RESIDENTS packed into Watchet Methodist Church last night (Thursday, July 11) to hear about plans for a new industry at the Watchet Paper Mill site.

The meeting was held by Watchet's social enterprise company The Onion Collective with representatives from Biohm, a company specialising in bio-manufacturing.

Sally Lowndes from The Onion Collective opened the meeting outlining how the social enterprise had won funding to research the sort of industry that could be brought to the former Wansbrough Paper Mill site.

The research looked at industries which had the potential to replace the 175 jobs lost in Watchet with the Paper Mill closure, meeting the criteria of being 'ethical, pioneering, environmentally friendly and make the community proud'.

A shortlist was drawn up with ideas suggested including flat-packed eco housing, creating technology to help elderly care, and the chosen option - 'bio-based material development'.

Ehab Sayed, founder and director of innovation at Biohm then gave a presentation about the company, its philosophy, and plans for Watchet.

Mr Sayed explained that Biohm uses bio-mimicry, the scientific design and production of materials inspired by systems in nature.

In this case Biohm has been researching and creating materials using mycelium - the roots of mushrooms - to consume other materials that would normally go to landfill such as dried agricultural waste, fruit and vegetable peels, coffee chaff and sugar cane and create soft insulation for buildings.

Mr Sayed said at this stage the product was made using organic waste but research was being carried out into whether plastic waste could be used.

He said the product has no additives or chemicals, creates no greenhouse gases, and has astounding insulation properties.

Naomi Griffiths, Onion Collective director said: "We were looking for a company that shares our values and we are delighted to have come across Biohm.

Mrs Griffiths said that with better understanding of the impacts of climate change, more people were questioning whether the economy needed to be 'reframed', and whether 'capitalism and normal market forces were necessarily the answer'.

The first stage for Biohm will be to create a pilot and demonstration facility on the Paper Mill site, building a lab in an existing warehouse, which it is hoped will be operational in early 2020.

Initially this will be small scale, importing less than 1,000 tonnes of waste a year, with a limited number of jobs, but if successful has the capacity to grow and employ a significant number of people in five to 10 years time.

The meeting then had a question and answer session where residents asked questions relating to scalability, patents and intellectual property, funding and whether the plans would be affected by planning permission for the wider site.

Mickey Green, managing director of Somerset Waste Partnership and Watchet resident said he was 'fascinated and exciting by the project', and said SWP would be doing 'everything it could' to support the project.

Concluding the meeting, Naomi Griffiths said: "We hope this project can make a difference to Watchet, to West Somerset and, in a small way, to the whole world."