Work goes on to save historic site
A year on from the Mechanics’ Institute being named as one of the nation’s top 10 most endangered Victorian and Edwardian buildings, the Victorian Society has welcomed plans to secure the building’s future.
Exactly a year ago, the Victorian Society urged Swindon Council to take action to save the Grade II* listed building.
Since then ownership has passed to the Crown and the council has plans to apply for Heritage Lottery funding to restore it.
However, this plan is dependent on finding a viable, self-supporting role for the building.
Earlier this month English Heritage retained the building, which dates from the 1850s, on its at risk register.
It was given a Grade C listing as it has been on the list for 14 years, indicating it was subject to slow decay with no solution in place.
But the council and the Mechanic’s Institution Trust have been working to secure the building and find a use for it .
After acting as a social and community centre for railway workers in Swindon, the institute was later converted into a theatre.
After closing in the 1980s it suffered vandalism and arson, and was taken out of the hands of private developers when it fell into severe disrepair.
Chris Costelloe, the director of the Victorian Society, said: “We are pleased to hear that Swindon Council is working on funding strategies but this must be done with great urgency.
“This building is an important part of Swindon’s architectural heritage.
“We hope the council will work quickly to put plans in place for the repair and reuse of the Mechanics’ Institute as it cannot be allowed to deteriorate further.”
Daniel Rose, the chairman of the Mechanic’s Institution Trust, said: “We are working with the council, English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund.
“We all believe there is a solution, even if we do not know exactly what it is yet.
A spokesman from Swindon Council said: “Everyone wants to see the Mechanics’ Institute back in a condition we can all be proud of, and for it to have a viable use in the future.
“Unfortunately, there is no easy answer and whatever solution is found will cost a lot of money.
“The building has suffered a great deal of damage, which happened because the private owner failed to live up to his legal responsibilities.
“In the end, the council was forced to take legal action so that it could take over the building, make it watertight, and prevent collapse. This work cost £800,000.
“Legally the ownership of the building rests with the Crown, but the cost of maintaining it rests with the council.
“We are continuing to explore every possible avenue to restore the building, but its condition is no longer getting worse.”
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