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  • Writer's pictureCreative West End

Visit to East Quay, watchet with onion collective

Onion Collective are based in the coastal town of Watchet, Somerset and have been on the Good Things Collective's radar for most of our journey as a social enterprise based in Morecambe.

We've followed them on social media, read countless articles and been inspired many times by their story. Seeing them move from fixing up community gardens to turning shipping containers into art galleries and most recently realising a £7million community-led redevelopment at Watchet Harbour, called East Quay. Offering an impressive 2 story art gallery, arts education space, courtyard for socialising and events, cafe/restaurant/bar, creative business space, art studios and imaginative themed accomodation pods for visitors. Onion collective is run by a 5 women that grew up in the town, returning after some time away. They don't wait for things to get done. They make things happen!

Over the last year, we've had the privilege of learning from their journey as we've been lucky to be mentored by one of the Directors Naomi. East Quay, has now not only managed to secure funding from several places, including £5 million from the now dormant Coastal Communities Fund. East Quay is now built, open for business creating 28 new jobs for local people and welcoming visitors! We just had to go down and check it out!

Original East Quay artwork by:

Their journey parallels many elements of ours as the Good Things Collective, with plans for a new creative enterprise hub at Centenary House to wider local hopes of repurposing derelict land for genuine community benefit - ideas for shipping container complexes and new creative development have bubbled up many a times by different people at Creative West End network events as possible reuse and redevelopment options for Frontierland. If anyone can talk us through what it takes to make a project like this happen, it's the Onions!

So on the 15th March we hired a 9 seater van and set off for a long drive down the M6 to Somerset (although we're sure it must be in Devon). Huge thanks to our Creative West End team for making this massive trip and the biggest thank you ever to all the Onions and the East Quay crew for the most wonderful welcome full of generosity and inspiration - with kindness, support and creativity, together we think anything is possible! CWE x Onion exchange crew - Cam, Becca, Micky, Molly, Beki, Jo & Will.

Our collective top takeaways:

One of main things I took from the Onion collective is that there will always be adversity to change, but that it's not the be all and end all and your efforts are worth it to reach those who need it most.
The core team seemed to have a great bond. Their trust in each other and the way they worked separately, but cohesively was evident all throughout the visit, as with the artists on site and how the dynamics of the operation flowed seamlessly.
I think for me one of the cleverest innovations was the glass fronted studios and workspaces, which mean that they double as display space for the artists renting them. It's a really simple idea that provides a point of sale for the artists, keeps things varied and interesting for visitors and allows people to connect personally with the artists, which offers the chance to learn and take inspiration. It's great that such a small thing can have so many benefits.
It was also good to see all the little examples of things being repurposed and reused, like the lighting rig in our pod which was made from a leftover ladder following the initial build. It gives everything a unique feel and means that the story of the place is literally built in.
In order to bring down the cost of studio and workspace it was essential to run the cafe/bar in house in order to generate a profit to subsidise costs and make it more accessible for artists to take on the units.
For me - above all - that it is possible to ahve a dream and make it happen!
What I really loved about East Quay was how it looked and how the shipping container-aesthetic did fit in with the shipping yard and harbour (in my opinion, I know this isn’t a shared view of the town!)
What I liked about the Onions was how what they are doing is wildly different from the rest of the town and I imagine anything that’s come before it but it is still for the town and area of Somerset which they said similarly to Morecambe has been largely forgotten about when it comes to government and council money. I think just because it’s very new and trendy a lot of people hadn’t had chance to experience it yet and see how it’ll benefit the young people in the area so that’s why they might be experiencing push back from the locals.
It was also good to see all the little examples of things being repurposed and reused, like the lighting rig in our pod which was made from a leftover ladder following the initial build. It gives everything a unique feel and means that the story of the place is literally built in.


Watchet by Cam Williams

Not Paris, Not Berlin

but Watchet

A little town on the edge of the sea,

with community and cohesion.

An idea layered like an onion

formed round a core.

Growing and expanding,

To give space, to build branches, to create.

Buildings that rise and people who soar.

Clarity and clearness and the salt spray on your face.

Music and magic and the mist rolling in.

Birds call and the people answer,

This is Watchet, our special place

You are welcome here.


A mini documentary of the trip by Good Things Collective resident filmaker Will Shelmerdine is now in production so keep a look out.

Photos from the trip by Becca Snow:

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