Brunel Carriage Works plan submitted to Government

By Barrie Hudson - 17 January 2022

CommunityBusinessEducationArts and Culture
  • Shahina Johnson, CEO and Artistic Director at Create Studios, right, with Create co-directors Marilyn Fitzgerald, second left, and Gurchetan Singh, third right, and the create team. (Picture: Elmar Rubio)

    Shahina Johnson, CEO and Artistic Director at Create Studios, right, with Create co-directors Marilyn Fitzgerald, second left, and Gurchetan Singh, third right, and the create team. (Picture: Elmar Rubio)

Plans to create a new hub in Swindon for learning, creative and digital technology industries have come a step closer to fruition.

  • The former Carriage Works, one of Swindon's most familiar historic structures

    The former Carriage Works, one of Swindon's most familiar historic structures

The plans, involving part of Brunel’s historic former Carriage Works, have been submitted to the Government.

The proposal is the latest project identified by Swindon’s Towns Fund Board, which aims to drive economic regeneration in Swindon to deliver a legacy of long-term economic growth and increased productivity.

Swindon has provisionally been allocated £19.5m from the Government’s £3.6bn Towns Fund, and six projects including the community digital media facility have been included in a Town Investment Plan.

Richard Newland, chair of the Swindon Towns Fund Board, said: “I am really pleased that we have presented another strong business case to the Government for the continued restoration of the Carriage Works, which is already building a strong reputation as an inclusive shared business environment for creative and digital SMEs.

“The Board was really impressed with the opportunities this community digital media facility will bring to Swindon. The creative sector is growing at a rapid rate and this new hub will help us attract top talent to Swindon as well as give Create Studios the space to grow. 

"It will provide opportunities for people looking to develop their careers in the digital industry and provide training opportunities for young people.”

A business case for the digital hub was recently approved by the Board, which is made up of representatives from Swindon Borough Council, the town’s two MPs and experts from the public, private and voluntary sectors.

If successful, £400,000 will go towards refurbishing Unit 9 of the Carriage Works to use around 5,000sqft of floor space for a high-quality digital media facility as part of the Council’s wider regeneration of the former Railway Works site.

The Council has identified Create Studios as a suitable and established delivery partner to operate out of the newly-created hub. It is an award-winning digital agency that was founded in Swindon 35 years ago, with aspirations to grow the next generation of diverse digital media creatives.

Create Studios is a social enterprise model that generates income and offers employment opportunities by delivering media production for partners as diverse as Chelsea FC and English Heritage.

The facility will enable opportunities for ‘hard to reach young people’ through a range of community projects, training, and educational programmes.

Shahina Johnson, CEO and Artistic Director at Create Studios, said: “We are delighted the Towns Fund Board supported the business case as it will enable Create Studios to develop its first specialist facility to support the next generation of digital media creatives.

“The Creative industries are the fastest growing sector in the economy, and we want to develop our existing track record to mentor more diverse young people from Swindon into successful careers in this rewarding sector.

“We are also excited to have a home where our inclusion projects with a wide range of communities can put the civic pride back in the heart of Swindon after the challenges of the last two years. Without the great support from Swindon Borough Council and the Towns Fund, our ambition for Swindon could not be realised.”

Creative industries are one of the fastest growing in the UK, and those behind the Carriage Works project say a purpose-built facility will provide Swindon with an opportunity to attract and develop the best digital creative talents in the country.

The provision of a digital media facility in the Carriage Works, they believe, will allow the required space for modern digital production, equipment, and the development of digital skills. The facility will also enable 16,000 direct participant engagements per year, 60,000 live audiences for civic exhibitions and an online audience of 5m people.

To support this growth, nine full-time roles will be created and the hub will support 50 additional artists, creatives, and specialists, while also increasing income that can be reinvested for community benefit.

The council will also benefit from a rental income from the new facility.

The Carriage Works sits within the town’s Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) and is located on London Street opposite the Mechanics’ Institute. It has been partly restored as a business incubation centre and Cultural Heritage Institute for the Royal Agricultural University, but much of it has lain empty as it was too costly to be brought forward through private sector investment.

Last month the Government announced that it had approved a £5m Towns Fund bid to bring four further units of the Grade II-listed building back into viable use.

The Towns Fund Board also submitted a bid to the Government for £100,000 in funding for a semi-permanent pop-up market in Wharf Green in the town centre, to be operated by inSwindon and Cotswold Markets on behalf of the Council. A decision on both funding bids is expected within the next month.

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