Swindon’s Heritage Boost

Jim Roberts watched Swindon Borough Council’s locked down Cabinet come to an important decision on two of the city’s most important heritage assets. This is his reaction.

Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet met this week and unanimously agreed to support a new ‘long term vision for the Health Hydro‘ and ‘the proposed way forward to secure a viable new use and restoration of the Mechanics’ Institute’.

This marks a major milestone for Swindon – an acknowledgement of the significance of these heritage assets and their importance to the town’s future and the community’s health and wellbeing. 

It is apposite that this decision comes at a time of national outpouring of praise for the NHS – the seeds of which were sown amongst these historic buildings in Swindon.

In 1847, the Medical Fund Society was founded by the directors of the Great Western Railway. GWR was – at the time – the only industrial organisation in the world that required membership of a medical fund as a condition of employment. A century later that programme became the inspiration and blueprint for Aneurin (Nye) Bevan’s idea for a National Health Service.

This was the right decision by Swindon Borough Council and the right time.

It places an important historic building at the centre of the town’s regeneration. It recognises the value of these assets as vital contributors to the public health and wellbeing and not just as sport and leisure facilities – something I’ve previously argued for swimming pools and for parks.

And it also demonstrates the power of the stories that are baked into the bricks of our built heritage. When we produced the options appraisal for this building in 2017, it was the romance and symbolism of its connection to the NHS that influenced our thinking as much as its architecture or the cost and complexity of its restoration.

Tonight, when I #clapfortheNHS, I may clap a little for Swindon Borough Council too.