“I THINK that everyone and everything needs a sense of identity,” said Sally Hawson.

“We need to understand where we’ve come from in order to be able to deal with where we’re going, and I think that firm foundations, like heritage, like family, are what gives us strength to cope with what comes along.

“There are times in our lives, all of us, when we have tragedy, when we have things that don’t quite go the way we planned, and it’s things like heritage, your family, your roots, that help you get through those times.”

Sally also insists there are lessons to be learned from heritage, such as the example set by the early GWR workers.

“What we need to remember is that all those buildings – the Health Hydro, the Mechanics – they were all built by the workers, not the railway.

A lot of people think it was the railway that put them there, but it wasn’t. It was the workers. They didn’t have a lot to spare, but they all paid in so they could make life better for themselves.

“And of course, at the Mechanics’ they could go and learn and improve their lot. They could learn to read if they couldn’t read, they could have entertainment and experience theatre and just socialise with each other.

“I just think that sense that we had there then is something people long for, that sense of belonging to a larger community.”

Sally’s parents spent the later part of their careers in the horseracing industry, although both had been employed by the Railway Works - as had a grandfather and great-grandfather.

“I think that’s why I’m so incredibly passionate about our heritage – it’s part of the fabric of my family history.

“I was lucky enough to spend time with my great grandparents as well, so I’ve grown up on all the stories of how things used to be and what they used to do.”

Sally had an early love for historic buildings which has never deserted her.

“I’ve always been very passionate about saving them because for me it’s a tragedy when you see a developer go in and completely trash a place. They just rip everything out and all that’s left is this shell, and a sanitised interior.”

Local buildings she loves include the Mechanics’ Institute and Corn Exchange, both of which she hopes will see better days, but she is particularly fond of the baths in Milton Road.

“When we went swimming with the school we went there, so it’s comfortable, it’s a place that feels like home.”

It was an Adver story on December 27, 2016, about a proposal to turn much of the building into flats, that galvanised Sally to start the Facebook group.

“I just felt that I needed to give a voice to people who obviously loved their heritage and obviously loved these parts of our town, and wanted to preserve them. I suppose that from the outset, I didn’t want just to stop the flats happening – I wanted to raise awareness of heritage.

“We’ve got a membership now of almost 2,800, which isn’t as big as some of the groups, but bear in mind that I actually ask something of the people that come into the group, and that’s always tremendously difficult.

“It’s not an easy sell because I ask people to come to a council meeting or take an action, write letters, that kind of thing – but a lot of people are willing to do that.”

Sally’s message to those in overall charge of Swindon’s future?

“I would like them to figure out what our identity is. That, for me, sits at the heart of the problem.

“We can’t ignore who we are. We are an industrial town and we should be proud of that because that’s a really big deal. It’s the character that is Swindon and it is the spirit that’s Swindon.

“There are a lot of people who want to be part of the whole thing, and want to help and want to be inspired, but you have to start with listening and being inclusive, and allowing people to help – because we want to help.”

Those old GWR workers inspire Sally: “Their lives weren’t easy but they had this indomitable spirit that just kept going.”