Watermans fire being treated as accidental

Image: Fire has badly damaged one of the studio spaces inside the former Watermans Arts Centre

Cigarette butts thought to be to blame 

A fire at the empty Watermans arts centre in Brentford is being treated as accidental, Hounslow Council has confirmed.

London Fire Brigade crews were called to a blaze at the centre on Wednesday morning (5 June). Around 25 firefighters from Chiswick, Heston and Acton fire stations attended, after being called at 6.13am. They had the flames under control by 8.18am.

After an investigation by the fire brigade, Hounslow Council released a statement saying it is ‘believed to have been caused by the unsafe disposal of smoking materials outside the building which then spread inside’.

The building has been occupied by squatters since it was closed in April. LFB say the ground floor and roof of the two-storey building were partially damaged by the fire. There were no reports of any injuries.

Image: Protestors outside the former Watermans site earlier this year

Watermans was closed as an arts centre on 11 April because Hounslow Arts Trust said they could no longer afford to run it. There have been protests about the closure and attempts by local groups to continue using the space for arts activities until it is demolished.

The Hounslow Arts Trust confirmed the fire ‘has badly affected the venue’s smallest studio space’.

The charity said it had taken the difficult decision to close Watermans as ‘the best possible way of protecting both the interests of Hounslow residents and the organisation’s financial viability’ ahead of the arts centre’s planned relocation to the site of the old police station building in Brentford.

READ ALSO: Protest at closure of Watermans

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

The development has been delayed because of rising building costs, and the developer LGL has recently put in a planning application to Hounslow Council seeking to demolish a single-storey motor room building at the northwest corner of the site, in a bid to prevent their original planning permission from lapsing.

READ MORE: Watermans developer seeks to avoid laspse of planning permission

Cllr Tom Bruce, Deputy Leader of Hounslow Council and Cabinet Member for Assets, Regeneration and Development, said:

“Thankfully no one was hurt, but the building has been damaged. We will now start to assess the degree of damage to the building and the next steps. We are also liaising with the Hounslow Arts Trust, who are currently based in the building, to understand the impact on them.”

Image: Smoke rising from former Watermans site

Campaign group urges council to now “act decisively” 

Watermans Community Works, a group set up following the closure of the centre, say the fire ‘has brought to the forefront the urgent need for the London Borough of Hounslow (LBH) to act decisively’.

Steve Sargeant from Watermans Community Works (WCW) said:

“We believe this incident only highlights the need for LBH to take immediate action to secure the safe operation of this vital community asset. The closure of Watermans Arts Centre was a devastating blow to Brentford. The loss of the site without any chance for reanimation would be wholly unforgivable.”

Ruby Almeida from WCW added:

“The future of Culture in Brentford was already uncertain, in part due to the lack of clarity from London Borough of Hounslow surrounding the meanwhile use application process. The subsequent fire and unauthorised occupation of the building only compound that uncertainty at a time when Brentford residents deserve clear and decisive action.”

A Hounslow Council spokesperson, said:

“The Council is working with the tenant Hounslow Arts Trust Limited to remove the squatters and regain control of the property. Our priorities are public safety and protecting the integrity of the building.”