Discontent brews as Brentford’s Watermans Arts Centre closed with short notice

A campaign in Brentford has urged talks with Hounslow Council since the Watermans Arts Centre closed three weeks ago, but none have taken place.

The centre has been a community hub in Brentford for 40 years and was forced to shut on April 11 due to financial difficulties, but notice for its closure was posted only 22 days prior, leading to discontent among residents and artists.

This led five residents to set up Save Our Watermans campaign, hoping to save the community hub.

“The loss of Watermans is cultural vandalism,” said Ruby Almeida, a member of the campaign and a resident of Brentford for 25 years.

“We have been ringing them and sending messages, we’re trying very hard to get the council to talk to us,” Almeida said, but no formal discussions have been scheduled.

“That is our centre, Watermans is our gift that we want to preserve, and none of us in the campaign want to play a political game.”

Jan Lennox, director of Watermans, said keeping the building open is unsustainable due to rising energy costs affecting their income, with gas and electricity bills increasing from £49,000 to £125,000 this year.

The sudden closure notice has also left staff at Guru Tandoori, a restaurant at Watermans, in a bleak position, who have families to feed and rents to pay, “But no one is taking responsibility,” said Almeida.

It is planned that Watermans will be moved to a new building in Brentford Town Centre from its current site on the banks of the Thames, away from the main high street.

However, the campaign said the development has not started, claiming: “No one knows whether it will ever be built.”

More than a thousand people signed a petition within two weeks to save Watermans – including digital and paper formats.

Sangeeta, one of the artists who had an exhibition scheduled for August at the centre, has been preparing the work since last summer and is still waiting for notice of the change of venue.

She mentioned that the closure of Watermans has also affected her income, where she sells paintings and prints.

Wendy Mackenzie, an artist and resident for 17 years, said there is no suitable place in Brentford or Hounslow for artists to meet other than Watermans.

Although Hounslow’s 2022 forward plan revealed plans to redevelop Watermans alongside Brentford Police Station, there is no clear date mentioning when the redevelopment begins.

Douglas Benford, a resident of Brentford, used to exhibit at Watermans back in the 2000s and said: “It is depressing to see a space disappear and the quickness of the decision made.

“It feels like the developers want to steamroll over parts of Brentford and build flats. It’s about money.”

A Hounslow Council spokesperson said the decision to close the Watermans Arts Centre was taken by the Hounslow Arts Trust, a charity which is independent of the council.

“We are currently in discussions with the Trust and Arts Council England about how we can support them to carry on providing their popular community-based activities and develop a business model which enables them to become sustainable for the long-term.”

The spokesperson said they will explore possible uses for the building in the meantime and have received several suggestions from the local community covering different options.

Before its closure, Watermans Art Centre provided cinema, live performances, exhibitions, and other art activities.

Some renowned artists have performed in the centre, such as Elvis Costello and Indian composer Ravi Shankar.

Despite the closure of Watermans, Antony Pickthall, marketing director of Watermans said Hounslow Arts Trust, the organisation who run Watermans, will continue to provide outdoor performance programmes at Bell Square in Hounslow.

Featured image credit: Cathy Chen

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