Martha Parry of the New Mechanics’ Trust says the battle to save the derelict Grade 3* listed building in the town centre continues, and there is progress.
The Swindon Advertiser recently reported 54 per cent of respondents to a survey believed nothing will happen about the Mechanics’ Institution building in 2010 – but they may be surprised.
People generally expect the future to be pretty much the same as the past, but then they can get a shock. Change can come quickly and without warning as earthquakes and market-quakes remind us regularly.
With the Mechanics’ issue, there is slow progressive movement every six months or a year or so. Near the end of 2009, a turning point was achieved that could and should have happened 15 years ago when New Mechanics’ Trust was established to return the building to its original community use.
Or it could have happened 7 years ago, just before Forefront Estates bought the premises for £500,000. At least it has happened now.
An Urgent Works Notice was served by Swindon Council upon the owner requiring immediate repairs to prevent further deterioration. This was driven forward by a planning inspector who agreed with the New Mechanics’ Trust that the council’s policy did not sufficiently reflect long-standing national guidance about such historically important buildings.
The report by consultants outlining the required repairs noted ‘extensive signs of continuing and potentially accelerating decay’ since their earlier inspection in 2002.’
Thank goodness for solid Victorian engineering, for happily they also found ‘the fabric of the building is robust and in good condition with no obvious structural problems with the masonry…The timber is in poor condition where water ingress has occurred, but otherwise appears to be sound…Steel appears to be robustly designed and where visible appears to be in good condition.’
When the owner proved reluctant to commence the repairs, the council warned it could step in and have the work done by contractors and forward the bill. The £250,000 or so involved should put the cat among the pigeons, which have had the run of the place for too long.
The importance to the national and international heritage of Swindon’s GWR Mechanics’ Institution has been increasingly recognised due to the trust’s efforts since 1995. A recent international conference in Bath discussed our institution and proposals for its future.
But it is the potential for Swindon’s future that really energises us now. The trust hopes eventually to acquire the building, and use it to bring the people of Swindon together again, as a community active in creating their own future and sharing their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm for the common good.
Read what the owner Matthew Singh says at the Swindon Advertiser, 26 January 2010
Below: patching up work in April 2009