IN A recent survey, people in Swindon were asked to rank a list of five subjects: sport, business, culture, heritage and music.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, culture didn’t do too well. In fact, some people simply laughed out loud when asked about culture in Swindon.

It would seem that the very idea is little more than a joke, even to many of the people who live and work here.

There are a couple of ways we can take this. We can start by looking at the choices in the survey.

The fact is, of course, that heritage and music are cultural activities, and actually so is sport if we think about a statement like: ‘Football is part of England’s culture’.

If we go one step further, maybe business is also ‘cultural’.

There are many businesses that are in the creative sector; for example, advertising, design, fashion, music, publishing, television and radio. Not to mention the obvious cultural businesses like the Wyvern theatre or Swindon Dance.

And what about all those artistic things people do in their workplaces, like writing, or creating layouts on the computer, or marketing their products, or even having to think ‘creatively’ about accounts? On that basis, everything on the list was cultural.

This leads to another way we can look at the results. What does the ‘C word’ actually mean?

Does culture just mean opera and ballet, or can it include speedway and greyhound racing? As far as the Government is concerned, culture means just about anything that isn’t working or sleeping.

It divides culture into two lumps. Firstly, things that mean something to people, like relationships, memories, diverse backgrounds or social standards.

And, secondly, places and activities such as arts, film, television, museums, libraries, literature and writing, old buildings, archaeology, places of worship, sports, parks, wildlife, countryside, children’s play, tourism, festivals, and informal leisure pursuits.

So, yes. According to that broad definition of culture, anything goes. Sport is definitely in – whether it is football, speedway, martial arts or curling. And so are ‘informal leisure pursuits’.

Presumably they could include reading JK Rowling, tracing family history, playing the trombone, making dresses, wood turning, dancing the foxtrot, or building matchstick models of the Magic Roundabout!

If so many things count as culture, then maybe Swindon isn’t quite the cultural desert people say it is.

Or perhaps the people of Swindon people don’t actually do anything in their spare time. Nothing at all. Ever.

All right, most people who live or work in the borough of Swindon accept that there is not a lot of what some might call ‘high culture’ in the town. Swindon does not have a glowing reputation for world class opera, nor any Michelangelos living here (as far as we know).

But we should remember that Swindon’s railway works are now considered to be the Cape Canaveral of their time.

The trains designed and built in Swindon were at the forefront of Britain’s far reaching influence over the world.

We still have the wealth of the railway village; the Health Hydro; many of the works buildings; the Mechanics’ Institute (just about); and the community centre (old Medical Fund Hospital) that the NHS copied a hundred years after Swindon. This is real culture, by anyone’s definition, and it’s in Swindon.

Sticking with that particular part of town, we have the headquarters of the National Trust, and English Heritage’s National Monuments Record Centre, which houses the entire archive of England’s archaeology and architecture.

Of course there is Steam, and soon we may also have the National Postal Museum too.

Elsewhere, we have Coate Water and the secret museum world of Victorian author, Richard Jefferies, and in Old Town the gallery hosts a stunning collection of 20th Century British Art. This is real culture.

Swindon has a tendency to underplay most of its historical ‘resources’, and they often suffer as a consequence. This can, and hopefully, will, change, but we can put it all aside for now.

Perhaps this is because the railway works closed in living memory.

Until recently, the works were seen as a dark failing industry rather than a golden heritage opportunity.

There is another layer of Swindon that may be more fitting as a description of our culture, if we use the Government definition: the activities that the people of Swindon are actually out there doing, today.

Just take, for example, Swindon’s music.

At any given time, you can enjoy jazz, pop, choral, opera, punk, classical, folk, ambient, chamber, ska, country; you name it.

We have young people’s orchestras, rock schools, bowl concerts, a dozen brass bands, and live music practically every night of the year. The 99th Music festival at the Arts Centre last year had over a thousand entrants, and the Wyvern Theatre held a hugely successful live music season.

Swindon has hosted the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Elton John, and produced Gilbert O’Sullivan, Justin Haywood, XTC, Mark Lamarr, Jamie Cullum and singer-turned-actress Billie Piper.

Today, up and coming band the Alfonz have hit Radio 1 while the Beatbullyz were signed to appear on Channel 4’s Hollyoaks.

Sport? Well, it’s hard to know where to begin. There seem to be leisure centres, sports pitches and stadiums everywhere.

We have Swindon Town FC, of course, and speedway and ice hockey, and just about every other sport you might care to swing a bat at. I don’t know if anyone has tried to count the number of different martial arts clubs there are in Swindon.

Even our kids get in on the act – there are nearly 200 junior football teams in Swindon!

Plus, as every Swindon driver knows, the thing to keep an eye out for on our roads is not a certain well known roundabout, it’s the runners. They’re everywhere, especially before the Nationwide half marathon.

Culture may be all the things that the government say it is, but it is something else too. It is us.

It is what we do with our lives; what we enjoy; what we strive and succeed in; what keeps us going; our lifeblood. Even (perhaps especially) in times of economic hardship.

The secret of Swindon’s culture is not found in the fabric of old buildings (even its nice ones), or in the trilling of opera divas.

Swindon’s culture is found in its people.

By any definition, we are a cultural bunch and we don’t care if any survey agrees with us or not... We’re too busy getting on with our lives.

Dr Mike Pringle