Case Study: Watershed


Strategic partnership, access audits and consultation for Watershed in Bristol, a multidisciplinary arts venue. It houses an arthouse cinema, studios for artists in residence, a hub for creative technology businesses, and a cafe bar.

Set up in 1982 as ‘Britain’s First Media Centre’, the institution is now the leading film culture and digital media centre in the South West.

It is also the home of Rife, an online magazine that supports young people getting into content creation and journalism, and the space presents an exciting programme of films, festivals, events and conferences.

Person working at The Watershed
People working at the Watershed reception

The Challenge

Helen, the venues Operations Manager, started a consortium of venues in Bristol who were all struggling with their accessibility work for various reasons. This was mostly related to funding, but also due to a lack of access to a network of people who had a lived experience as a Disabled person meaning they were unable to test things in the venue and give feedback.

Helen and her contacts who worked within venues would meet and chat about their access work and what the barriers were, and whilst everyone was passionate about it there was not much movement within the venue’s policies. It was through this group that Watershed met WECIL and the partnership developed from there.

Watershed needed support in ensuring they were embodying their core value of inclusion, to enable them to confidently welcome Disabled artists and visitors to the venue. They recognised that they needed guidance from an organisation that had a network of people with a lived Disability experience, and WECIL were able to provide this satellite support for the venue.

Our Approach

WECIL approached the situation through a variety of work, from formal focus groups and audits to casual conversations, which Helen describes as ‘always a great opportunity to talk about what was going on.’ Our approach was focused around building a natural relationship and ongoing partnership rather than isolated service offering. Professionalism, clarity and boundaries were key to ensuring the team at Watershed felt valued and comfortable working with us long term.

WECIL audited the plans for a capital project for a new section of the building which included a new cinema and bar. Our approach was thorough, auditing the plans to make sure accessibility was not just factored in but prioritised, during every stage of the build and plan from customer journey to toilets.

The Watershed
Audience at the Watershed

The Outcome

The impact of WECIL’s work has and continues to be extremely valuable. Reopening after COVID meant that there were a lot of changes to the Watershed including reduced capacity, new signage, sanitiser etc, and WECIL audited the new measures to ensure the COVID guidelines were also safe for Disabled people. Adjustments were implemented accordingly, for example changing colours of the signage and location of sanitisers.

WECIL’s impact was an increase in confidence for the Watershed. Without the audits, the venue would have had to wait for complaints to know if there were any issues for the Disabled community, by which point it was too late. The team felt reassured that they were now welcoming the Disabled community back to Watershed and a safe environment. WECIL’s work ensured that the team didn’t miss any details, by centering those people with lived experience, and this work has contributed to the whole approach of the organisation going forward. Every time Watershed makes any changes, they now enlist WECIL as consultants who act as their barometer for accessibility.

What They Say

‘We felt confident in WECIL that the advice they were giving us was going to be very valuable for us, we felt very comfortable working with them’

‘We work with WECIL and have done for the last 6 years or so. We have a strategic partnership with them and we benefit from that partnership a huge amount; they are such a brilliant organisation to work with. They do audits for us when we make changes to the physical building or support us with changing our programme to make it more accessible, they’ve brought in members of their network that have lived experience of disabilities into the building to give us feedback and connect us with that community which is really brilliant, and they’ve been a massive support for us and our accessibility work. We wouldn’t be able to do it without WECIL and their support and their contacts within the community, we love working with them and they’ve been hugely supportive of us and we’re really excited for our ongoing work with them going forward.’

Helen Jaffa | Operations Manager @ The Watershed

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