A haven for arts and crafts in Somerset that is helping keep heritage crafts alive is under threat of being swamped by warehouses, distribution centres, and a new motorway exit, it has been claimed.

Clevedon Craft Centre began as a pipe dream for silversmith Jeffrey Bright and his business partner David Stear. The pair set up their workshop in an old barn that had been part of the Clevedon Court estate in 1971, after the arrival of the M5 next door had left the old farmyard useless for agriculture.

Over the more than 50 years they have been based there, they have been joined by a host of craftspeople, turning the old farmyard into a centre for bespoke crafts both old and new. People at the centre have attracted all sorts of customers from across the world.

Mr Bright does some repairs, but his main passion is making new jewellery or reworking jewellery people want to keep for sentimental value into something they want to wear. “I’m always in awe of Celtic jewellery makers,” he told the Local Democracy Reporting Service during an interview in his workshop — pausing at one point to smelt a silver ingot.  Commissions he’s received have ranged from making Celtic torcs to making a cross for Bishop of Bath and Wells George Carey when he went on to become Archbishop of Canterbury.

“This is what we are. We are heritage crafts” said his daughter-in-law Jo Bright.

Over time Mr Bright has been joined by a host of craftspeople moving into the surrounding outbuildings and turning the old farmyard into a centre for bespoke crafts both old and new. People at the centre have attracted all sorts of customers from across the world.

Ms Bright said: “Because of what he did in the 70s, it regenerated craft centres in the UK and people started to re-establish them.”

But now Clevedon Craft Centre could soon be surrounded by warehouses and distribution centres — with people at the craft centre fearing it could lead to the place being demolished to make way for a new motorway exit. North Somerset Council’s new local plan is set to allocate a huge 25 hectare swathe of land surrounding the centre on all sides for “distribution, logistics, and warehousing demands.”

The local plan does not necessarily mean there are currently plans in the works for such a development, but that council planners will consider it acceptable if companies propose it. People at the craft centre have called for the plans to be dropped.

“I’m deeply concerned about the plans I’m aware of now because I think they will have a detrimental impact on the craft centre, because the location is quite special,” said artist Judith Peaseland. 

She said: “I think it would destroy what has been here for the last 50 years.”

Ms Peaseland has had a studio at the art centre for three years, giving her space to paint, display, and sell her art of Somerset scenes — one of which hangs in Taunton Museum. She said: “Without the craft centre, I would not be able to pursue my passion.”

Another studio at the craft centre — Studio 3 — is occupied by a small cooperative of artists, with other local artists exhibiting as guests for several months. Resident artist Lucy Hepworth said: “What we are about here is variety, and letting local artists show and share their work.”

Across the farmyard, Jason Gardhouse has a studio at the craft centre where he is helping keep the craft of hand leatherworking alive. He said: “This is a craft that is dying. […] There must be a few people doing it but I don’t know how many.”

Designs can be embossed into leather by machine these days but Mr Gardhouse still uses the traditional method of hand tooling to create intricate works of art on leather. His traditional methods have helped him get work from a very surprising customer — Henry VIII.

Mr Gardhouse said that having a studio at the craft centre had helped put him on the radar of the film industry in nearby Bristol, and he has been making authentic satchels and cases for the latest season of Wolf Hall which is filmed locally.

But it is not just historic crafts that the centre is home to. Mandy Webb’s MosaiCraft is introducing a Dutch hobby to the UK. With a kit, you follow a guide as to where to push small tiles to create a mosaic. The shop sells a variety of pictures, but people can also send in their own pictures to be turned into mosaics.

Ms Webb said it was a relaxing hobby for everyone. She said: “There’s not many crafts where your youngest customer you know of is four and your oldest is 96.”

She added that the activity was popular even among people with arthritis who may struggle with other crafts. She said: “This is gentle exercise, and its actually helped improve people’s lives.”

MosaiCraft has been at the craft centre for 10 years and Ms Webb said the distribution centre plans were “worrying.” She added: “It’s a historic little place and we want to protect it. I hope to be here in 20 years.”

Ms Bright said she was concerned that surrounding the place with distribution centres would put people off coming. She said: “Its just so peaceful and beautiful. […] We have still got the noise of the motorway but it doesn’t faze people because of the way it looks.”

The public consultation on the new local plan closed on January 22. A spokesperson for North Somerset Council said: “Councillors have been very keen that our new local plan better reflects, and plans for, the needs of business. As such, our draft plan allocates 81 hectares of land to meet needs and aspirations across a range of economic sectors over the plan period.

“The focus for employment growth is the four main towns but the strategic economic importance of the M5 corridor and access to the motorway network is also recognised. As part of this, the draft plan proposes a new 25 hectare allocation at Clevedon adjacent to junction 20 primarily for distribution, logistics and warehousing space to meet medium and long term requirements.

“It is very much a longer term proposal as the development will require detailed design and significant enabling infrastructure, particularly a new arm to the motorway junction, to facilitate its delivery.”