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Victorian Society to the rescue?

Mechanics’ among top ten endangered buildings says Victorian Society

This summer the Victorian Society appealed for people around the country to let them know about threats to buildings that they value. Pictures and information flooded in from all over England and Wales. They heard stories of neglectful owners, land disputes, exasperated councils and energetic campaigns, and saw photographs of many excellent buildings in desperate need of their help. The top ten can be viewed on the Society’s website:

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The GWR Fete 2006

We hope you all enjoyed the fete this year!
All we have left to do is pay a few bills and to say Thank You.

Thank You to everyone who came and we hope you enjoyed yourself.
Thank You to all the performers.
Thank You to all the staff and volunteers without whom we couldn’t have done it.

You can see photos taken on the day over on

So as our thoughts now turn to next year, we would like some feed back as to how we could improve the fete. If you have any comments, please leave them here or phone us in the Mechanics’ Office on +44 (01793) 520592

See you next year.

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"This Is Our Heritage"

A publication which was crucial in winning the II* heritage listing for Swindon’s Mechanics’ Institution has been made available on this website, as a file which can be downloaded for use by schools or anyone else interested in the most thoroughly researched statement of the Mechanics’ role in Swindon’s fast-paced story.

This_is_our_Heritage“, written by Trevor Cockbill, was first published by the Mechanics’ Institution in 1997. All 100 copies were quickly sold via local bookstores and our members’ newsletter “On the Line”.

The document was written for use as a public lecture which Trevor delivered at the Coleview Community Centre on 11 July 1996. The Mechanics’ Preservation Trust decided in 1998 that the heritage listing probably did not reflect a full understanding of the physical character of the building, let alone the social significance of the organisations and activities which were associated with it.

Besides the Institution itself, The GWR Medical Fund Society first met in these premises, until the Milton Road premises were built in the 1890’s, evolving over the course of 100 years into a service which inspired the framers of the National Health Service in 1948. The first New Swindon Town Council meetings were also held here, perhaps until the Town Hall in Regent Circus was built in 1891.

Because these and other achievements were not reflected in the original listing from 1970, (and because the flytower was not recognised as a stage, nor the hall as a theatre of some national significance), we submitted “This Is Our Heritage” to the national government Dept. of Culture, Media & Sport and asked them to review the listing, which was then set as Grade II.

Trevor’s story turned the scales in favour of Swindon’s most important and prominent building in February, 1999, when the DCMS awarded the much elevated ranking of II(*) to the Mechanics’s, placing it among the top 6% of all listed buildings, and establishing its significance in the national story, not just Swindon’s.

Only 2 months later, Swindonians mourned Trevor Cockbill’s passing; but not before he had seen the star and understood the impact it could make to the fate of his beloved Mechanics’, which he had known from childhood.

Hopefully, anyone who reads this publication will understand why the Trust still hopes to see the Mechanics’ available once again to the people of Swindon as a hive of community activity, and a prime focus for local identity.

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But Will It Float???

At 12.30pm today, the New Mechanics’ website goes LIVE!

Our chair Paul Bearne, who is also the Trust’s ICT Wizard, will take the plunge, and push the button to launch the site globally.

At the same time, the Trust will open the doors of its temporary premises in the Former GWR Railway Museum in Faringdon Road, at a central Swindon crossroads. And in the spirit of Midsummer Madness, an artwork entitled “Take the Plunge” will show off the many dimensions of the Mechanics’ achievements — past, present and future.

The exhibition is really a ‘work in progress’ inspired by the building itself, which has had so many incarnations over 150 years of history. First opened as an unsuccessful hostel for single railwaymen, it was fundamentally rebuilt as a Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, and played that role well for 90 years. Further alterations in 1960-62 permitted the exhibition of gleaming GWR engines until 2000. The dusty outlines of the various nameplates can still be seen silhouetted on the walls, among the Victorian pointed arch windows.

The Trust has a temporary license from Swindon Borough Council to use the office wing of the former Museum on a short-term basis until the building’s future is determined. For the month of July, the exhibition hall will be open daily from noon to 2pm for visitors to the exhibition, and supporters who wish to discuss the future of the Mechanics’ Institution or other cherished local landmarks.


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This week, we have mostly been trying to work out whether a sale of the Mechanics’ to a new owner has really been completed. We are also puzzling what he has in mind for future uses. 2 articles in the ADVER have given us reason to worry that he really doesn’t have any ideas that would move things forward.

The Trust has therefore decided to submit a Planning Application to Swindon Borough Council, for the uses we have developed over the years with our Members, and Swindon people. See our proposed plans in the Proposals section. It is entirely legal to apply for planning permission for property you don’t own, as a way of establishing the basis for a purchase. We have not done so before because the fee is so high. Now that we have the bequest from Dave Backhouse, we will be able to cover that fee.

Our Market Study has been received in draft from Great Western Enterprise, and we are re-working the figures towards a final draft. Both options explored in detail look as if they could well be viable (to us that means ‘in the black’ on an annual basis), although with a tight margin for error. The work that is being done now is in order to tighten up the figures, so we can be more confident in the projections of income and expenditure. The picture is hopeful, and we expect the work to be completed in 2 weeks time. Then we will submit an application to the Heritage Lottery fund, and do some consumer research while we are waiting for several months for their response.

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