PUBLISHED: 08:55 23 September 2014 | UPDATED: 08:55 23 September 2014
Art is thriving in the rapidly growing town of Bridgwater.
The historic market town is famous for its landmark Willow Man visible from the motorway and the illuminated annual carnival.
However, it is also home to the country’s first ever community arts centre, situated in a Grade I listed building over the site of the former castle and a huge number of exciting new artists.
After World War Two, a Bridgwater resident by the name of Gwen Pollard had the idea to create a centre for arts in the town.
She had her eye on a Georgian property, which had been previously used as a school of music and dance and was now being offered for sale.
At the same time, in 1946, The Arts Council was set up. Gwen was straight away asking the council to take a lease on the building and, in conjunction with herself, open the first arts centre of its kind in Britain.
Through the years it has stayed opened with varying degrees of staffing and funding, or lack of it, offering comedy, theatre, music, a gallery and a home to many community groups.
It had its worst time in 2011 when it lost all its £80,000 funding from Sedgemoor
District Council as part of budget cuts.
At the time there were five staff members and they all had to be made redundant.
Questions were raised about whether there was any way the centre could continue, but luckily, a group of very loyal volunteers stepped forward and said it would not allow the centre to shut.
For the next year, it was kept open thanks to hard work, while many arts centres around the country shut due to similar problems.
By the end of the year, the volunteers had stepped up as board members and raised enough money to employ part-time staff member Kate Goodale. The town council also supported the centre with some funding.
A year and a half later, Kate is full time and the centre has gained some corporate funding from Bridgwater Gateway for a second staff member. The centre is also working with arts provider Bcreative and gained funding from the Arts Council to have three apprenticeships.
Kate said: “The place is so different. There’s been lots of hard work by lots of volunteers and we are back on our feet. There is excitement in the air instead of panic.
“We are now thinking about how we can enhance the community and how we can bring community arts right out on to the streets.
“There are 50 volunteers and a core team of 20-30, which regularly takes on the roles of admin support, stewarding, box office and bar, but we always need more volunteers so do drop in.”
Autumn art events to attend at the centre
Come Outside, 3-26 September. This exhibition will follow a summer of plein air painting by the Chandos Society of Artists and friends. It features scenes of Bridgwater, Watchet and Cheddar.
Food Festival, 8-31 October. Food in art will adorn the walls of the gallery, while throughout the month food events and tastings will be held.
Poppies, 5-14 November. This year has special significance around Remembrance Day and to pay its respects the gallery will feature images of the poppy. From school children to established practitioners, artists will be displaying their own tributes in any chosen medium. The exhibition will also be open on Remembrance Sunday.
Art for Giving, 19 November to 19 December. With Christmas shopping in mind, here is an opportunity to acquire a personal and lasting gift of original art or handmade craft.
Bridgwater College has a proud tradition for inspiring art and design through courses, apprenticeships, exhibitions and strong community links.
Three students recently found themselves shaking hands with royalty after their artwork found a home at the town’s new hospital.
Ellen Farrell, Levi Burge and Ashleigh Webb created a series of impressive artworks to decorate the hospital walls in collaboration with the architects and the Hospital Trust.
At the official opening of the hospital, the college students met her Royal Highness the Duchess of Wessex and told her about their work, and how it had been created.
Ellen, 19, said: “It was a real honour to meet HRH and to talk through my work with her. The whole project has been really exciting and it’s great that the pictures will be there for years to come.”
Five questions with Bridgwater photographer Janie Burden. The 30-year-old self-taught photographer is making a name for herself on the celebrity music scene.
1) How did you get into photography?
I’ve always loved photography, looking at photos, the memories frozen in time. I sort of ‘fell’ into it in 2004, working with an unsigned band that I’d met through a friend. They liked the photos I’d taken of them at gigs, asked me to be their official photographer and that led to having work on a CD for Cancer Research UK in 2005.
2) What type of photography do you do?
My main focus is music photography, however I do portraits of children, families, models, as well as landscapes and commercial work.
3) Can you list some of the more famous subjects you’ve snapped?
Robbie Williams, Take That, Chrissie Hynde (The Pretenders), Ali Campbell (UB40), Sugababes. I now work with 911 (from series one of ITV2’s The Big Reunion) - my photos of them are used by them on their website and social media. I also covered their UK tour in March, which was an amazing opportunity.
4) Do you still do concert work?
I do. Covering concerts is my main love with my photography, capturing the atmosphere. I’ve always been a big music fan, so, being able to mix the two is a dream.
5) What’s been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve been loving every second, every photoshoot brings up new experiences and challenges, I meet new people and no day is ever boring. If I had to choose, it would be having my photo used for CD artwork and doing the 911 tour.