Call me biased if you like, but I have to say Railway Town is a triumph, writes Graham Carter of Swindon Heritage Magazine
The April premiere of the film by Martin Parry, pictured top, sold out the Wyvern Theatre, and if you catch a future screening or get the DVD, I promise it will tell you much about what I like to call the Swindon Spirit.
There’s another chance to attend a screening on Friday 17 June, 8.30pm at The Platform, Faringdon Road, Swindon.
That spirit is the reason Swindon has enjoyed 175 years of success since Isambard Kingdom Brunel and Daniel Gooch decided to build their railway town here and I’m proud to have been a small part of the film, appearing in it and taking part in a discussion on the stage of the Wyvern after the screening.
The talk after the premiere was mostly about why a town that was so good at solving problems for so long isn’t always on the ball now.
What happened to the spirit that made a little town the beating heart of the world’s greatest ever railway and provided the blueprint for Britain’s greatest ever invention, the NHS?
The film contains plenty of answers. The spirit grew out of the vision, co-operation, hard work and cleverness of previous generations of Swindonians, and as the editor of Swindon Heritage, I also get to highlight plenty more examples of it at work.
Wherever you look in our local history, the Swindon Spirit shines through. Our new summer edition, available from the end of May, includes the story of Mary Slade, who won the MBE for her tireless efforts to support Swindon men who had become prisoners of war, exactly a hundred years ago.
She and her volunteers saved lives, and their work was a logistical wonder, as many aspects of Swindon’s history were.
And the Swindon Spirit is still at large in the town’s many community-minded individuals and groups today. We are still a friendly, caring and active town, but we are no longer greater than the sum of our parts, on account of those parts not joining forces often enough.
Whereas there was once the railway and the Mechanics’ Institute to unite people under the same umbrella, today we are more likely to turn to the council to guide and provide. But many do not realise or accept the council’s role – as they admit themselves – is ever-diminishing.
So who is going to step up to the mark in the future?
My favourite bit of Railway Town comes near the end, in footage of a bitter debate over the closure of the Railway Works in 1986, when a railwayman begs to carry on working, saying: “We can make anything in Swindon.”
The defiance and the belief in his voice was the Swindon Spirit talking. Swindon’s heritage clearly demonstrates that we could make anything, and we probably could again. All we have to do is get together, work together and convince each other that we can.
• Martin, although hailing from Herefordshire, came to Swindon from Canada’s National Film Board. After the BFI funding ended, Thamesdown Council appointed him as media arts officer where he set up Thamesdown Media Arts, later renamed Create Studios, and continued a leading role with pioneering community TV station Swindon Viewpoint. Read our earlier story about Railway Town