Friday, 16 December 2011


The creative writing group I have been part of for over the last three years is no more. We are the latest victim of the financial mess the world is in and have met at the Bridgwater Arts Centre for the last time. You may not know this but the Bridgwater Arts Centre is the oldest arts centre in the country ( it was opened in 1946 and the writing group has been around for more years than anyone cares to remember.

The group has, during my time, numbered under ten people, it is in the words of the accountants “not viable”. For many years the Arts Centre supported the group, as it did many other worthy community projects and groups in Bridgwater. This has to end.

This time last year the County Council withdrew funding, this was followed by the Town Council withdrawing the remaining £100,000 funding and handing the building over to the Trustees (admittedly at a peppercorn rent) for 125 years. The Trustees had no choice but to make the three hard working members of staff redundant. At an extraordinary general meeting two weeks ago, a motion was passed stating that the arts centre was not in a position to produce any events, groups or activities that were not going to make a profit. It will also be completely run by volunteers.

So bye bye writing group.

This scene is being played out all around the country. It is the result of a callous government and local authorities forced to tow an ideological line that punishes the most vulnerable in our society. I could talk about this in detail but I am not going to.

Instead I am going to celebrate the achievements of my creative writing group. I found the homework always challenging and learned much from the class. There is nothing more scary yet confirming than having to write for ten minutes on some unexpected topic then to read out loud the result of your frantic scribblings. To use a jazz phrase; such situations really give you “chops”.

I was always impressed with the high quality of work that my colleagues produced and found their feedback not only constructive but supportive. I know that over the last three years or so I have grown as a writer thanks to the opportunity to be part of this group. I have to thank our tutor, Genny, for al her hard work and perceptive comments, the class would not have been half as good without her input. Thanks, Genny.

On Wednesday evening we gathered to celebrate the achievements of all the different groups who use the arts centre, the community choir, the youth drama group, the youth dance group, the jazz workshop and, of course, the creative writing group. Sadly not all of the class members could be present, but those of us who were delivered their words as well as our own.

I was proud to be part of this event. The quality of the performances was of a high standard and the performers put their all into it. There was much talk about courses being suspended – the youth drama and dance groups cannot run, funding is being sought, our group is no more.

Things change, life is change, nothing can remain the same, but when the lights close on the theatres and arts centres of this land, as they are doing, when the doors are locked for the last time and there are no spaces for our communities to come together to celebrate and create, then we will be spiritually the poorer.

(I have taken the photograph from the Bridgwater Arts Centre website-thank you)


  1. Sorry to hear about your group. I was part of a fun group in Texas. We were all volunteer writers, who contributed to the group's activities. We met in a library and had a great time. I hope you can find something similar to your old group. Government funding is being cut for a lot of arts and community programs here in the US too.

  2. Hi Paul
    Many thanks for your support for Bridgwater Arts Centre. I must however set the record straight on a couple of items.

    Firstly it was Sedgemoor DISTRICT Council who withdrew the bulk of the funding for the Arts Centre. Bridgwater town council continue to be as supportive as they can be in difficult economic times.

    Secondly, volunteers and supporters of BAC have every intention of continuing as an independent volunteer run organisation. The Arts Centre will open Wed - Sat daytimes and Wed evenings plus event nights from 11 Jan and would love to have your writing group back on one of those times.

    The youth groups are SUSPENDED whilst the group leaders assess the way forward. Young people are the future of the arts centre and their groups will be back.

  3. Thank you for the comments:
    Jacquie: Thank you for clarifying the situation. It was not my intention to imply that the centre was closing.
    Stacy: Thanks, I think that community schemes are under threat every where. We are all the poorer when they are cancelled.

  4. Hi Paul
    Thank you for writing so eloquently about our writing group and expressing your feelings about it's ending. (And thank you for reading our 'stuff' when we couldn't come last week.)
    I too have found the writing group fun and inspirational - Genny is a great inspirer - and have gained a lot from the group - as well as enjoying 'the craic'.
    Having just spent most of the last year fighting for our local libraries not to be obliterated, I feel sad that our writing group has to end, also that youth groups now seem to be suffering across the County. I know it is not just here - things like this are happening across the country.
    I am glad that the Bridgwater Arts Centre is going to hang on in there with support from volunteers at the moment and wish them all the best - the Centre is too good to lose!

  5. Oh! That's so sad! I hope you find a way to still meet with at least some of them!

  6. Hi Rachel: I agree with you the arts centre is too good to loose and I wish the volunteer committee all the best in running it. I know that what is happening to us is being mirrored across the country and the world. You did well to stop the library being closed. Good luck with the writing, are you going to the poetry session at the Brewhouse?
    Peggy: Thanks for your support. The arts centre is opening four days a week but the times available mean that the writing group cannot happen as the majority of the people can't make the times it is open. Good will come out of this.

  7. I am sorry to hear that the writing group is no longer meeting. I know that is disappointing. It sounds like it was a wonderful experience for you while it lasted. I know you are thankful for that!