At a well attended meeting packed with positive energy and enthused with a ‘can do’ spirit, Bridgwater Town Council and its partners launched their new Tourism Forum, inspired by presentations from UWE students entitled ‘Thinking Big in Bridgwater’ and a talk by sales manager of the new Mercure Hotel, Emma Rathbone, which described tourism as a major opportunity for the town to ‘up its offer’ for both tourists and residents alike.
Town Council Leader, Cllr Brian Smedley, said afterwards “The meeting was a great success. The architecture students used Bridgwater as a template for their ideas and came up with some great solutions which shows that people can be inspired by our town and think outside the box. The Mercure is one of several hotels that have recognised the renaissance occurring here in Bridgwater and this gives us the perfect opportunity to create things for the influx of tourists to do in the town and at the same time establish a legacy for the people who live here. Bridgwater is a creative town and we need to build on our Cultural Partnership, our heritage offer and our abundance of waterways and we’ll create a very special offer for a Bridgwater of the immediate future.”
Report of the Meeting
The meeting held at the Engine Room, an innovative centre for Film and Video, was sponsored by Mayor of Bridgwater Cllr Diogo Rodrigues.
Cllr Smedley kicked off the meeting by introducing the post grad Architecture students from the University of the West of England (UWE) whose tutor Sally Daniels had chosen Bridgwater for their course projects following the highly successful CIAM6 Conference ‘Thinking Big in Bridgwater’ at the Arts Centre last year. Over the past few months, the students had spent time exploring Bridgwater and thinking about its context in relation to the coast, its history and the building of Hinkley Point C, Europe’s largest infrastructure project.
The students’ brief in particular was to focus on the needs and aspirations of young people. They had met with local young people, the Bridgwater Youth Forum and had taken into account existing documents such as the Bridgwater Vision. In developing each project, the students had worked with Bridgwater Town Council and Development Planners at Sedgemoor District Council to produce innovative schemes, which included the areas of the docks, canal, Piggy Hill, The Meads, Northgate and Brewery Field.
Prior to this event, the students had exhibited their projects in the Angel Place Precinct over the weekend 14-15 April. Many residents had visited and made very positive comments.
Cllr Smedley stressed that the forthcoming projects were not real-life schemes but were ideas which the students had developed to give a glimpse of what could be, elements of which could provide inspiration in future planning.
Thinking Big in Bridgwater
UWE students Matt Cox and Helen Bennett presented each of the projects, as follows:
The Docks – Bridgwater Robotics Institute (Luke Rigg): This project would be an educational centre where young people could develop ideas for the future using innovative methods such as gaming. It would also be multi-generational space, where older people could learn new skills.
Piggy Hill – Bridgwater Beat Festival (Verity Moulder): This site was a building in the middle of the wood which would be a permanent centre for music, situated at the central point between the two nearby sites of Northgate and Victoria Park. The sloping nature of the Hill lent itself to being an auditorium space and the location gave the ideal opportunity for safe and green routes between the three locations.
Transport Interchange Hub – Northgate (Brad Beaumont): This project was inspired by the traffic congestion in the town. Its central location was the ideal hub for a range of alternative modes of transport, such as bus, tram, cycle routes.
Healthy Living Centre – Northgate (Matt Cox): This building encourage community participation, incorporating all elements for healthy living, including a sports hall for physical activities, a wellbeing centre for activities such as yoga and facilities for communal cooking and eating. This would be linked to the adjacent allotments and the Brewery Field. The building would encompass the use of vibrant and calm colours in the appropriate spaces and thoughtful enhancement of the Brewery Field.
Field Study Centre – The Meads (Helen Bennett): A series of raised walkways would wind around the Meads, linking four study centres on stilts – i. an information hub and café; ii workshop space, linked to Bridgwater College; iii. A youth centre and iv. Arts space and laboratory for the testing of samples of plants and wildlife. The venues could be hired out for various uses.
Bridging the Gap – The Meads and Canal (Ollie Fisher): This scheme was based on opening up the waterways and docks for wider use and included a sunken workshop space where children could build their own boats and kayaks as woodwork projects. This could be linked to the YMCA.
The People’s Music Centre – The Meads (James Olley): This would be a centre for music where rooms could be hired. Its remote nature would mean that noise disturbance would not be an issue and different materials would provide for sound experiments. It would be a multi-generational space for learning about and enjoying music. The building would be designed to take advantage key views across Bridgwater.
The audience were extremely impressed with the projects presented and spoke positively about the imaginative ideas.
Hotels are the key
Next up was a presentation from Emma Rathbone, Sales Manager of the new Mercure Hotel in Eastover.
She talked about how Sedgemoor was out-performing other districts in the South West and that the Mercure hoped to play a part in promoting tourism in the town.
Emma told the audience that the Bridgwater hotel was the first big hotel that Mercure has built in many years. With 4 new hotels being built in and around the town, Mercure will need to offer a fantastic experience to visitors. These new hotels alone will provide 600 bedrooms which will bring an additional 164,000 visitors to the town within the next 12 months.
This was an excellent opportunity for all local businesses as the new trends show that people are looking to stay in small towns.
The Mercure will have Bridgwater Town Ambassadors to enhance their customer’s experience. There will be Reception Hosts (no Reception Desks) who will look after customers from start to finish. The hotel will have local branding (Heartist) – for example, the shower screens will feature local scenes instead of the normal tiling and the artwork in the rooms will feature other local landmarks. The majority of staff recruited are from Bridgwater. The benefits of a successful Mercure Hotel will have knock on benefits to the town such as increased customer spend, extended length of stays and repeat visitors. She stressed that Mercure were passionate about Bridgwater and want to be part of the community.Emma concluded her presentation with a local quiz.
Launching a Tourism Forum
Cllr Smedley thanked Emma for her presentation and concluded the evening by summarising the importance of tourism to the town. He took this opportunity to launch the Tourism Forum and invited members present to sign up. The need and purpose of the Forum will be to help Bridgwater ‘up its game’ to be ready for the increased number of visitors coming to the town and to address the negative aspects which might deter visitors from staying or returning. An Action Plan will be drawn up. The aim will be to provide an environment which encourages visitors to remain for longer, visiting attractions both in the town and throughout the District and south west, enjoying the history and culture and boosting the local economy by shopping locally.
Local attractions/ideas mentioned by the audience for attention at the first Tourism Forum meeting included:
- Enhancing docks and waterways (maritime town)
- Potential for local twinning – sharing of ideas for promoting tourism
- Coastal path
- National cycle routes
- Historic centre, including 26 Blue Plaques
- Bridgwater Cultural Partnership and Heritage – Arts Centre, Town Council, Engine Room, Bridgwater College McMillan Theatre, Bridgwater Museum, Brick and Tile Museum
- Walking Tours by historic themed guides – link with Civic Society,Museum,Carnival
- Mouth of the Parrett film – wider marketing of the town
- Improving social media communication.
- Improving image of the town centre-better cleaning, less boy racers, traffic issues
Next TDF Meeting
The Next meeting of the Town Development Forum would be Tuesday 19th June at Charter Hall and the topic would be the Library & Blake Gardens proposed CIM bid