Join the Trust →

‘Theatre at Risk’: Swindon Mechanics’ Institute gets a helping hand from Theatres Trust

A grant of more than £23,000 has been awarded by the Theatres Trust to the Mechanics’ Institution Trust to fund a viability assessment to determine how the building can thrive in the future.

The Grade II* listed building has been on the Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk Register since its inception in 2006. It was built as a social and community centre for staff of the Great Western Railway, providing them with facilities they would otherwise have had little access to. It is also on the Historic England at Heritage at Risk Register.

The Mechanics’ is one of six theatres to receive funding through the first round of the Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme, run by the national advisory body for theatres. The others are Burnley Empire, Morecambe Winter Gardens, Peterborough New Theatre, Salford Victoria Theatre and Spilsby Theatre.

The programme is designed to support theatres on the Trust’s Theatres at Risk Register to commission expert advice and acquire the skills and knowledge to push forward capital projects to help save their theatres.

Dr David Thackray, chair of the New Mechanics’ Institution Preservation Trust, says “We are delighted to receive this support from the Theatres Trust. The funding will help us identify a sustainable future for this important part of Swindon’s heritage.”

Musician, actor and Theatres Trust Trustee Gary Kemp says “We know how difficult it can be for theatres to raise funding for the early stage concept and viability works and for organisational support. These first stages of a project provide the vital foundations for both project and organisation, and we hope that with this support, these theatres will be able to make real progress.”

Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme is supported by Historic England, The Pilgrim Trust, Swire Charitable Trust and anonymous donors.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England says “It’s great news that two of the historic theatres on the Heritage at Risk Register – Grade II* listed Morecambe Winter Gardens in Lancashire and Grade II* listed Mechanics Institute in Swindon – are being given a vital helping hand by being awarded a grant from this important new scheme. We are delighted to support this programme and to be able to provide our technical advice and expertise to help save important theatres.”

Georgina Nayler of the Pilgrim Trust says: “The Pilgrim Trust recognises the importance of supporting theatres at risk to save their buildings and give them a viable and sustainable future.  This is not just because so many of the buildings are of outstanding significance, but also because a restored, vibrant and well visited theatre building can assist with the regeneration of the centres of our towns and cities.  We are delighted to be funding this programme”.

Martha Allfrey Trustee of the Swire Charitable Trust says “The Swire Charitable Trust is delighted to be supporting the Theatres Trust’s Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme. We applaud its goal of removing vulnerable theatres from the Theatres at Risk Register, thus securing the future of these vital cultural, community and heritage assets. Theatres Trust’s unique and intense work with these theatres can lend support in so many ways, offering exciting opportunities to the community and campaign groups involved – we will follow the progress of each project with great interest.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Mechanics, News | Leave a comment

Trust recommended to manage the Railway Cottage Museum

As part of Swindon Borough Council’s Leisure and Culture Review the Railway Cottage Museum was identified as an asset to be transferred to voluntary sector management.

Cottage

Following an application process and panel interview in December 2014 the Mechanics’ Institution Trust has been recommended to take on the management of the Railway Cottage Museum.

We are pleased and excited by the recommendation and we are looking forward to bringing the cottage back into public use as soon as possible.

We believe the cottage fits well into the Trust’s established programme of activity in the Railway Village as well as our broader strategy for the area.

The Trust is keen to work with interested organisations, including those who were unsuccessful in their bid, as we develop our plans.

Enquiries should be directed to: mail@mechanics-trust.org.uk

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Children’s Fete 2012

 

The 2012 Children’s Fete will take place on the 21st July and will be a fun day out for all the family. We look forward to seeing you there!

If you are interested in getting involved in the Fete, wish to have a stall or want to find out more information please contact us.

Posted in Events, News | Comments Off on Children’s Fete 2012

Buildings, Books and Blackboards

The Mechanics’ Worldwide Conference has set set a date for the next international gathering. The event will run 27th November to 1st December 2012 in Melbourne, Australia.

This follows the 2009 conference that took place at the Royal Literary & Scientific Institution in Bath, England. The Trust was invited to speak at this conference and we gained much support and interest.

The Trust is hoping very much to attend this conference and meeting so many interesting people and of course see some of Australia’s Mechanics’ Institutions!

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Dangerous Works sparks court action

Forefront Estates, owner of the Mechanics’ Institution, has submitted a defence against legal action from Swindon Borough Council who are seeking to recover funds spent (£393,271.16, plus interest due). These legal proceedings are in relation to the work to the North end theatre roof undertaken by the Council under the Dangerous Works provisions in the Building Act 1984. These works and the subsequent legal proceedings do not concern the Urgent Works also undertaken by the Council under Section 54 of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990.

The case has been set for 4 days from the 16th January 2012 at the Technology and Construction Court of the High Court.

Forefront Estates are disputing, among other issues, that the Council did not give the owner the opportunity to execute these works themselves and they dismiss that the works undertaken by the Council were necessary and therefore the costs reasonably incurred.

The Trust supports the Council recovering funds from the owner however we believe that the Council should have intervened earlier, at any point since the original Urgent Works Survey in 2002. This would have meant that the state of the building would have been significantly better than it was found recently and would have cost much less money. The owner is responsible for the repair, safety and security of the building but it is the Council’s duty to ensure that the owner complies. In both cases the Trust believes fault has occurred over a long period of time.

Posted in News, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

“First Night Riders” to make stop at Swindon Mechanics’

The First Night Riders is a charity motorcycle ride. The 2nd motorbike trip around the UK is the 18th – 25th June 2011 to raise money for The Theatrical Guild.

This year riders will undertake a round Britain tour of more new, interesting and historically significant theatres, starting and finishing in London.

The tour will make a stop at Swindon’s Mechanics’ Institution on the 24th June, approximately 1:00pm. Please feel free to join the Trust in welcoming the riders to Swindon.

More information on the campaign can be found at: http://www.firstnightride.com and on Facebook.

The Theatrical Guild (TTG) exists for the purposes of helping all those in need, who’ve been or are currently employed, in professional theatre. It is the only charity in the UK available to Front of House and Backstage staff. TTG makes no distinction between the nature of beneficiaries’ employment – backstage and on-stage, front of house, technical, catering, sales and administration or management. If they’ve worked in the theatre and they’re facing hardship or need support then The Theatrical Guild can help.

Posted in Events, News | Leave a comment

No response to Urgent Works Bill sent to Mechanics’ owner

The first bill from Swindon Borough Council to Forefront Estates for undertaking Urgent Works at the Mechanics’ Institution has so far been unpaid. Approximately £400,000 in work undertaken by the Council has been invoiced to the owner but the Trust believes the final bill could be significantly higher once the Urgent Works are finished.

Trust Chair Daniel Rose said “The Trust welcomes Swindon Borough Council undertaking this Urgent Work but feel strongly that the Council should of acted much earlier, in particular back in 2002 when the original Urgent Works Notice was drawn up but never served. What is important now however is that the Council enter into constructive dialogue with the Trust to resolve this situation to a positive conclusion’.

The full story was covered by BBC Points West.

Posted in News | Leave a comment

Trust Launches New Website

Swindon’s Mechanics’ Institution Trust is today officially launching its new brand and website.

The re-branding, marketing and print is being supported by local company Citrus Creative and the website by Oikos following a 6 month process of development and consultation with Trust members.

The Trust will now simply be known as The Mechanics’ Institution Trust, a much shorter and simpler name than used previously.

We hope you like the new site. Keep a watch for more developments over the coming months as we continue to launch new features and content.

Posted in News | 1 Comment

Visit to Manchester Victoria Baths

A visit to the Victoria Baths in Manchester this week was a very insightful experience and highlighted many similarities between them and the Mechanics’s Trust. Following the Baths winning BBC Restoration in 2003 the Trust has been working tirelessly to complete the restoration and open the building to the public again. Whilst the swimming baths are not yet open the building hosts many tours, events and projects with volunteer groups. More information can be found here. During the visit more than 100 photos were taken of this amazing building and its historic features, a small selection is below.

Continue reading

Posted in News | Leave a comment