Beckery Village, a Creative Hub on the Edge of Glastonbury

Beckery Village is a creative community hub emerging from emptiness and dereliction, on the Western fringes of Glastonbury Town.

Photos of Beckery Village, Glastonbury, Somerset by Vicki Steward
Dereliction in the past, now Aldi occupies this space

Only a few years ago, in the early 1990’s, there was an empty industrial wasteland on the edge of Glastonbury. Buildings which had once been home to the town’s thriving sheepskin industry stood derelict, vandalised and crumbling. It seemed their only future was to be demolished, erasing more than a century of Glastonbury’s industrial heritage. The Beckery estate was originally home to a tannery, which was taken over in 1870 by Clarks of Street, who in partnership with Morlands, began producing sheepskin rugs and other goods. The 31 acre site employed hundreds of workers making coats, car mats, rugs, boots and slippers, flying jackets for the RAF in WWII and boots for Hillary’s Everest Expedition. The business ran into difficulties during the recession of the 1980’s and the buildings fell into disuse, although the Morland’s business continues to make sheepskin products to this day.   

Fortunately, the factory was saved by various projects that sprung up on the site, breathing new life into the area and providing much needed community meeting spaces. Up to now these projects have ‘kept themselves to themselves’ – developing their own special flavours, each catering for particular interests in the wider community. Now, having established their individual strengths and identities, they are coming together, to form the Beckery Village.

There’s a lot going on

Bridies Yard, the Red Brick Building, the Zig Zag, Bridie’s Mound, the Glastonbury Skate Park, a coal yard, a gym, a bike project, a mobile library and an array of small businesses from wet-suits to pixie boots, this eclectic collection of enterprises is now focusing on developing the area to become more welcoming and attractive to visitors.

I’ve been asked by several people involved in the Beckery Village to write about the plans for the future that are made possible by this fertile collaboration. I started by talking to Tanya Greenangel and Nik Hiscock from Bridies Yard, who told me that they felt that the yard, under-loved and under-resourced in the past couple of years, was turning a corner.

Bridie’s Yard

Bridies Yard was once a cow shed and farm yard, but now houses an organic community food shop, community space and creative art studios. The Yard began life as the vision-child of two intrepid local food pioneers in 1997, Sally and Sophie Pullinger. Its ethic then as now, was to provide affordable organic food for everyone. At that time there were lots of kids and home education, mow those kids have grown up and are shopping in the wholefood store for their own families.

For a while Bridies became more of a raw food cafe under Simon Ganz. Tanya feels that “Bridies has its own little vibration. It picks people to carry it on”. She explains that the focus of Bridie’s Yard is still around community, family and health. They provide an affordable and plastic free alternative to the supermarkets, you can bring your own tubs and bottles and fill them up from the giant bins of dry goods and the refill station for cleaning and washing liquids, in quantities that you will actually use, cutting costs and waste.

The units at the Yard are currently occupied by two carpenters, a motorcycle workshop, a kombucha maker, Feed Avalon and Sustainable Life Designs. There’s a food as medicine project, which includes fermentation, baking and herbs. A vegan production kitchen that can be used to cater for events or for bulk preservation.

Nowadays Bridie’s Organic Store is open Thursdays and Fridays The shop has recently expanded its range, to include natural medicines, some of which are made onsite. There is also a largish room available for rehearsals,  acoustic events and small community gatherings.

For seven years the Bridie’s Yard group held Imbolc ceremonies on the nearby roundabout (thoughtfully supplied with it’s own stone megalith by a local quarry). Feeling rather isolated out on the fringes of town, they wished for neighbours “We got Screwfix!”. They decided to modify their wishes and along came the Red Brick Building.

Bride’s Mound

Bride’s mound is the spiritual centre of Beckery Village, it is one of the lesser known sacred hills of the Isle of Avalon. Friends of Bride’s Mound was founded in November 1995 to save the site from destruction, they manage and care for the land around the sacred mound where a small chapel dedicated to St. Bridget (reputedly more ancient than the Isle of Iona). The mound has become a destination for an increasing number of modern day pilgrims. Unfortunately the permissive pathway that was created to the mound has now been blocked off by the owner of part of the site, in an attempt to discourage travellers from parking up, but access can be gained by following the road around Bridie’s Yard.

Bailey’s Mill Building

Beckery Island Regeneration Trust manages the regeneration of the old Bailey’s Mill Building, which has attracted a micro-brewery to take up residence.

Red Brick Building

In 2008 a group of young people squatted one of the buildings them forming the Red Brick Building Group. A group then formed with the plan of offering starter officers, workshops, exhibition and community spaces to local residents. Now the Red Brick Building is a Community Benefit Society, managed by a core group acting on behalf of community shareholders.They host a creative zone with ‘hot desks’ and arts & crafts studios, events space and the popular Bocabar restaurant and bar, which acts as a great meeting point for artists and some of the older locals. Glastonbury FM Radio Station can also be found here.

Photos of Beckery Village, Glastonbury, Somerset by Vicki Steward
The Beckery Village Community garden with the Zig Zag Building in the background, Glastonbury

Zig Zag Building

The Zig Zag building, a former leather factory built in the Bauhaus Style, is now home to an off-grid project exploring sustainable living and future solutions. It had fallen into a severe state of dilapidation, Chris Black and the team have turned it around, replacing hundreds of panes of glass and making the building safe and secure. It is now a wonderfully large and bright space for art exhibitions, and a welcoming community gathering space, with shared meals and workshop activities.

The Community Garden

The garden sits between the Red Brick and Zig Zag buildings, a welcome space to enjoy some nature in the industrial environment, and a purposeful project dedicated to growing vegetables, mushrooms and a haven for bees and insects.

I hope to be talking to members of the Red Brick and Zig Zag Buildings and other local projects shortly to discuss their ideas around Beckery Village.

Coming Together

Members of the various groups have come together to clean up the whole area, cutting back overgrown trees and weeds, creating gardens and seating areas. The Beckery Village project, has attracted plenty of local attention, with visits from the Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, the Town Clerk, artists and enterprise people, many of whom have got stuck into the cleanup days. It feels like a broad swathe of the local community want to see the Village succeed, Nik comments that this is the most co operative period that she’s seen the area go through. Tanya says “Between the Red Brick Building, the Zig Zag and Bridie’s Yard we’re doing something to appeal to everyone in the community”.

Future plans include a physical bridge between Bridie’s Yard and the Red Brick Building, this will require planning permission. The old factory gates are being restored and will be re-hung at the entrance to the Village, it’s hoped that some of those who worked at the site will wish to return to see what is being done there. Indeed, it’s hoped that, like the Frost Fayre, Beckery Village might bring the whole town – born and bred Somerset folk and incomers, together.

Open to All – Open Day on the 7th April

There is a Beckery Village Open Day planned for Sunday April the 7th from 11am to 4pm. Attractions will include Seed of Hope – a Social Enterprise offering a Social Therapeutic horticulture project for people with mental health problems, workshops, an exhibition of photographs of the Zig Zag building and a flea market. Hopefully, Building C at the Red Brick Building will be open to show its potential.

It’s heartening to see all these different groups being neighbourly and working together to serve the needs of the whole. I felt like Glastonbury was going through rather a dark patch a year or so ago, it seemed there was little happening in terms of grass roots, social-activism in the town, let alone art.

Tanya says “The aspirations of this loose group of creatives occupying this post-industrial corner of Glastonbury, is to show that through community cohesion, it is possible to reclaim and regenerate our local areas and beautify and develop them through creating an open, inclusive and forward thinking environment which hopes to stimulate and engage its visitors and users.  The post-industrial canvas has room for playful interpretation as well as functional application, but with the pulsating energy of community driving the aesthetics, be prepared to witness the unfolding of Glastonbury’s own “creative quarter”

Photos of Beckery Village, Glastonbury, Somerset by Vicki Steward

In 1925 the Morlands company produced a book documenting a century of sheepskin production on the Beckery site, you can download a pdf copy here. The book includes plates of old photographs of the factory and its workers. The very last paragraph reads “We have permitted ourselves to dwell at some length upon the past, of which we are within reason proud. We now put all that aside until A.D. 2025, when we hope to present a further report”.

Thanks to the efforts of a great many of the community it seems there will be a new chapter in the history of the Beckery, let’s see what happens in the next 6 years.

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15 thoughts on “Beckery Village, a Creative Hub on the Edge of Glastonbury”

  1. I think some people’s reaction to what is going on in the derelict Morland’s estate is a bit like the reaction to those announcements the boss CJ made in the TV series Reginald Perrin, as in “Great”, “Super”.

    No matter what the boss said or did, it was always “Great”, “Super” from his two middle-management employees.

    Looking at it more objectively though, it is neither great nor is it super. Morlands was absolutely typical of British industry, and this is a graveyard, where once stood mighty firms trading all over the world and known for their top quality products. It was making decent money, and that money made Glastonbury very well off by the 1950s.

    It is blamed on the recession of the 1980s, but actually what was going on there was a shift out of manufacturing into the service sector economy and the expansion of financial services. The only industry to survive in our area was the military, because the military does not need to compete. So what we are looking at is failure, and yet I see this also as a kind of monument to remind people of the future that once Britain was top of the world regarding manufacturing. I’ve seen products of this place made during their heyday become collectors items now, such was the quality.

    What has replaced it is group of Eastern European squatters from countries that were part of the old soviet union. I tracked something down on the internet that suggested that some came from their version of a university and were art students originally, but now it’s a bit more political art, espousing their ideas about life.

    When they call it off-grid I immediately thought, well yes but Ethiopia was off-grid as well during the 1970s. Remember all the Blue Peter appeals and the flashy totaliser machine? Off-grid indeed, but why? They never told us why. They just showed millions of hungry mouths. Well it was taken over by the communists at this time. They would have said “Great”, “Super” to the claims of Marx. This is how it happens.

    • You lose me at “What has replaced it…” I know plenty of people at the Beckery, I guess a couple are Eastern European, I’ve never really thought about it. Certainly it’s not the majority.
      I’m sure you are making a point, but I’m not at all sure what your point is.
      I personally think repurposing buildings that would otherwise have been knocked down and using them as creative spaces is a positive thing. If that makes me a Communist then so be it.

    • Andrew, your apparent nostalgia for Britain’s dark satanic mills notwithstanding (and also overlooking your sniping at “Eastern European squatters”), in this particular instance the Morlands site is gradually being resuscitated from a crumbling ruin into something that adds a further contribution to Glastonbury’s refusal to slide into the mediocrity of so many similar towns that also began to lose so much of their identity in the 1980’s during the general destruction of Britain’s manufacturing base. Methinks you suspect Reds under your bed!

  2. David Taplin

    “Methinks you suspect Reds under your bed!”

    You are quite right I do, and it is not just there, but also in the Red Brick Building as well. They have become political, and I’ve done my research. For example the Red Brick Building are pushing feminist ideology and what is referred to as LGBT. Now I quite understand how these things can be glossed over and thought of in favourable terms like “community projects”, but cooperatives were the way the Soviet Union transformed into a command economy. These types of business replacing what was there before are often backward, and they will only make a tiny fraction of the money an organised modern factory will produce. This means everyone becomes poor. It’s what happened in Ethiopia and many other countries. Chile in the 1970s is another example of this (see Salvador Allende).

    So far from being the right way, it is actually highly regressive. Some of those Eastern European countries have not moved out of the Middle Ages. I will point out though that others have reformed and are doing quite well with modern high-tech factories, but they are not the people who squat Glastonbury.

    By the way, you might be interested in some further reading on what kombucha is. I didn’t know myself, but here’s a wiki page. Scroll down to health claims!

    • Many thanks for the heads-up, Andrew; I’ll be sure to watch out for those evil kombucha-crazed poverty-loving queer commie regressives; how very dare they slip in our idyllic society’s back door and launch their insidious campaign to corrupt and deprave, right under our noses!

  3. Wow, thanks Andrew for your comment. I had no idea that the Red Brick Building were “pushing feminist ideology and what is referred to as LGBT”. Do you think I am in danger of becoming a lesbian if I spend too much time there? It is a bit worrying, as even with occasional visits I notice am beginning to neglect shaving my legs and plucking my moustache. I think I will look ghastly in dungarees.
    I guess the next stage of my indoctrination will be Marxism, especially if I hang out with those Eastern Europeans at the Zig Zag. That would be terrible obviously, especially with Free Market Capitalism doing so well at looking after the poor, disabled and our NHS right now in the UK.
    Do you think there is a way I can go and investigate their activities without falling prey to the brainwashing techniques of the people behind these so-called community projects? Is there a special hat I could wear perhaps? Might teflon underwear deflect the attention of homosexuals?

  4. The poor chaps trying to run their hotel business a few blocks away are having some political trouble!

    If you are into exploring alternatives, may I suggest the Mises Institute. I know capitalism is a dirty word in these parts, but it built the world, including the buildings people squat in. Even Bridies Yard was built by capitalists.

    NHS is just a buzzword. It’s to create an emotional response. My argument was to do with efficiency.

    This is a firm which I recently bought a computer from.

    It’s your choice. You can head back to the Stone Age or maybe one day the penny will drop. Really modern factories can make a product 100% by machine. You people are about 5 centuries behind them.


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