“ Address: 40 High Street / Brentford TW8 0DS / Middlesex / Tel: 020 8232 1019 „
On my regular family visits to London I have found some very special places that don't seem to appear in the usual guidebooks. Watermans is one such place and I am amazed that more people don't know about it. I discovered it while going on a children's theatre visit and fell in love with the place, its many facilities and its superb location. I would urge anyone who intends to visit the southwest area of London to make an effort to visit here you wouldn't be disappointed.
First I'll give you an overview of the place, it's aims and funding which I'll take mostly from their website as it would be difficult to put it into better words than myself, though it will be much condensed. Where I have experienced both the place and used the facilities I'll add my own comments, which I hope, will take the place of a guided tour. For more details on individual times, forthcoming events and booking the website is user-friendly and an art form in itself.
Watermans Arts Centre is based at Hill Street in Brentford, Middlesex. Built on the banks of the Thames, the lovely location is hard to surpass, though it isn't far from Kew Gardens, Richmond and Hounslow, it's classed as Brentford, a mere bus ride from many suburbs of the area. The building is modern reddish brick on the outside with parking spaces and disabled ramps to the main entrance. From the road it looks like a museum or library with an idyllic place on the river and gardens to either side.
If you look for Kew bridge its just a short way along the river bank to Brentford which is also near to Isleworth, St Margaret's and a short distance from Richmond in the other direction. I would say it's in the middle of many places of interest.
The centre itself has been running for about eight years and has achieved many things in that time. It now has a worldwide reputation for Asian arts and new media arts, forging strong relationships with centres of creative excellence from South Asia and commissioning internationally recognised digital media installations.
The centre has a main foyer that leads off to the upper level where there is a booking office, and a display area for media arts. On my recent visit I had my six-year-old grandson, Jack with me and we had hoped to see a film, unfortunately we had got the day wrong. We used the toilets in the foyer and I saw a sign that described the ongoing exhibition. Intrigued by this we got two torches from the booking office and went through a curtain into a darkened area with stark trees, looking white in the ultra-violet lighting. Each shrub or tree had flowers in various colours and they sang to you as you walked around. It was a bit like walking through and enchanted forest and I found it a lovely experience. Jack was a little afraid as the music is quite haunting, but back out in the foyer there was another part of the exhibition, hanging baskets with trailing greenery that also sang when gently touched. This is an ongoing project and one of many that involve sound and motion. The current display by Alsos and Akousmaflore brings light and sounds to both able-bodied and disabled people.
Go down the stairs to the next level and you find the heart of the complex. Another floor down houses the smaller cinema/workshops.
The theatre is on the same level as the restaurant and bar. This seats up to 239 people and has a small but adequate stage. The performances are many and varied with at least one a week running for a set period of time. Each production brings something different to enjoy for children and adults alike. Since these are live performances they are interactive with children happily shouting out instructions and joining in the fun, while they often learn something new at the same time.
I went to one production with Jack and my daughter back in April. The theme then was numbers and was brought to life by a spirited performance of one actor using puppets in a very physical birthday party. It was really great to see children playing along much as they would in pantomime.
Most of these events are very cheap, with prices at £6.50 and £5.50 for members (or friends of the theatre). There is something very special about live theatre and children can get involved themselves in various workshops run by the centre.
As Jack and I had missed the film on Friday, we went to the cinema to see Cars 2 on Saturday morning. The cinema on the lower level is small but boasts the cheapest seats in London. Adults with children go free on Saturday mornings and at other times the prices are £8, to £5. There are so many concessions that it's easier to check on the website. I'd seen a film at the Odeon in Richmond before and paid over £20 for Jack and me.
One cinema shows children's' films while the larger shows films for age 12+. Imagine seeing Harry Potter for less than £8 in London! In keeping with the spirit of the centre, the adult films are an eclectic mixture with many foreign films as well as English. Some have nominations for film festivals or even Oscar nominated. All are right up to date and rightly earn the centre the title of 'best cinema in London.'
Restaurant and bar.
Once you walk in through the entrance to the lower level you are met by a mouth-watering aroma of spicy food. The Guru Tandoori restaurant serves meals from mid-morning to evening and offer unbeatable value. The express lunchtime menu at just £3.99 is an experience not to be missed. The food is well cooked, tasty and beautifully presented by friendly staff. The view from the comfy seats is of the River Thames at a spot where weeping willows hang gracefully over the river, which is lovely at high tide. In the day the sun sparkles on the water and evening lights make a dramatic display. The experience is similar to a floating restaurant.
You can also eat on the riverside Terrace café and bar that offers light meals, snacks and drinks, both soft and alcoholic. There is also a Thali Thursday menu at just £7.50. Unfortunately I haven't eaten at that time. I have sat on the terrace having a soft drink and chatting to a student from the London art college about the many painters who frequently painted in and around the Thames. As an amateur artist it was pleasant sharing the same view that such artists as William Turner must have seen in his day, albeit without the low-tide river pollution. Jack tucked into a double choc chip ice cream and looked surprised at the plate of Tapas being eaten by my new acquaintance.
Of course this place and the wonderful work it does couldn't happen without funding and many different sources make up the grants for the Arts Council England.
Without experience of this I can only go on what the centre promotes and that is a lively programme of interactive drama for all types of disadvantaged groups across the broadest section of young people. Having experienced this in my hometown I know how important this can be in devolving confidence in children, especially the learning impaired who get so much enjoyment from performing.
There are also several workshops here for all children and I'm hoping that Jack will get interested as he gets older. It's the sort of thing I would like to get involved in myself as a volunteer.
One thing I do know about the funding is that is has a lot of local funding, as well as some lottery funding, but most of the proceeds from revenue go towards keeping the prices down and usage of this centre available to so many. So don't just look and think it might be worth a visit, your time and money spent here helps the community and keeps your visit cheaper than many places. I couldn't afford a trip to my local arts centre; it's way beyond my means.
I didn't mention these apart from the ramps leading up to the centre, as I manage myself with the few stairs, but I do use a walking stick for balance and joint pain, so the fact I didn't have trouble getting about suggests on it's own that the building is user friendly for people like myself. There is disabled toilets and a lift, also certain isle seating in the theatre and cinema. The foyer entrance has one lot of toilets on a flat level and there are more toilets on the restaurant level. My apologies for omitting this before.
Outside the centre.
I thought it worth mentioning this as it's as much a part of the complete experience with a lovely waterside park and children's' safe play area right on the doorstep. Jack and I loved this; we played for ages before deciding to walk along the river until we could just glimpse Kew Bridge in the distance. Then we walked back, used the toilets and caught a bus back to Isleworth.
I hope my review has given you some idea of this wonderful centre, if there was more places like this our children would have something else to do and experience.
Thanks for reading.
©Lisa Fuller 2011.