CONCERNS have been raised about the future of the Mechanics’ Institute as a group charged with deciding its use has not met since last May.
The building lies unused at the heart of the Railway Village, and the most recent idea of using it as an art gallery has now been ruled out.
It is in the ownership of the Crown Estate but Swindon Council has a big say in what happens to it. The plan is to apply for funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund to secure its future but proof is needed that there is a long term aim. The next meeting to discuss its future has been arranged for March.
Daniel Rose, the organisation secretary of the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, said: “At the beginning we were really pleased that everyone appeared to want similar things and we were moving in the right direction. There is no doubt we have been frustrated at the lack of progress but we are remaining positive and still want to work with the council.
“Our priority is getting the Mechanics’ Institute back in use and if the council does not want to do that then we will work with someone who does. We are not waiting for another six months for something to happen.”
The Trust wants to run a full site appraisal and examine all of the options. As the council has first charge on the building they must decide whether they want to use the building or not.
Daniel believes the Mechanics’ can be a key asset to the community, providing space for volunteer groups to use, an independent cinema, shops and a restaurant.
“What we don’t want to see is the building on the open market,” said Daniel. “It is such an important building which represents so much of the town’s heritage.
“It is bad for the area to have it empty and exposed to the elements. Applying for heritage funding is not a quick process so the longer it takes to get something together then the longer it will be before something can happen.”
Coun Garry Perkins (Con, Shaw) is a member of the cross party group. He said: “When we were looking at a site for the new art gallery the Mechanics Institute was a site we looked at. Now it has been decided the gallery will go on Princes Street we can move forward.
“Yes, we have lost five months over the process but now we are clearer on its future. Our next action will be to work with the lottery to come up with a workable plan.”
Coun Mark Dempsey (Lab, Walcot and Park North), who is also part of the group, said: “It is vital that we work together and create the best future for the building and for Swindon so that we can breathe new life into the future of Swindon.”