New Cultural Heritage Institute in historic former railway works building

Royal Agricultural University and the new Cultural Heritage Institute in Swindon

A new postgraduate and professional training hub in Swindon will be delivered by the Royal Agricultural University to support the cultural heritage industries.

Plans for the hub were launched by University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) last year in response to the national skills gap in archaeology, and a demand from businesses in the South West of England for CPD courses such as heritage management.

The RAU, based in Cirencester, joined UWTSD as a local partner in early 2018 but now leads the delivery of the hub to be known as the Cultural Heritage Institute. UWTSD continue to be involved and will be an active participant in the provision of learning programmes.

It will be based in a unit within the Swindon Borough Council-owned Great Western Railway (GWR) Carriage Works. The RAU and the Council have completed a legally binding agreement for RAU to take out a 20-year lease within the Carriage Works following the completion of Council-funded refurbishment works.

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The conversion of the Carriage Works, designed by Metropolitan Workshop, will insert a standalone structure into Unit 11 of the West Shed – creating offices, seminar rooms, a library and lecture space over two floors.

This new academic offer will contribute to the Council’s ambition to increase the supply of higher education options available to Swindon residents. Although RAU’s initial offer will focus on a highly specialised range of courses, there is potential for the university’s presence to grow over time.

The Cultural Heritage Institute will start to deliver courses from September this year. Construction works to create the Institute’s Swindon-based premises will start, subject to planning permission, and will provide students with first-hand insight into the complexities of heritage-led regeneration.

The redevelopment of the Carriage Works builds on the Council’s commitment to finding sustainable uses for its heritage sites. The Council completed a first phase of redevelopment last year to provide new flexible office space for small businesses – a facility now known as WorkShed. The works planned for the Cultural Heritage Institute form part of a second phase of redevelopment that will also create additional office space and ancillary uses.

Dr Lucy Meredith, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the Royal Agricultural University, said: “We’re delighted to be working so closely with Swindon Borough Council on this exciting project. The transformation of the Carriage Works to a higher education learning hub will provide much easier access to a range of specialist courses from the University, in important areas such as archaeology and heritage management – subjects that are vital to our understanding and management of the environment we live in.”

Dr Geraint Coles, who recently joined the RAU team as Director of the Cultural Heritage Institute, added: “This project will provide students with first-hand insight into heritage-led regeneration and the complexities involved. With a goal to deliver courses starting in September 2019, this is an exciting project and one that I believe is essential if the UK is to remain a leader in global heritage management.”

Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, welcomed the move.

“I warmly welcome Royal Agricultural University’s commitment to Swindon and the faith shown in the Council’s vision for the regeneration of the Carriage Works,” he said.

“The Carriage Works is one of the Council’s key regeneration projects and the building, which is steeped in the town’s railway heritage, has been transformed over the past 12 months.

“The WorkShed scheme has been widely praised for its quality and demonstrated the potential for the wider site. The Cultural Heritage Institute will provide yet further impetus to investment in the Council-owned heritage building.”