Like this page?
Send it to a friend!
Art, Films and Television
The Meeting House used to be a church
‘Art for all’ in Ilminster
The Meeting House in Ilminster was founded by local artist, Mary Atherton who had a vision to create an arts centre for the whole community. More than two decades later and it’s developed into a popular venue to showcase the arts.
The Meeting House is in the centre of Ilminster and was built in 1719 by the non-conformists. It eventually became a Unitarian Church in the 1800’s until 1988 when services were suspended.
Workshops are held on the ground floor
After a period of neglect it was eventually bought and restored by Charles Campbell in 1993 who put up a lease for the building.
Local artist Mary Atherton stepped in and took up the offer.
She had the vision of creating a venue for the arts for people in and around Ilminster and she got together a society to lease it from the landlord.
Over the years it’s developed from a charity to a limited company with a charitable status.
The two galleries house a mix of traditional and contemporary artists’ work from watercolours to abstract and sculpture.
Artists are also invited to hold talks about their work and ideas to the public.
The cafe generates most of the income
'Strong core audience'
Zoe Truong is the Arts Centre Manager and has been in the job for four years looking after the day-to-day running of the centre and managing the art galleries and events.
For her the emphasis is ‘art for all’ with projects aimed at attracting different sections of the community like young people and families.
“The centre already has got a strong core audience of older members and we do a lot of work around pastoral events during the day, but we’re keen to get more families in. It’s just really trying to find enough things to interest everyone,” she said.
One success was working with a local youth project called Icarus.
They helped a group of 11 to 14 year-olds to produce and write a play which culminated in a two-night performance at the Meeting House.
A local filmmaker from Bridgwater also made a documentary about the project over this six month period.
Zoe Truong, Arts Centre Manager
“It was great because it not just taught them how to write and produce a play, but it was lovely to see them develop their social skills and confidence,” Zoe said.
Future projects will include working with other locally based projects, like GLADE (The Centre for Global And Development Education) to explore different cultures and art forms.
Although it a useful facility in the town it’s the business generated by the café which keeps the centre going.
On a daily basis, staff can expect to cater for around 100 customers, while on market days (Saturdays) this increases to 250.
The annual running costs of the centre are over £40,000 and finances are always ‘on a knife edge’ because the centre does not receive any core funding directly from the government or the council.
There is always a shortfall of around £10,000 every year which has to be filled by fundraising.
Despite this pressure, the trustees enjoy the support from the landlord, Charles Campbell.
He agreed to renew the lease of the building which has given the arts centre much-needed stability, something Zoe Truong is grateful for:
“It’s not a great commercial outlet since it’s the arts, but for what it gives back to the town, it’s invaluable.”
last updated: 10/09/2008 at 14:09