In 1923 the Fry Chocolate Company began moving its Bristol operations from Union Street to a new greenfield site called Somerdale Garden City. In keeping with the Fry family’s Quaker tradition, the factory was built with social facilities including playing fields and a large recreational sports ground, which still serves the town of Keynsham today.
The transfer took 11 years and was completed in 1935. At its height, the Somerdale workforce was in excess of 5,000. It had its own power station and railway, with connection to the Great Western Railway at Keynsham station.
Somerdale Shed occupies the original Somerdale Pavilion, which was built in 1933 as part of the social facilities for the factory workforce. It had open verandas clad in waney edged Elm planks giving it a rustic cottage look. Sometime in the post war period the verandas were closed in to increase the interior space, and the main room was divided into two changing rooms and a shower block.
In 2011 the factory closed and the developer Taylor Wimpey bought the site to build a mix of homes, a school, offices, a care home, retirement apartments and sports facilities. They built the new Somerdale Pavilion, which was originally run by Aquaterra, a charity committed to developing and sustaining healthier, happier, and fitter communities. The original Somerdale Pavilion was abandoned until Aquaterra had the idea of converting it to a Community Shed.
The idea was to provide the building to a group of volunteers, known as ‘The Shedders’, to develop the site as a Community Shed. The shed would be run and managed by the Shedders for the benefit of the community with minimum oversight by Aquaterra. The aims and ethos of the shed would be based on the successful ‘Mens Sheds’ model, however it would be open to all genders and abilities to serve Keynsham and the local area.
Work started on Somerdale Shed in 2017 when the interior space was opened up and essential repairs to the structure carried out. The building was re-clad and painted with the help of some local community grants. A shed extension was added to become a dedicated workshop area to keep the central main room free from larger power tools and equipment. The exterior toilets were enclosed and renovated, and accessibility improvements made for wheelchair users.
In 2018 Somerdale shed opened to users who were not part of the ‘Shedders’ building crew, and plans were made to increase participation in the community. The Shedders turned their attention to developing the area around the shed for use as a community garden. This led to the formation of the Gardening Group and subsequent plaudits from the RHS and Keynsham-in-Bloom organisations.
In 2019 Somerdale Shed was transferred to the ownership of St Monica Trust, who maintained the commitment to support Somerdale Shed. During the Covid lockdown period in 2021, St Monica Trust invested significant funds to remove the asbestos in the building, and to rewire throughout to ensure safety and bring the shed facility up to standard. We are grateful for this ongoing commitment which was further boosted by the provision of additional land when the adjacent building was demolished. This enabled the expansion of the community garden.
The Covid pandemic prevented sessions running for what seemed an eternity, but we welcomed back members old and new once the government restrictions were lifted.
April 2022 marked a significant milestone in the Sheds development when we became a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO), registered with the Charity Commission in England and Wales, number 1198203. This was an important step to help protect the future of the organisation as well as enhance our ability to secure funding and other benefits going forward. The name was officially changed from Somerdale Shed, to Somerdale Shed and Community Garden.
Today we have a thriving community of friends who enjoy a wide range of activities including gardening, crafting, and woodworking, as well as the very important social interaction benefits meeting like-minded people brings.
There is more to do, and more people who can benefit from Somerdale Shed and Community Garden, and this will be the commitment and focus of the Trustees going forward.