Ground-breaking RAU Cultural Heritage Institute opens its doors

By Anita Jaynes on 11 October, 2021

The Royal Agricultural University’s new Cultural Heritage Institute in Swindon, which has been established to help bridge the gap between academic study and professional practice in archaeology and applied heritage, has officially opened its doors to students.

Situated in a workshop in the former GWR carriage works in the railway heritage quarter of Swindon, the Cultural Heritage Institute (CHI) will offer postgraduate courses in archaeological practice, cultural heritage leadership, historic environment management, and the conservation and management of historic buildings, in conjunction with the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) in Cirencester.

The purpose-converted building, which has been transformed thanks to a £1.35m investment by Swindon Borough Council, provides modern and fully accessible facilities in an innovative learning space designed to encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary studies.

Dr Geraint Coles, Director of the Cultural Heritage Institute, said, “With the bounce back from Covid and massive infrastructure projects, heritage professionals are in demand like never before. By developing courses which respond to the needs of the profession – and which offer professional experience – we aim to create a career springboard for the next generation of heritage workers.

“This fresh chapter for the RAU is a perfect complement to the University’s established programmes with their emphasis on the sustainable management of landscapes, towns, cities, and businesses.”

The new building was officially opened on Friday 8th October by Swindon Mayor Councillor Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council leader Councillor David Renard, Vice-Chancellor of the RAU Professor Peter McCaffery, and Dr Coles.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, Cllr Renard said, “I’m very pleased to see the Royal Agricultural University officially open up its Cultural Heritage Institute in our incredible heritage area. This new educational facility will welcome students from across the country and is a big coup for the area.

“It builds on our commitment to create new higher education opportunities in Swindon and continues our programme of work to give Brunel’s historic Carriage Works a new lease of life. This is the latest in a series of council-led projects which will encourage further investment in the town centre to bring about the improvements residents want to see in the heart of our town.”

Cllr Perkins added, “It’s fantastic to see our historic Carriage Works revitalised with this amazing Cultural Heritage Institute.

“I look forward to seeing the area bustling with students and they couldn’t be in a better location when it comes to heritage thanks to the Railway Village, STEAM, Historic England, and the National Trust. Learning about our history and finding new ways to keep that heritage alive is incredibly important work.”

The CHI currently offers Masters courses in Archaeological and Heritage Practice, Historic Environment Management, Historical Archaeology, and Conservation and Management of Historic Buildings. The institute also offers a ground-breaking MBA in Cultural Heritage Leadership with more courses planned.

These new programmes have been developed in partnership with practitioners from across the cultural heritage sector while the CHI teaching team brings together experienced university lecturers and professionals from archaeological and heritage practice including major consultancies such as Wessex Archaeology.

RAU Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter McCaffery said, “Swindon is set to be the heritage capital of Britain and, through the Cultural Heritage Institute, the RAU aims to establish a national training consortium that meets the essential needs of the heritage-related professions. 

“We are Swindon’s closest university and, with the launch of our new Cultural Heritage Institute, we are delighted to contribute to the regeneration of the town centre”.

Designed by award-winning architects Metropolitan Workshop and delivered by Beard Construction, the new RAU Swindon centre forms part of the Carriage Works regeneration, led by Swindon Borough Council, and is a case study in sustainable, heritage-led, regeneration.

The location will also give students access to some amazing learning resources including Historic England, English Heritage, the National Monuments Archive, the National Trust and STEAM – the museum of the Great Western Railway, which are all within a five-minute walk.

To find out more about the RAU Cultural Heritage Institute visit:

Pictured above from left to right at the official opening of the Cultural Heritage Institute: Dr Geraint Coles, Director of the Cultural Heritage Institute; Professor Peter McCaffery, Vice-Chancellor of the RAU; Cllr Garry Perkins, Mayor of Swindon; and Cllr David Renard, Leader of Swindon Borough Council.