The Long Hot Summer of 2018 and Bridgwater’s On the Move

The town’s on the move – as is new Mayor Diogo Rodrigues, showing these visitors along the Quayside

I’m sure that it’s no coincidence that since Cllr Diogo Rodrigues was elected Mayor of Bridgwater that we’ve had nothing but Portuguese weather for the whole summer. Everything’s a lot better when it’s sunny. The football’s better and we don’t mind losing (well, let’s see how that one plays out), the town’s new cafe culture is booming and everyone’s friendly, hotels are on the way, a new Marks and Spencers has just opened after a three decade absence and there’s big plans afoot. What could possibly go wrong!

Well, we know what could go wrong…Brexit….but let’s move swiftly on. Look on the bright side…

It’s summer, it’s sunny, and so it’s time to party. Next week it’s the Quayside festival. This is what people said they wanted and so this is something the Town Council is very proactive in providing. We’ve put money into the Bridgwater Cultural Partnership and working with festival organisers Fuse Performance we’re convinced a great time will be had by all. The town will come to life and the best of local and regional artistes will be on show. Saturday July 21st – make a note of the date. Wander round the town and soak up the atmosphere.

More people means more things for us all to do

Bridgwater’s waterfront. Resplendant in the sunshine

There’s more people in the town. They’re mainly here to work at Hinkley, but they’re bringing spending money and they’re looking for things to spend it on. That’s why there’s leisure facilities on the way – like the multi-plex at Northgate with it’s attached restaurants. And there’s hotels on the way, such as the new Mercure in Eastover, the Town Hotel on High street and the old Hospital site on Salmon Parade. All these people coming to the town will be wanting things to do – and we have to provide them – and leave a legacy for the people who stay here after Hinkleys initial starburst has shot it’s bolt and things have quietened down.

Getting the offer out there

Bridgwater is a great base for visiting the rest of Somerset

This is why the Town Council is taking a lead in Tourism promotion. This role – previously a key role of the District Council, has now been relegated to a slight back seat, in fact something more like a child seat and one strapped in firmly.. and subsumed somewhere in their ‘economic development’ section. But that’s no use to us. And we’ve long felt that Sedgemoor and Somerset have ignored Bridgwater as a Tourist Destination. But not only do we have a remarkable historical offer with a splendid heritage to boast about, we have our waterways, our docks, river and canal, our long standing cultural offer from our world famous Carnival to the Art Centre to the film and video of the Engine Room and the modern day state of the art McMillan Theatre . And on top of this, there’s no denying that we really are a great place to base yourself while visiting all the other great attractions that Somerset can offer. From Bridgwater you can do the seaside, the rolling Quantocks hills, the Mendips and Cheddar Gorge, the moody Sedgemoor and Avalon marshes, the rivers and canals that cross them and the key attractions of Wells and Glastonbury. Even Bath’s not too far for a day trip – and I bet the hotels will be cheaper here!

Young people are .. (say it again…) Our Future

What kind of town do we want to leave to our children?

It’s no coincidence that our youthful 28 year old Mayor is putting ‘youth’ at the top of his agenda. The money that comes to Bridgwater now needs to have been used wisely for when the next generation comes along. So one  progressive initiative of Mayor Diogo is to get a Youth Council up and running. We introduced a set of Youth Grants last year and this year added more money into the pot. Yes people said this should be done by County- but they’re not doing it and as we all know, they’re now in a mess anyway. In truth there’s not much they can do apart from cutback and plead for a Unitary status so they can get their hands on the precepts and communities of the lower ranked authorities – all of which in fact set precepts wisely and don’t have the problems that County now has! On Bridgwater Town Council, we increased our precept and we put money into Youth. Now we’re launching a Youth Council which gives real power and influence to delegated young people from the schools who will have a real scrutiny role on our Town and can set their own agenda for the future. Because, that future is in fact theirs, not ours.

The Town is Changing

west quay
West Quay -alive with locals and visitors alike

Have a look around the town and you can see it’s changing. Take a walk along West Quay – a great place for socialising with it’s cafe-bar culture and now a stopping off place for cyclists since Bridgwater got itself on the National Cycle route. They come into town and that’s where they head for. And what a peaceful place to take a break before heading off in search of new adventures.

And along from the riverside you turn the corner into another of the county’s great unspoilt gems. The 18th century Castle street, home to the Bridgwater Arts Centre. The first art centre in the country and the kind of place you know you’re going to get a mixture of the nations top acts alongside a wealth of local talent.

This month there’s a new guy at the helm.

adam clarke
Art Centre director Adam Clarke with Cllr Tony Heywood, chair of the Towns Cultural Partnership in the background

Adam Clarke is the latest in a long line of centre directors set to make their mark in the town. Adam has a vision – and that’s what we need in the town at this key moment – people who can see what we should be making of the things we have and creating the things we need. Adam wants the centre to become a community hub ‘fizzing with creative atmosphere, making it provocative, innovative and educational at the same time. Making it work on a local,regional and national level and especially  making it attractive to young people. Adam wants to create ‘something unique’, ‘something dynamic’ and a genuine ‘creative and versatile space.’

It says something about the nature of Bridgwater that you can wander into a profoundly attractive heritage area like Castle Street and Kings Square and find something as modern and innovative as the Art Centre. But this is all part of Bridgwater’s cultural offer -take a walk up the High street and you;ll come to the Engine Room, a centre founded by the fundraising of punk legend Joe Strummer from the Clash and which is still inspiring and training the film-makers of the future.

What could go wrong…..

Bridgwater town centre, soon to be enhanced with a new street scene

Of course, Hinkley Point could go wrong. It’s quite expensive for what it is, EDF substituted a much needed by-pass for a never-ending morass of roadworks and unsubtly increased it’s agreed lorry runs through the town. And it might blow up. But…we never had a chance to vote on if we wanted it in the first place and so instead we make the most of the ‘community impact monies’ offered to help out. And we’re getting a fair bit of that.

So thanks EDF, we will take your money.

Shortly work will start on the Fore Street town centre  improvements and only this week we voted on Town Council to put in matched funding to the new Blake Gardens/Library improvements. If succesful this bid will generate more than 20 times it’s value , save Bridgwater Library while other are closing down, help create a state of the art new one and at the same time achieve all the improvements we need to bring Blake Gardens back into family friendly use, tackle the ASB and provide lighting, fencing, upgrade the rose gardens and even open up the blank wall of the library to a cafe with a kiddies playing area.

A Green Town with a Beating Red  Heart

new dawn
A new dawn awaits….

We have pledged on Town Council to preserve and enhance our green spaces. Bringing back the Blake Gardens, our main town centre park, into the community will be a real achievement. But it doesn’t stop there – we are in fact reclaiming extra green space on the Brewery Field, so now’s the time to make sure the community has a say in what we do with it as we join up our hidden gem of Bridgwater docks via the (much heralded) Celebration Mile to the town centre enhancements, across the bridge – with it’s new (long awaited) atmospheric lighting to the regenerated street scene of Eastover and on down to the railway station where we are urging not just a quicker delivery on the promised upgrade but a proper rail-bus linkage but actually some more trains stopping at the station!! And then there’s the Meads – a veritable segment of the Somerset levels in the heart of our town. This new eco park, green wedge, call it what you will, is progress in action. Land brought back into the public domain and being made accessible to the community while retaining it’s natural beauty.

The town is on the up. There are new projects planned. There’s building works everywhere – hotels, roads, stores, streetscapes, a leisure complex, a tidal barrier, a nuclear power station (ok, time out….) and if we don’t achieve some genuine legacy project out of all of that I’m not sure we ever will…….


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