Council Spotlight: Watchet Town Council
Watchet Town Council (WTC) in Somerset is a proactive, forward-thinking local council which benefits from a wealth of skills from its hard-working 12 councillors and staff of five. The town is located in West Somerset, which has been identified as the UK’s most deprived area in terms of employment, education and housing as measured by the social mobility index. By working with local businesses, Community Interest Companies (CICs) and social enterprises, such as the new East Quay Development where many jobs will be created, WTC provides a voice to link and address these local issues.
WTC has maintained good working relations with principal authorities, neighbouring parishes and voluntary groups. From our district council, we took back ownership of Watchet Memorial Ground, where we are accountable as holding trustees for sports and leisure facilities provided through a charity committee. We are also currently working in partnership with the Somerset and Sports Partnership Active Spaces Programme offering affordable outdoor fitness sessions for families.
Similarly, we took back the youth centre building where we continue to run the youth club after cuts by the county council. Having undertaken a refurbishment programme to widen its appeal, bookings of the building as a community centre have increased by 300% in the last 18 months and enabled a programme of low-cost children’s activities to take place throughout the summer. We also manage community events on Watchet Esplanade, the town’s main community space.
WTC appoints councillor representatives onto more than 20 voluntary and community groups and recently became a founding trustee in establishing a local food bank. We keep an open dialogue and promote public awareness by reporting activities via meetings such as our annual town meeting for local electors, and via the council website.
WTC ensures effective service delivery and has good operational work rotas and excellent management systems in place to do this. In addition to providing a cemetery and closed churchyard, a car park for 75 vehicles, three play areas, tennis courts, Multi-Use Games Area and outdoor gym, we established six allotments on a new site, run a weekly summer Wednesday Market, where collaboration with Butlins and the WS Railway sees a special train run into Watchet.
Working with Onion Collective CIC, which acquired the ‘defunct’ Boat Museum building from the district council and won grants for its refurbishment, WTC helped create a brand-new visitor centre and invested in a new disability-compliant council office which is more central and accessible.
In enabling this new building to come to fruition, the town council pushed boundaries with a focus on tourism and economic development. The building has since been commended in the Somerset Historic Awards as “a simple, unobtrusive and well-designed extension which has transformed the boat museum into an attractive visitor centre and adds a fresh contemporary element to the townscape”.
WTC is a founder member of the Watchet Coastal Community Team (WCCTCIC), a partnership of over 30 local organisations, including local authorities at district and county council level.
In 2018, WCCT was awarded £240,000 funding from the Big Lottery as one of only ten partnerships countrywide in the first two stages of the Place-Based Social Action programme. This is a major achievement and aims to support communities putting social action at the heart of plans to make a positive difference for solving problems in the local area, connecting local groups together to identify and achieve solutions. It includes plans to renovate a building to save our local voluntary community bookshop.
WTC has already taken on essential services such as youth service, grounds maintenance and public toilets, vital to residents and the tourist economy. In 2019 we established a new community library partnership with Somerset County Council to take over and operate the local library when funding cuts threatened closure.
From May this year, we began developing a working relationship with the new Somerset West & Taunton District Council, formed from the amalgamation of the previous West Somerset and Taunton Deane district councils.