I was lounging in the bath, fully clothed, a pair of upturned legs dripping in paint distracting me from reading Susie Hodge’s How Art Can Change Your Life. You’d be forgiven for thinking I was at the tail end of a riotous country house party reminiscent of scenes from Saltburn. In fact, I was soaking up the atmosphere of an idiosyncratic accommodation pod at East Quay, where a cut-out bath has been refashioned into a surprisingly comfortable sofa offering a unique vantage point to contemplate the wonderfully murky Watchet tides and changing skies. If your eyes aren’t drawn to the provocative lamp by artist Herbie Hare.

Pd 1 is known as the 'Living Museum' with upcycled items repurposed throughout. Pd 1 is known as the 'Living Museum' with upcycled items repurposed throughout. (Image: Joseph Horton)

One of five pods individually designed by bold and playful architect-makers Owen Pearce and George Williams of PEARCE+Fægen as part of the East Quay arts centre conceived by the progressive social enterprise Onion Collective and opened in 2021, Pod 1 is known as the ‘Living Museum’. It features upcycled items from the parquet floor to the craftsman’s ladder-turned shelf near the ceiling. The bathtub sofa was once a water trough in a sheep field and the kitchen seating was repurposed from a pair of double decker bus seats while the bed is constructed from salvaged Elizabethan house beams. It’s defining feature however is the ‘object exchange’, less a policy and more an invitation, where guests can not only add pieces to one of the many cubby holes with an accompanying luggage tag to tell its tale, but also take something away (leaving its explanatory note behind, tied to the wire stair spindles).The effect is as compelling as it is curious, the very antithesis to the bizarre mental contortion we adopt in hotel rooms to suspend disbelief that anyone has ever inhabited the space before us. In Pod 1 I couldn’t help but absorb the energy of those who had previously visited (and wonder if future dwellers would pick up mine) and it felt cheering to know that I wasn’t alone.

Guests are invited to add pieces to the cubby holes with an accompanying luggage tag to tell its tale. Guests are invited to add pieces to the cubby holes with an accompanying luggage tag to tell its tale. (Image: Emma Bovill)

It would have been entirely possible for me to spend my stay at East Quay digesting the pod’s stories and imagining the lives of those who scribed them or gazing through the floor-to-ceiling window out at Watchet Harbour if there hadn’t been so many reasons to leave the room. These ranged from addressing basic needs to satisfying my curiosity to explore and seeking the diverting joy of other people. East Quay Kitchen provides respite from squally weather or encourages you to spill out into an enclosed courtyard adorned with lights and bunting depending on which side of the coin the British weather falls during your trip. Adopting a sustainable approach and using locally-sourced ingredients, the café serves up flavour-packed delights that you wish you could make at home from the open kitchen, a testament to chef Connor Hallett’s skill and East Quay co-founder Naomi Griffith’s passion for honest food. It’s no wonder the pop-up supper clubs are proving so successful, attracting temporary pod residents as much as discerning locals, the conversation flowing along the communal tables as dishes are passed from guest to guest. On the night of my visit, over mouthwatering Mediterranean morsels, topics ranged from rock formations on nearby Kilve beach to the local farming landscape (economic and physical), the Somerset nightclub scene circa 2000 and what’s on these days at Butlins. It’s impossible not to mention the seaside resort, nostalgic for many, when its big tent shines so conspicuously from Minehead towards Watchet.

The warm atmosphere of the supper club in the East Quay Kitchen. The warm atmosphere of the supper club in the East Quay Kitchen. (Image: Onion Collective)

The warm atmosphere of the supper club had the welcome side effect of sparking my interest in the surroundings at East Quay, which is perfectly situated for adventuring. The seasonal West Somerset Railway, historic esplanade (complete with a sculptural ode to Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner) and marina and Watchet Boat Museum are practically on site. Walks along the disused West Somerset Mineral Railway and to Helwell Bay also lead from the door. I have no shame in admitting that I exclaimed excitedly like a child (I may have jumped up and down) when spotting the large, preserved ammonites that generate lovely encounters with others ambling on the beach who to stop to admire them.

The exterior of East Quay makes for a striking backdrop to Watchet harbour. The exterior of East Quay makes for a striking backdrop to Watchet harbour. (Image: Joseph Horton)

Watchet is a town which is the very definition of community. The free annual Watchet Summertime festival is a big draw for families as much as the infamous pub-to-pub wheelbarrow race attracts those with a robust constitution. Anyone who needs a soul uplift (and injection of local history and geology including a guide to responsible fossiling) should talk to the sparkly Fiona Payne at the Watchet Boat Museum. I was delighted to donate my beachcombed mudstones to her interactive display in payment for her enthusiastic insights. Nestled in a corner of the harbour, East Quay is both inspired by and extending the community concept through art and creative activities ranging from art studios to revolving (and evolving) installations and exhibitions spread across the three-level building including in former shipping containers. The artists and makers (which also include traditional papermakers Two Rivers Paper) operate an open-door approach. I could have spent hours talking to Alison Jacobs, resident artist in Studio 9, about her iPad-generated landscapes and ‘A is for…’ project capturing the letter wherever she goes. I didn’t feel I was disturbing her from her artistic practice, but in some way contributing to it.

Educational outreach is also a cornerstone of East Quay. The brilliant ‘anti-classroom’, with cupboards stuffed with donations of craft supplies, allows children to be involved in art in a natural way and underlines the pressure many of us put on ourselves as we get older that blocks our innate imaginativeness. It didn’t take me long to realise this is what East Quay is really about, a licence to get in touch with our inner child. Variously praised as a ‘beacon of creativity’, ‘beacon of hope in post-industrial Watchet’ or just a ‘beacon on the harbour’ (arriving by public bus from Taunton in a downpour it appeared like a rainbow through the clouds), the more you delve into East Quay the more you realise it’s something even bigger – a multilevel and multifaceted monument to humanity. Its ethos is both ambitious and simple – to connect people, and it’s fitting that the recent Sam Francis exhibition (drawing on links to the creative community at Nettlecombe) was entitled People Came For Tea And Stayed Forever. At East Quay you really could.

Pod 5 immersive art installation by Rachel Eardley Pod 5 immersive art installation by Rachel Eardley (Image: Joseph Horton)

During my stay I had a peek into the other accommodation pods between guests. I lounged gleefully like a teenager on the suspended cargo net in Pod 4, created as an homage to play, and was bamboozled by the semaphore code embellishing the walls. I took a 360ᵒ turn around the immersive art experience of Pod 5 where Rachel Eardley has created a mixed-media installation for 2024 responding to the West Somerset landscape. The Quantock Hills can be spied through the window behind the double bed and from the ladder-accessed mezzanine (complete with interactive stitching space) while Watchet Harbour stretches out from its foot.

I can best sum up my time at East Quay through the words of others. Hanging by the window in Pod 1, above a map explaining the view, was a heart decoration. ‘We hope this heart made from newspapers lifts your heart as Watchet has lifted ours.’ I knew I could take it with me, but I chose not to, leaving a beach trinket and notes of my own instead. You’ll have to visit to find out what they said.