TRANSFORMING the derelict Mechanics' Institute into a multi-purpose venue for the public will cost £24.5m.

A masterplan for the historically important but crumbling landmark in the heart of Swindon’s Railway Village will be discussed by the council's cabinet next week.

The change would allow the Grade-II* listed Victorian building to host concerts, proms and theatre as well as weddings and conferences.

After public meetings in late 2019 specialist consultant Fourth Street made its recommendations to a working group made up of Swindon Borough Council members and officers and the Mechanics’ Institution Trust.

It said the Mechanics' should become “a high quality, multi-purpose events venue. This offers a solution that has a high probability of being funded and the strong potential to become financially viable in operation.

“The building’s impressive architecture and celebrated spaces – notably, its theatre, reading and lecture rooms – will be transformed into an outstanding multi-purpose venue that positively contributes to the ‘offer’ of contemporary Swindon, while respecting and drawing on its own past and that of the Railway Village around it, and the wider former Railway Works area.”

Fourth Street’s report added: “Key to its long-term financial viability in operation will be its attractiveness and suitability for staging meetings, conferences and wedding events. These will be the commercial bedrock that underpins its operational financial viability and enables it to operate as a multi-purpose venue, with a broader supporting range of arts, cultural, education and community programming.”

Fourth Street said the new venue could be making s small annual profit within three years and  could have made a surplus of more than £800,000 after 10 years of use – but the whole plan relies on the council acquiring the building and transferring it to an operating company.

Such is the importance of the building to Swindon council leader David Renard  has written a report to cabinet which says a Railway Conservation Area masterplan should be drawn up, in part to ensure the future of the Mechanics’.

Coun Renard said: “The aim is to lay the groundwork for Swindon’s Railway Conservation Area to become a heritage destination of national prominence.”

He noted the success in getting £19.5m funding from the government’s Towns Fund, with four of the six funded projects being in the Railway Heritage Action Zone.

Coun Renard added: “The key output of the masterplan would be the delivery of the restoration of the Mechanics’ Institute.”

With council coffers short of cash, Coun Renard said funding would have to come from elsewhere.

He said: “The masterplan would provide a framework for securing the substantial level of funding required to restore the building. Wider improvements to Emlyn Square would be necessary to ensure an events venue would be successful in this location.”

It will be crucial for the council to get the building back from its current owner Forefront Estates, run by Matthew Singh.

The council  is seeking payment from the company for emergency repairs it has carried out on the building and has not ruled out a compulsory purchase order to get the institute back.

Ex-cabinet member for culture and heritage Dale Heenan – discussing  whether such a compulsory purchase can be made for the Corn Exchange in Old Town – said a CPO should be made on the Mechanics' Institute first.

He said: “A lot of work has been done to achieve that and funding from Historic England.”
The cabinet meets at 6pm on Wednesday at Euclid Street.