Tag: Mechanics


That’s the opinion of the council officer commenting on the New Mechanics’ Institution Preservation Trust’s submission on a licensing application from Forefront Properties. It is the latest bout in the saga of the GWR Mechanics’ Institution building. As reported in the Adver, the council officer’s view is that

The overall sentiment of the letter from the Trust appears to be that no-one other than the Trust should be permitted to bring the Mechanics’ Institute into use.

However, we only have the council officer’s opinion of that as, in the papers for the licensing panel meeting, they have edited out everything they view as inadmissible. The sentiment expressed in what little is left, seems significantly more restrained than that described by the council officer. It seems a bit odd that the panel are being asked to make a judgement on whether the submission was vexatious, without being given the evidence.

Chucking-out time

I’m no fan of the New Mechanics’ Institution Preservation Trust. Their claims now that they did not know about the council’s plans, plans announced a couple of years ago as part of the council’s 50 promises, do nothing to endear them to me. Despite all that, it’s difficult not to feel that they have been rather poorly treated by the council. For four years they have effectively run the GWR barracks in the railway village as a youth and community centre (as well as having their offices there). Now, the council is to take it over and run it as… a youth service. For a blue nest controlled council to be taking a successful service into council control (effectively reverse privatisation) is, at best, unprincipled.


For months now, English Heritage have been saying to the developer who owns The Mechanics Institute that they want more details about his plans, and the developer asks, ‘what details do you want?’… And nothing happens. Now empty buildings (especially big empty buildings) do not make money (but they don’t cost much to maintain either), so one would have thought there was a financial incentive on the developer to make a sensible effort to resolve this impasse. Similarly, as the building is on English Heritage’s Buildings at Risk Register, one would think they would be eager to resolve the issue too. Apparently not. The developer’s new proposal to demolish part of the building seems a very blunt approach to trying to re-start dialogue. Might not use of a telephone be more effective and easier? There’s no suggestion from either side that this has been tried in the intervening months. As the saying goes, an Englishman’s home is his castle. It shouldn’t be his pawn. Still, if my earlier suggestion were correct, demolition might yet be the most effective route to restoration.

The phoenix approach to conservation

It seems the New Mechanics’ Institution Preservation Trust may be taking the wrong approach to save the GWR Mechanics Institute. Rather than petitioning the prime minister to save it, they should be campaigning for it to be demolished. If they wait thirty years, a council leader will then persuade developers to rebuild it. Perhaps said councillor should try persuading the developers of Swindon Central to take on the Mechanics in the same way he has persuaded those of Regent Place to rebuild the Baptist Tabernacle.

Petitioning for Swindon

There are six petitions referring to Swindon on the Downing Street petitions website. Ignoring the obsession with trains (three of the six are about train services, real and fanciful), one of the open petitions is to transfer ownership of the derelict Mechanics’ Institute. The petitioners seem to have a novel understanding of the word ‘return’

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to save the Grade II* listed Swindon “Mechanics’ Institution” building, and return it to the people, by helping The New Mechanics’ Institution Preservation Trust to acquire it, by initiating a process of Repairs Notices, with a view to Compulsory Purchase if necessary.

This is a once glorious building and its decline is pitiful — it would be a great asset to the town if it were put to a use. But, except for a short period after closure when owned by the local council, it was privately owned and supported as a member society, though open to others. It never belonged to the people, but to its members and the railway company. To suggest it ever was is to have as nostalgic a view as those petitioning to re-open a local branch line.