Survey will assess the condition of the historic Mechanics’ Institute

By Ben Fitzgerald - 5 November 2019

CommunityHeritage

High-tech cameras, drones and robots will be used to assess the current state of one of Swindon’s most notable heritage buildings.

This week, drones will be sent into the Mechanics’ Institute to carry out a condition survey of the Grade II* listed building.

As part of the Heritage Action Zone that was recently launched to breathe new life into the Railway Village, Swindon Borough Council, in partnership with Historic England and the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, is looking for ways to restore the old Mechanics’ building.

The survey, which has been commissioned by the council and funded by Historic England, will allow the council and its partners to weigh up the options for the possible future use of the building.

Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, said: “The Mechanics’ is in a derelict state, and our commitment is to make real progress towards restoration within five years. I am serious about making it happen, but it is a 30-year problem no-one has solved, and no-one should forget just how difficult it will be.

“Working with Historic England and the Mechanics’ Institution Trust is vital. We have a plan, we are making progress and this condition survey is a significant step forward.

“Drone technology will allow us to get a really good look at what we are dealing with and the professionals will use the high definition video and scans to estimate the likely cost of restoration and provide a permanent, reviewable record of the state of the building today.”

The Mechanics’ Institute was built by the Great Western Railway in 1855 to provide a place for recreation and education for railway workers. It included a theatre and a library, among other amenities. 

Since 2003 it has been owned by Forefront Estates Ltd and its eventual renovation is a key priority for the Council and its partners.

Rebecca Barrett, Regional Director for Historic England in the South West, said: “At this stage we need to find out how safe the Mechanics’ Institute is, and to understand more about its physical condition.

“As the building is currently out of bounds, drone technology allows us to get the information we need quickly and safely. It’s a vital step as we work closely with others to think imaginatively about the future of the building.”

David Thackray, Chair of the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, said: “The Trust is very pleased that we are soon going to be able to fully evaluate the structural condition of the building and we look forward to seeing the results in the near future.”

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