Madness helped launch the scheme in 2008
"A cultural centre for the whole of Bridgwater"
by Drew Savage
The scheme to redevelop Bridgwater's Town Hall Island site hopes to provide a new cultural centre to bring together the best of the town's old and new arts organisations.
The project hopes to revitalise Bridgwater's High Street by combining retail and residential units with a rejuvenated town hall arts complex. The site stretches from the Engine Room to the town hall, the 1930s council offices and the bookshop next door. The project is led by Sedgemoor District Council, who own the land on the site.
The music charity Strummerville, set up in Joe's memory to give opportunities to young musicians, would also be part of the town hall scheme, along with Somerset-based film-maker Julien Temple's Black Lamp Cinema.
The Bridgwater Arts Centre would move to the town hall from its current home on Castle Street. A new gallery space would also be created – and artist Damien Hirst is interested in getting involved with the project. The theatre in the town hall is currently used for the annual Carnival concerts and also by the Pantomime and Operatic Societies.
The town hall's theatre would be the centrepiece
"They're incredibly important," said Polly Adams, Urban Regeneration Team Leader at Sedgemoor District Council. "They're a huge part of Bridgwater's history and we're doing everything we can to work with them to make sure we provide them with the facilities they want in the future."
"Then we've got these great new organisations - Strummerville, the Black Lamp Cinema, and the Engine Room who are one of our key partners on this site. We're all trying to pull together to create this cultural centre that we can be so proud of."
The scheme was launched on January 8th 2008 with a benefit concert at the Bridgwater Palace. Music legends Madness agreed to play for free, because of Joe Strummer's connection with Bridgwater and the town hall project. The former Clash frontman lived in the area before his unexpected death in 2002.
Julien Temple's own Bridgwater connections are pretty strong – his father comes from Bridgwater, he lives just outside the town himself, and he's passionate about it.
"There's this wonderful community spirit in Bridgwater that doesn't exist anywhere else in the West Country. Keep that, keep the great traditions of the town - the Carnival, which is a totally unique and amazing event - but bring that into this idea of a resurgent Bridgwater for the 21st century.
The Arts Centre would move here from Castle Street
"Young kids here, and Strummerville, and the Engine Room and the Arts Centre, can create a platform for them to use in a town hall that sits in the middle of the town but is very under-used most of the year.
"It's gently decaying, with its wonderful theatre, wonderful gallery space that Damien Hirst is talking about helping us to get a gallery going there.
"So we want to create something that isn't just nationally important but internationally important and really kick-start turning this town around a bit.
"The Madness concert is the beginning of that process - it's as much to make people aware that this is something for everybody in Bridgwater as to start a fighting fund to get the thing on the road and make it a reality."
If funding is secured for the scheme, it is hoped that building work on the project will start in 2010.
last updated: 05/05/2008 at 18:18
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