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Watts Gallery has won the Queens Award for Voluntary Service

Posted 15th June 2012
Watts Contemporary Gallery

What a wonderful result for all those people who have given over 10,000 hours in the last year, who have helped with events, stewarding, in the shop, with the learning programme, managing the garden, car parking and in so many ways, that on Saturday 2 June all their efforts were recognized in the announcement that Watts Gallery has won the Queens Award for Voluntary Service. This is a real accolade for the army of 300 volunteers without whom Watts Galley could not have re-emerged from its state of decline in 2004. It is humbling and comforting that two of the original five volunteers who were helping the Gallery in 2004 are still helping the Gallery today. Some things just don’t change – how important that is to Watts Gallery. Because it is such a strong and self-supporting group, the loss of one of the key volunteers hits even harder. The death of Dr John Dobson, husband of Sheila Dobson, who co-ordinates all the stewards for the Gallery, was a terrible blow. He has helped the Gallery in so many ways, in the garden, acting as barman, stewarding the Gallery, advising on developments and gently reminding us of improvements. He shall be missed, but we are so lucky to have Sheila with us and at a moment like this, the Watts family I know will hold her close.

It is remarkable to think that it is nearly a year since the Gallery re-opened to the public. Since then we have received well over 50,000 visitors, we have had 150 groups from Belgium, France and China, we have won awards from the RICS, the Civic Trust, the RIBA and the Museum and Heritage; we have presented over nine exhibitions, we have hosted over 40 schools and we have calculated that our Big Issues programme has reached over 1,500 people including prisoners, young offenders, reformed drug users, the homeless and those with mental health difficulties. Just recently, Watts Gallery participated in a second symposium on Philanthropy and was the case study, which showed how offering art to excluded and challenged individuals can be life changing. Compton was also cited as an excellent example of social enterprise. The restoration has created over 40 new jobs (many part-time in the Tea Shop), four apprenticeships, is training over 300 volunteers and bringing income into this part of Surrey. It could be said that the original vision of the Wattses of bringing a social hub to Compton is restarting.

The journey is never over! We are currently in the throes of preparing for our ground breaking exhibition Dickens and the Artists. Already a number of national newspapers have expressed an interest and we are delighted that Julia Somerville, Chairman of the Government Art Collection and BBC TV presenter is coming to open the exhibition on Monday 18 June. We are now working hard on ensuring that the two-year window we have for securing Limnerslease is not lost, and preparing grant applications and finding donors. It was wonderful to see over 100 people enjoying a Victorian Tea Party on the lawn at Limnerslease on 2 June, celebrating the Queens Jubilee and hearing readings from Watts given by Bob Cryer. This event, a sell out, was a reminder of the importance of bringing the Watts house and studio back into the public domain.

We are so grateful to all our volunteers, donors and Friends who work so hard to make this journey possible. Together we will achieve the utmost for the highest!