We are all familiar with the problem of engaging young people in local projects. However, there is a great deal of truth in the cliché “if you don’t ask, you don’t get”. Well, we asked and we got!
Early in 2006, the Bridgwater civic society and other local organisations were invited to participate with the Bridgwater Arts Centre in bidding for Heritage Lottery funding. The bid won, the society embarked upon “The Building of Bridgwater” project.
The plan involved providing and mounting blue plaques on buildings and at sites of historic importance, updating existing interpretation boards and commissioning new ones. Research needed to be done, drawings for the proposed plaques prepared and much else besides. We approached Bridgwater College and young student volunteers came forward to help, bringing energy and genuine interest to whatever they were asked to do.
This was not a one-off project. 2007 marks the 350th anniversary of the death of Robert Blake, “the father of the English navy”, born in Bridgwater. He was one of Cromwell’s naval generals. As part of this year’s programme of events some of those same students produced two films about Blake. On their own initiative they applied for and were granted funding; they mastered the equipment to film at Blake-related sites and arranged the printed publicity and all the other aspects of putting together a project of this kind. As a result they engendered an interest and support from fellow students and friends aged 14 to 19 and the wider community. These films were screened by September. The students have also been supportive of many other events in and around the town.
The society is now publishing a book illustrating the plaques installed, containing some of the broader historic facts unearthed when wording for the plaques was being considered. Again Bridgwater College students are helping us to achieve this. It has been heartening to work with young people who have rewarded us with hard work, enthusiasm and their fresh ideas.
You can see the work on the society’s website, bridgwatercivic.org.uk.
One blue plaque is in Blake Street, formerly Mill Street, on a building that was once Bridgwater’s mill. “Situated over a main watercourse, it has survived in different forms at this site for over 800 years at least,” said Siobhan Wilson. “In its early days, it would have been used to grind grain for feeding the townsfolk.
“In James II’s time it was used to pump water for the town’s piped supply at the High Cross in Cornhill; in Victoria’s time it was a sawmill.”
A decade ago the old mill caught fire, ruining plans to convert it to an extension to the Blake Museum. It now languishes as a forlorn listed building in the care of Sedgemoor council.
Bernice Lashbrook is secretary of Bridgwater and District Civic Society.