On 6 August 2022 chair of the Young Members Board, Vanessa Ruhlig, had the privilege of visiting Dawe’s Twineworks in person to present them with the AIA’s Community Engagement Award for 2022.
Situated in the charming village of West Coker in Somerset, Dawe’s Twineworks can be found by seeking out a sign portraying a distinctive blue ship, a reminder of the site’s connections to sail-making and the associated rope industry.
From the moment we arrived we were made so welcome, and we could tell how much this meant to the small group already gathered there to meet us. Tea and delicious home-baked cake were offered to us in their HLF-funded visitor centre, an inviting and intimate space with fascinating displays. It was built in 2018/2019 by the same small team of local builders who had worked on the painstaking restorations of the twineworks structures in several stages previously.
Ross Aitken, Chris Barker and several volunteers demonstrated their passion for the site’s history as they explained Dawe’s story of revival.
After the closure of Dawe’s Twineworks in 1968 it remained vacant until after Mr Dawe’s death and it was sold to a boat and general dealer. Thanks to South Somerset District Council’s interest in the future of the site, a survey of the existing machinery by the Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society in 1997 revealed that Dawe’s Twineworks was the only remaining Victorian twineworks in the country to retain all of its machinery. Its listing was upgraded to Grade II* accordingly. After several years of negotiation by South Somerset District Council, a compulsory purchase order in 2005 was the final step needed to secure the future of the site.
Local residents formed the Coker Rope and Sail Trust to help conserve the site, working hard to secure funding for the restoration and later construction of the visitor centre. Their story shows how a dedicated team of enthusiastic individuals, combined with the backing of their local and district council, can truly make things happen.
Ross and Chris’ passion for the history of Dawe’s continued to inspire as they took us around on a tour, demonstrating how the machinery worked and how much had been recovered from the once derelict site. We loved hearing how they have shared this knowledge through their open days, with hands-on school visits, in their local village magazine, and more recently on Facebook – especially during Covid, as a way to keep in touch with the local community.
Dawe’s became a safe outdoor space for the community to meet when so few other spaces were accessible. It continues to be that for the village, hosting events and even their local Od Arts Festival which holds great promise for continued community engagement for the future.
Presenting the Community Engagement Award to the group of about 30 guests seated outside the centre they helped to build, there was no need to explain to them how special this place is, because their contribution as volunteers, friends, local people and champions of Dawe’s is already affirmation of this.
The Young Members Board is truly excited to see how Dawe’s Twineworks develops their art festival links and how they continue to reach out to connected heritage sites in their area to generate more interest in volunteering and to share their local stories so that they are not lost.
Their next open day is on Saturday 27 August 2022 – cake and engines from 10am to 4pm. All are welcome. They are also taking part in the national Heritage Open Days scheme with extra Open Days on Saturday September 10th, and Sunday 11th. See: https://www.heritageopendays.org.uk/…/dawes-twineworks2
For more information on Dawe’s Twineworks, have a look at http://www.westcoker.net/home-page/ropewalk/ and visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/dawestwineworks