity and exemplary access (including audio description, descriptive subtitles and Deaf Conversations About Cinema) has fuelled audience growth. Adding Cinema 4 will extend the diversity of our world cultural cinema programme, improve audience access and choice, allowing us to continue to meet growing demand.
Watershed is recognised as a centre of excellence in terms of maintaining and developing regional film culture and its ability to have an impact across cultural, social and economic agendas. British Film Institute Audience Awards
With the confidence gained from the Pre App consultations, we are pushing ahead with planning and fundraising and will develop the designs for Phase 2 (the development of W Shed) in response to the detailed feedback later this year, for a planning application in early 2020. Construction is planned through 2021- 2023 during which the building will be kept open and trading throughout.
Of course we want to continue to hear your thoughts, questions and comments on both phases of Watershed’s planned development, so please do get in touch with us if you have questions or feedback.