£80M Cultural Quarter plan for Swindon’s Kimmerfields site

By Ben Carey on 19 October, 2020

Swindon Borough Council will discuss plans for a new Cultural Quarter in the town at a meeting being held this week (Wednesday 21st October).

The proposals seek to enhance the cultural experience in Swindon whilst acting as a catalyst to increase the number of visitors to the town centre.

Members of Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet will discuss a report which proposes to relocate the Wyvern Theatre and build the Cultural Quarter on the derelict Kimmerfields site.

The 1960s theatre is reaching the end of its life; engineering reports highlight that there is a need for over £20M of refurbishments.

Over the past 12 months, the Council has been working closely with partners in Swindon’s arts, cultural and business sectors to develop a plan to help revitalise the town centre and boost the town’s cultural offering.

Two sites were considered: the current one at Princes Street, with the existing Wyvern Theatre, former town hall and Central Library at its core; and the Kimmerfields site.

Following analysis of both, a preferred option for development at Kimmerfields was identified. The site has significant benefits, with much of it already cleared and ready for construction. It occupies a central location close to the railway station and opposite Debenhams, providing an opportunity to spearhead town centre regeneration.

Kimmerfields will also be home to the new flagship Zurich office, the first major office development in Swindon town centre for 20 years.

The plans for the Cultural Quarter, which is expected to cost in the region of £80M, are expected to come to fruition over the next decade. They include a new theatre, dance centre, digital media and arts hub, and new facilities to display Swindon’s nationally-significant art collection.

An economic impact assessment has concluded that the Cultural Quarter could add more than £35M a year to Swindon’s economy and create 1,200 jobs.

Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, Culture and Heritage, said, “When I took over as cabinet member, I made it clear to everyone that there needed to be a focus on fewer, more impactful projects that will make a visible difference to Swindon, and that change doesn’t happen overnight.

“The pieces of the jigsaw are slowly fitting together, with cranes and diggers now on site for the first new office development in 20 years, imminent decisions for £50M of funding bids for the town centre, a refurbished Health Hydro, completion of the fantastic Carriage Works regeneration, new Hampton by Hilton and Premier Inn hotels and much more. Now is the time to present plans for a new Cultural Quarter and build on Swindon’s momentum to ensure that, by 2030, we will see a very different town centre.

“Cabinet’s ambition is to see the building of a new Wyvern Theatre with capacity doubled to 1,200 seats, which will attract the best national and regional shows and performers for residents to enjoy. We also want to deliver a new museum and art gallery that proudly displays Swindon’s nationally recognised collection of artefacts and exhibits.

“If approved by Cabinet, the next six months will see focus placed on writing the financial business case and investment prospectus, for the £80M needed to bring the Culture Quarter to life. This is a fantastic opportunity for Swindon and we must grasp it with both hands.”

Paddy Bradley, CEO of the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership which has helped to develop the proposals, said, “This is an exciting project for Swindon, which is rich in both arts and culture. Swindon has always had a fantastic cultural offering, from its amazing art and museum collections, through to its nationally recognised dance and theatre companies and vibrant music scene.

“The choice of the Kimmerfields site for this development is an inspired one, linking the railway station transport hub with the town centre through a cultural quarter buzzing with people. The SWLEP is delighted to help cement the future of Swindon’s cultural sector allowing it to expand and thrive.”