Watermans' history

The scheme had its origins in a proposal from the 1970s to establish a large new theatre on the riverfront in Brentford.  A trust was in place in 1975 and there was a fundraising drive.  However the plans were over ambitious and as the Arts Council view of new theatre buildings changed so too did the plans in Brentford. Eventually it was agreed that a more modest proposal should be planned and this opened in 1984. 
 
The Hounslow Arts Trust managed to raise quite a considerable sum (about £150,000 is recollected). It was not enough to build the centre-but then a planning deal was done with the developer of offices adjoining the present site which paid for the construction of the shell and the Trust's money being applied, enabled the whole thing to be completed.  It is recollected that other monies, perhaps from the then GLC, and even the Arts Council were added but we're not sure.  However there was grant aid from those sources, although the lion's share for running the place was supplied by the council.  
 
The Trust was independent from the Council as a charitable trust - and has a lease of the building.  Part of the original terms was that if the Council terminated the lease then it would repay the Trust's own funding contribution on a formula which decreased the liability over a period of years.  It seems likely that this obligation is now exhausted with the passage of time.  Over the last twenty years the building been adapted and extended.
 
Today, Hounslow Council supplies much of the revenue funding and owns the site.  The trust is a lessee in occupation and an independent charity.  To remove it from the present building (and Brentford) requires careful consideration of the legal rights of the trust and any obligations to some of the donors over the years, as well as to any other revenue funders. It is understood this has been fully investigated by the trust and (sadly for Brentford) has not thrown up any legal concerns.  There is also the question of the original planning permission and the obligations incurred by that developer and any reciprocal undertakings by the council.
 
The charity's legal "objects" can be found on The Charity Commission website: "The charitys principal activity is to operate Watermans, an arts centre in Brentford, which provides a year-round programme of performing arts, cinema, exhibitions and new media arts.  In addition, it provides participative arts programmes for a wide range of communities both in its own venue and in other community spaces across West London."

The very first event in the Theatre was a concert by India's leading sitar player and Beatles guru Ravi Shankar. A great variety of other artists have performed or shown their work. In the 80s Robert Rankin was writer in residence for a while. Other notable names who have appeared include Peter Greenaway, Elvis Costello, Mica Paris, Meera Syal,  Melvin Bragg, Shabana Azmi and Jo Brand. In the last few years Watermans has welcomed Nitin Sawnhey, Shappi Khorsandi and Shazia Mirza, Lillete Dubey and Rajit Kapur.

Councillors in Watermans' early days were very committed to improving Brentford.  The scheme was born at a time when the old gas works were being demolished, Watermans' park was not yet built, and the rest of that part of Brentford was pretty grim.  Of course things have changed a good deal since, nevertheless it can be argued that Watermans itself helped to transform the area over the long term.  To that extent Watermans has always been part of the Council's commitment to Brentford, and was part of the Council's own programme to enhance the provision of entertainment in the Borough. 
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