The English Bridge Workshop began in the early 1980’s and has been located at the former Abbey School Building since that time. The EBW became a Company Limited by Guarantee in 1984 (no.03002566) and a Registered Charity (no. 1048288) in 1985. It was established to "promote, maintain, improve and advance education, appreciation and understanding of the arts in the County of Shropshire". It does this primarily through offering eight artist studio spaces and two halls for rental, at affordable rates.
Owned by Shropshire Council, the Victorian building was built as a school and dates to the 1860s, with major additions added in 1896. The charitable Abbey School was founded in 1708, moving to the purpose built premises in 1896 and becoming Shrewsbury National School in 1898. During the twentieth century it operated as an elementary school until 1957, after which time it was used by the Shrewsbury College of Art. It became redundant in 1980. In 1985 the English Bridge Workshop was founded. The EBW then continued the building's educational and artistic role. Credit is due to Shropshire Councillor Mansel Williams who oversaw this process and ably managed the Workshop from its inception, until his death in 2016.
Shropshire has a thriving arts and cultural scene, which is essential for the county and its residents. Arts development directly contributes to a sense of well-being and supports positive community engagement. This is reflected through the activities that take place at the EBW. The EBW meets the needs of local artists and community groups, which require a flexible, adaptable and centrally located space. There is a dearth of suitable available spaces elsewhere in the county. Many community groups use the EBW as the building offers a large space, with suitable lighting and acoustics, a central location and an affordable rate. Activities include, but are not limited to, printing, enamelling, drawing and painting. Two halls are available to community groups for short study courses, meetings, lectures and other activities. At present 12 groups use the building on a regular basis. The EBW also provides eight studios for artists, which are in great demand. They are currently occupied by eleven local artists and crafts people. Over the year, approximately 170 people attend regular courses, with a further 1,000 attendees at day events and exhibitions. Overall, approximately 7,000 visits are made to the Workshop annually.
Beyond the space itself the EBW provides a supportive role in the development of many artists. The longevity of the EBW as a charitable organisation and the constant use of the former Abbey School building is testament to the demand for the space and the support of the EBW to those who visit the charity. It is anticipated that this demand will continue to grow, particularly due to the development of the building that is planned under the Community Asset Transfer Scheme.
The EBW works in partnership with a number of other organisations including Shropshire Arts Society and The Belle Vue Community Arts Festival, who are among those who use the halls for exhibitions. The resident artists at the EBW also engage in teaching through adult courses, apprenticeships, lecturing at universities and colleges, personal tuition and online courses.
The EBW also offers volunteering opportunities through its Friends of the English Bridge Workshop group or Trusteeship. They are always ready to welcome new people into the EBW community.