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Construction of Cultural Heritage Institute at Carriage Works continues during pandemic

The conversion of Swindon’s former GWR Carriage Works to create premises for the Royal Agricultural University’s Cultural Heritage Institute is continuing apace through the pandemic.

Published: Monday, 1st June 2020

Last year, the Royal Agricultural University announced plans for a new postgraduate and professional training hub in Swindon to increase the number of trained professionals within the cultural heritage industries.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, work has continued over the past few months and, if all goes to plan, the Cultural Heritage Institute will be open in September.

Social distancing guidelines have been strictly adhered to by the teams working on site throughout the pandemic.

The redevelopment of the Grade II listed Carriage Works has been supported by Swindon Borough Council, which owns the building. The first phase of redevelopment of the Carriage Works took place in 2018 with the opening of the WorkShed, a new office space for small businesses.

The redevelopment of the Carriage Works builds on the Council’s commitment to finding sustainable uses for its heritage sites. It is supported by the Heritage Action Zone which is bringing additional funding and expertise from Historic England in order to deliver improvements throughout the Railway Village where the Carriage Works is located.

Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, said: “The new Cultural Heritage Institute will be the engine of the Carriage Works innovation area. I think it is great that through these difficult times, the team at Beard and RAU can keep up momentum so the university can open its doors in September.

“The Council’s investment in this area is respecting local heritage buildings, and helping start-up businesses and a university, to create and support 300 local jobs and livelihoods, and eventually nearly 300 students.”

Local construction firm Beard is leading the regeneration project. The firm is continuing to operate on more than 90 per cent of its sites, despite the wave of closures that the industry has seen in response to the spread of COVID-19. 

Mark Beard, Chairman at Beard, said: “We recognise how vital it is for construction work to carry on. The construction sector makes such a big contribution to the economy both directly and indirectly through the supply chain.

“Beard has worked closely with its supply chain to implement the Site Operating Procedures drawn up by the Construction Leadership Council. This ensures that staff and subcontractors working on Beard sites are not exposed to unnecessary risk of infection. We are particularly thankful for the tremendous support we have received from our supply chain during these most extraordinary times.”

The conversion of the Carriage Works, designed by Metropolitan Workshop, includes a new standalone structure in Unit 11 of the West Shed – creating offices, seminar rooms, a library and lecture space over two floors. Beard were contracted by Swindon Borough Council last year, and work on the conversion started in July 2019.

The Council-led development is a major part of the Borough’s regeneration plans for the Carriage Works. The Council has so far committed £7m to the project.

Dr Geraint Coles, Director of the Cultural Heritage Institute, said: “The sensitive restoration works have been challenging and there was a real risk that the pandemic would set us back.

“Thanks to Beard, its subcontractors, and Swindon Borough Council’s continued support, we can now see light at the end of the tunnel. This building is going to be fantastic and a huge asset for Swindon.”

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