Campaigners fighting to restore the Mechanics’ Institution say Swindon Council is turning a deaf ear to their requests to present detailed business plans. The New Mechanics’ Preservation Trust has been arguing for 12 years that the derelict building should be a town centre community and cultural centre, serving the same purpose it did between 1850 and 1986. Current owner of the building Matthew Singh however wants to knock down a significant part of it to put up a glass and brick hotel towering over the historic railway village. English Heritage have blocked his proposal as inappropriate.
A BBC documentary in November highlighted the impasse that has left the Mechanics empty for over 20 years. Interviewed on Inside Out West, Swindon Council leader Rod Bluh said that the trust had not put forward a viable business case.
On a separate issue coun Bluh has said he’s keen to see £60 million raised from commercial sources to dig up Swindon for a new canal in the town centre, right outside the Mechanics.
Trust chairman Daniel Rose says the Mechanics’ outline business case was first presented to the council in 1998. But in ten years the trust has been unable to persuade the council to look at their detailed proposals, which includes council support for a compulsory purchase order which would enable the trust to apply for lottery funding to buy and refurbish the building. It would then be run as a social enterprise with income from letting space such as shops, a cafe, conference facilities and meeting rooms. “We would run it on a sound and viable financial model,” said Mr Rose. “The major difference from other businesses is that any money made would be returned to it.”
Last year saw growing recognition of the urgency of the campaign to save the Mechanics. The Victorian Society listed the Institute building as one of the top ten endangered buildings in England and Wales.
“Hopefully the trust has at long last reached the point from which our vision can now be shared by all, including Swindon Council,” said Mr Rose.
The BBC Documentary took cameras inside the dilapidated building. To take a tour, follow the links from: www.new-mechanics.com