New lease of life for Swindon’s Mechanics Institute?

By Ben Carey on 1 February, 2024

An eight-figure sum could be spent on one of Swindon’s most famous buildings to bring it back into use.

The Mechanics Institute was once a hive of activity during the height of the railway works, and a new roadmap for its future is being considered by Swindon Borough Council.

Following the closure of the town’s railway works in the 1980s, The Mechanics Institute has sat empty and decaying. It is currently classed as ‘at risk’ by the Theatres Trust.

Remedial work to bring it back into use is estimated to stretch into tens of millions of pounds and would take several years.

Despite this, a new plan including expert advice from Historic England will be presented to the Council’s Cabinet.

It sets out some obvious fundamental steps to begin the process including securing a viable and sustainable new use for The Mechanics Institute, identifying how to fund the building and addressing its ownership.

The plan asks for £110,000 in potential funding to progress the project. The Council will also work with local partners on the project including the Swindon Heritage Preservation Trust (formerly the Mechanics Institution Trust) and Historic England.

If approved, the new roadmap will mark the first step in the slow process to bring the building back into use.

Councillor Marina Strinkovsky, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Heritage, Art and Culture, said, “The Mechanics building has played a huge role in the history of Swindon and it’s a crying shame it has been empty and disused for so long. It’s time we took the necessary steps to secure a future for it back at the heart of the community.

“While the building’s restoration is undoubtedly a huge task, this new roadmap clearly sets out what we need to do in order to bring it into use.

“I look forward to taking on this challenge and to finally seeing the Mechanics and the Railway Village alive and thriving anew.”

Bob Wright, Chairman of the Swindon Heritage Preservation Trust, said, “We believe the cabinet paper proposals are the best chance that Swindon has had to deliver a restored Mechanics since the formation of the Trust.

“This paper is the culmination of all the work given by many to achieve a restored Mechanics Institute.”