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Statement in response to recent Save Swindon’s Heritage petition on the Mechanics’ Institute

08.05.2019

The Mechanics’ Institution Trust has been working for over two decades to save and restore the Grade II* listed Mechanics’ Institute for the use and benefit of current and future generations of Swindonians. It has been a much longer and more complicated issue than the Trust ever envisaged, but has always remained central to our interests and we continue to focus on it. We believe that, by working together with Swindon Borough Council, the wider community and other key partners, this incredibly important issue can still be resolved.

We are pleased, but not at all surprised, to see that so many people still care about this very important building and hold hope for a better future for it and for us as a town. Time and again it has shown itself to be the most important heritage issue for local people. It is worth recognising that the building is not just important locally, but is of national significance, too, and it would achieve a great deal for our town to have it restored and in use in an inspiring way once again.

The Trust has been aware of the deteriorating condition of the building for some time and was instrumental in encouraging Swindon Borough Council to step in and undertake the urgent works required in 2011 when the roof had been removed from the building by the current owner, causing significant further damage to the interior.

In 2016, the Trust undertook a Feasibility Study funded by the Architectural Heritage Fund, which showed that our plans (which were drawn up through public consultation and surveying of 1500 local people) were likely to add up to a financially viable solution for the building. A second phase of work, a Viability Study, is now needed in order to establish a detailed plan of how this would be achieved and provide the level of detail necessary to apply for funds to restore the building.

The root of the problem has always been ownership. Except for five years from 2012 to 2017, during which time the building was held by the Crown Estate, the building has always been held in private hands (since 1986 when sold by British Rail to the first of three speculative developers). There is little that can be achieved by a Trust like ours while this is the case, as it is impossible to raise funds for and restore a building you do not own. The Trust was disappointed and frustrated, like many others, to find out that the Mechanics’ had been reacquired by its previous owner, as this has taken the issue backwards significantly.

However, the motivation that has been created by the Heritage Action Zone project is important and we want to strongly support new initiatives coming out of this. We do not want to be fighting Swindon Borough Council, but working together to reach a solution which best matches with and respects the original purpose and heritage of the building, but also, importantly, best serves our town and its people today.

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