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Swindon BC: Rooting regeneration in the city's railway heritage

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Swindon BC has ambitious plans for town centre regeneration rooted in its historic role in Brunel’s Great Western Railway.


  • Project: Swindon Carriage Works regeneration
  • Objectives: Restoration of the historic Carriage Works as part of heritage-led regeneration of Swindon’s town centre, while providing new, flexible office space close to the town centre
  • Timescale: December 2016 - present
  • Cost to authority: Asset value plus capital funding of £1.4m (phase 1); £3.6m (phase 2)
  • Number of staff working on project: Two at Forward Swindon and for Swindon Council a range of officials involved in all stages of development, including planning, conservation, legal, finance and property
  • Outcomes: Phase 1: New business incubation centre (WorkShed) providing flexible office space to entrepreneurs and small businesses c. 13,000 sqft Phase 2: Additional 15,000-20,000 sqft of office space plus amenities. New higher educational institute and hub for design/media/tech companies Land swap provides for large scale regeneration of an area of c. 140,000 sqft (footprint)

Think of town centre regeneration and images of shiny new office blocks, pristine residential properties or retail units may spring to mind. The developments often take years to come to fruition, rely heavily on partners, and struggle to resonate with local people.

But what if you could achieve the benefits of a snazzy looking scheme using buildings from your town or city’s industrial past, while doing it yourself? That is exactly what we have done here in Swindon.

We recognise that the town’s heritage is a huge asset and an essential part of its future. Our economic competitiveness, superb connectivity and huge growth rightly project us as one of the country’s most modern, vibrant towns. But we also have a rich industrial heritage which is often overlooked.

Swindon was the home of Brunel’s Great Western Works, a huge industrial complex for building and repairing locomotives. The Grade II listed Carriage Works is now part of a major regeneration scheme to provide office space for a new wave of pioneers and innovators.

Swindon’s historic quarter, which also includes the nearby Railway Village which housed the town’s railway workers, is in a prime location, close to the train station and the soon-to-be-electrified Great Western Mainline lying between the town centre and a successful mixed-use redevelopment of historic buildings to the north of the railway line.

Two years ago, the council took its first step toward regenerating the Carriage Works, recognising its strategic importance and its potential to breathe new life into the town centre.

It has not been a straightforward process. To start with we did not own the building, and had to enter negotiations with former owner Network Rail to undertake a land swap which would allow us to create a new business incubation centre.

The first phase of development has now been completed, with the resulting work space branded as Workshed. Since opening its doors in April, the centre has attracted considerable interest from local businesses seeking low-cost, flexible workspace within a vibrant and creative environment. Tenants include branding and design agency Bravedog and geospatial technology consultancy The Carto Group, with more firms eager to call Workshed their home.

The initial Workshed concept was delivered by the council’s development company Forward Swindon Ltd and funded by the council at a cost of £1.2m. It has been shortlisted for a number of high profile awards recognising the quality and sensitive use of materials. Thanks to diligent work in partnership with the council’s planners and heritage officers, the design team has ensured virtually all original material has been preserved.

In some instances materials that were salvageable have been upcycled to produce new features from old. The prime example is the timber floor in part of the existing office area, which was used to make two enormous doors.

The Great Western Railway colour scheme has also been retained on external joinery and the contemporary interventions have been designed on a theme of the original carriages and geometric lines, while new elements such as the roof glazing and vents have been designed to look as they did in the building’s heyday.

The land swap has been completed for the entire Carriage Works estate and adjoining Bristol Street Car Park, with Network Rail obtaining two car parks close to the busy railway station. It was a long and complicated negotiation process involving Forward Swindon and the council’s property and legal teams.

It would have been easy at the start to say the whole deal was too complicated, but we grasped the regeneration potential, and an opportunity to invest in the town’s heritage to generate an income stream. Workshed is just the start and the completion of the land swap now paves the way for further phases of heritage-led regeneration.

The council has committed a further £3.6m for phase two of the project to fund the refurbishment of vacant industrial units to create around 15,000 square feet of new offices, complemented by a mix of amenity uses that will add to the ‘campus community’ feel.

A planning application will be submitted by this October, with construction expected to start in early 2019, subject to planning permission and the signing of agreements for lease by anchor tenants.

The University of Wales Trinity Saint David will be the first anchor tenants, with plans to create a new higher educational institute at the Carriage Works. Specialising in culture and heritage, the historic buildings are an ideal home for the institute.

If you’re looking for regeneration opportunities within your town and city, have a look at the opportunities that your heritage assets may provide. You could create something that Brunel would be proud of.

Paul Chamberlain, director of new partnerships, Forward Swindon

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