Swindon’s new Cultural Heritage Institute (CHI) has moved a significant step closer after work started to create a new learning centre in the town’s former Great Western Railway Carriage Works.
The new centre is part of the Royal Agricultural University (RAU). When opened in 2020 it will offer an exciting place to learn and develop the skills needed to work in heritage – a growing business sector which contributes billions to the UK economy through consultancy, regeneration and tourism.
The conversion of the Swindon Borough Council-owned Carriage Works, which is being carried out by local contractor Beard, has been designed by Metropolitan Workshop and will see a standalone structure inserted into Unit 11 of the West Shed, creating seminar rooms, a library, offices and lecture space over two floors.
The new academic offer will contribute to the Council’s ambition to increase the supply of higher education options available to Swindon residents. It will help fill a national skills gap in archaeology and heritage, and a demand from businesses in the South West of England for CPD courses such as heritage management.
The redevelopment of the Carriage Works builds on the Council’s commitment to finding sustainable uses for its heritage sites.
The Council completed a first phase of redevelopment last year to provide new flexible office space for small businesses – a facility now known as WorkShed. The works planned for the Cultural Heritage Institute form part of a second phase of redevelopment that will also create additional office space and ancillary uses.
Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, said: “The Carriage Works is a huge statement of intent for Swindon, and I’m proud the Council has taken the bold step of bringing it back into use for businesses to use today.
“This Grade II listed building was once a thriving part of the town’s railway works and a sign of Victorian innovation, but it closed more than 30 years ago. Today, the ground breaking for Unit 11 marks the second phase of regeneration. A space of 19,000 square feet that will become home to a new Cultural Heritage Institute, and demonstrates the Council’s commitment to increasing our town’s higher education provision.
“I am pleased we have found such a great partner in the Royal Agricultural University and the Carriage Works will allow them to deliver heritage-themed academic and practical courses.
“Our working relationship continues to build, and the Director of the Institute has agreed to lend his expertise to our Mechanics Institute restoration Technical group. I can just imagine future students using the neighbouring Mechanics building as a case study in their courses.
“RAU is thinking about Swindon differently and I hope residents, students and businesses will too. This really is exciting for Swindon, the University and future students.”
Expressing enthusiasm for the works, the Director of the Cultural Heritage Institute, Dr Geraint Coles, said: “At the RAU we are very excited by the tremendous opportunities offered by our new centre in Swindon.
“The Cultural Heritage Institute will be an exciting place to learn and grow. We teach from experience and work closely with practitioners to offer courses which meet industry needs. It is appropriate and fitting that we will be working in a heritage building and contributing to the revitalisation of the unique historic environment of the Railway Village.
“We are looking forward to becoming part of the Swindon learning community.”
Beard Director Marc Bayley added: “We are delighted to be partnering with Swindon Borough Council to continue the refurbishment and restoration of Swindon’s historic Carriage Works.
“As a local business which has traded in Swindon for over 125 years, Beard are thrilled to be part of this prestigious project which is key to the redevelopment and the future of Swindon.”