Save Our Watermans campaign put in bid to use the empty building

Image: Watermans arts centre, Brentford

Campaign group want to carry on using the building to maintain arts provision in Brentford

A campaign group launched by a collective of local residents, artists and former staff members, have submited an ‘expression of interest’ to use the building on a temporary basis, as it may not be demolished for several years.

Their spokeswoman told us leaving the Watermans arts centre site vacant while it awaits development would be a “terrible shame”.

Hounslow Arts Trust Ltd, the charity that operates Watermans arts centre, has announced it will close in mid-April because they could not afford the running costs. The arts centre was due to move to a new site in Brentford as part of the redevelopment of the town, but the development has been delayed, also by rising costs.

READ MORE: Watermans arts centre in Brentford closes

READ MORE: Watermans closure “the only viable option” for Hounslow Arts Trust, says Ruth Cadbury

READ MORE: Protest at closure of Watermans

Hounslow Council invited submissions at the end of last month for a ‘meanwhile use’ of the vacated building.

Image: Protestors outside Watermans when it was closed

Keeping the building empty would be “a terrible shame and a crime”

Save Our Watermans said:

“This is an opportunity to keep your community arts centre operating within the current building. We already have a Strategy Planning Group and are creating a feasibility plan and a strategy for the continued provision of arts and culture for the interim period. Your continued support is much appreciated as we move to the next phase.”

The riverside venue in Brentford has served the population of west London for decades with live theatre, dance and music, a cinema and restaurant, and a gallery for contemporary art shows.

The Trust has put on school holiday programmes for children in everything from Manga, the Japanese style of cartoon drawing, to Capoeira, the Brazilian dance martial art and game that includes elements of dance, acrobatics and music.

Campaign leader Ruby Almeida told The Chiswick Calendar:

“We don’t know what we’re being allowed to bid for. No guidelines and criteria have been set… We’re hoping to get some guidance about which part of the centre we might be allowed to have or whether we’ll be allowed the whole thing. We don’t know.”

Hounslow Council have yet to respond to the proposal and it is unclear how many other stakeholders have submitted an expression of interest, or how much of the building will be available for use.

It remains the Council’s policy to continue with the planned redevelopment of the site but the existing building may not be demolished for several years. A ‘meanwhile use’ arrangement facilitates temporary use of a vacant or under-used building by businesses or other organisations.

Image: CGI of how the development on the site of the old Brentford police station, where the new arts centre is planned

Council says it wants to encourage ‘Meanwhile’ use

The Chiswick Calendar understands a meeting with all those who have bid for the site is likely to take place in June.

Ruby continued: “I think the Council can see the value of Meanwhile use. Because there is going to be no development on that building for several years, so to leave the building empty and derelict would be a terrible shame and a crime as far as I’m concerned. Looking for positive bids for Meanwhile Use would be [the Council’s] best option.”

Cllr Tom Bruce, Labour Group Spokesperson for Regeneration and Development has reiterated that the long-term commitment to build a new art centre at the Half Acre site remains, and he confirmed the Council wants to enable meanwhile use on the current site.

Cllr Bruce said earlier in May:

“I am keen that we get the building re-opened as soon as possible. It is important to note that Hounslow Arts Trust currently hold the lease for the building and will do until September. Also, as the landlord, the Council will be required to conduct a structural survey to ensure the safety of the building and those who may occupy it.

“We are working closely with the trust to ensure the handover of the building and any associated equipment will take place as quickly and smoothly as possible, but also to ensure the resources and equipment they require for their community arts and culture projects can be safely secured and easily accessed.”