£7.6m Action Zone plan aims to breathe new life into derelict Mechanics' Institute and revamp Railway Village

By Ben Fitzgerald - 7 June 2019

Arts and CultureHeritageCommunity

Ambitious plans to restore the derelict Mechanics' Institute and revitalise Swindon’s historic Railway Village have been announced by Swindon Borough Council.

  • The historic railway village

    The historic railway village

The five-year scheme will be able to make use of heritage expertise and £1.6m from Historic England who will work in partnership with the Swindon Borough Council and other organisations to make the most of this unique historic area.

In addition to the £1.6m funding from Historic England, the scheme will attract a further £6m from the council and other sources.

Speaking at the launch of the Swindon Railway Village Heritage Action Zone, Councillor Dale Heenan, cabinet member for the town centre, explained: “We are committed to visible progress at the Mechanics Institute in the next five years. If we can put forward a business case which shows how this important building can be used to generate income then everything else should quickly follow on from that.”

Although the grade II listed building, in Emlyn Square, is currently in private ownership, Mr Heenan was confident that this would not prove a significant barrier to the development of the site.

“A lot of work has been going on behind the scenes over the last 6 months which residents might not be aware of, but I’m confident that we will have a plan in place by the end of the year and we see visible progress within five years.”

He added that revamping the Mechanics Institute would be a key element in the wider scheme led by the council to redevelop the wider area. Work will be carried out to improve footpaths, signage and public spaces to better connect the area to the town centre. In addition to these physical works, a series of events, exhibitions, publications and tours to raise awareness of Swindon’s history among residents and visitors.

A dedicated project officer has already been recruited to lead the HAZ. And work is due to begin this summer to research the Railway Village and review existing conservation areas and listed buildings to inform future projects in the area.

Rebecca Barrett, Regional Director for Historic England in the South West said: “Swindon has so much to be proud of, particularly the legacy of Brunel’s Great Western Railway works and village. Whilst some of its historic buildings have already been beautifully refurbished and brought back to life, there are still a number showing signs of neglect.

“But with investment and imagination they can become places for the people of Swindon to enjoy and help the town’s economy to thrive. We are looking forward to working with Swindon Borough Council and other partners, including the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, to celebrate Swindon’s remarkable heritage.

“It’s about pooling resources to use heritage as a lever for regeneration. Heritage England will be investing £1.6m as part of an overall pot of £7.6m overall, to carry out 16 different projects in the area over five years.

“This is such a hidden gem and these projects are about telling its story which is such a huge part of people’s lives in Swindon. There is a huge amount of local pride in these areas and we will be working closely with established groups such as the Mechanics Institute Trust.”

The Railway Village Heritage Action Zone is one of 20 nationally. They aim to promote economic growth and improve the quality of life by breathing new life into places that are rich in heritage - unlocking their potential through grant funding and sharing of skills and expertise.

Historic England is a public body that protects and champions places of historic and cultural importance.

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