Brunel’s legacy of innovation lives on as refurbished Carriage Works opens its doors

Ambitious plans to breathe new life into part of Swindon’s historic railway works has reached a landmark stage.

Published: Thursday, 7th June 2018
Unit 3 of Carriage Works opens its doors

The town’s Carriage Works, off London Street, which have been used by small industrial firms since the closure of the town’s railway works more than 30 years ago, will be transformed thanks to Swindon Borough Council.

The Council is investing £2m in phase one of the project to refurbish the buildings which were part of Brunel’s Great Western Works and were once the largest carriage works in the country, standing at the very forefront of Victorian industrial innovation.

One of several town centre projects to rejuvenate Swindon town centre, the Carriage Works is a unique, historic mixed-use development opportunity, within walking distance of Swindon station.

Unit 3, which opened its doors this month, will operate as a business incubation hub and is being marketed as Workshed under the management of The Enterprise Network (TEN).

It will offer flexible, modern office space for dynamic start-ups and fast-growth businesses with around 80 work spaces and co-working packages starting at just £75 pcm.

Local companies BRAVEDOG and The Carto Group have already moved in with others in the process of taking up space. Work to refurbish Unit 5, which will complete phase one of the redevelopment, is already well underway and will provide an additional 100 work spaces.

The Carriage Works is a Grade II listed building and extensive work has taken place with a variety of Council experts in planning, heritage and building control to retain, enhance and complement the existing features of the building.

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 GWR colour scheme has 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.

A ‘land swap’ deal between Network Rail and the Council was completed last month which means the entire Carriage Works and neighbouring Bristol Street car park are now owned by the Council, paving the way for further regeneration.

The next phase of the Carriage Works project will see the remainder of the West Shed, Units 7, 9 and 11, being redeveloped to create modern work spaces within a ‘campus’ environment. Work is likely to start at the end of the year, subject to planning approval.

The University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) announced plans at the end of last year to set up a new Cultural Heritage Institute at the Carriage Works based in Unit 11 and the first courses are anticipated to start from September next year.

Cllr Garry Perkins, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, said: “The Great Western Works were at the heart of Victorian innovation so to be able to use these great buildings as a base for Swindon’s up and coming firms is something I’m sure Brunel himself would have approved of.

“The Workshed has only just opened, but there is already a vibrancy about the place and you can sense this really will be the go-to place for technological excellence.

“Our plans for the rest of the Carriage Works, which are being delivered for the Council by Forward Swindon Ltd, are beginning to take shape and, with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) already on board for Unit 11, this an exciting time for Swindon and a significant boost for our ambitious plans for the rest of the town centre.”

Tim Hughes, CEO of the Carto Group, one of the first businesses to move into the Carriage Works, said: “The Carriage Works vision is what myself and The Carto Group are buying into. Swindon has never had a technology-focused hub or centre and by creating this for the town, so close to the station, is invaluable.

“I'm from Swindon, so to be part of the Council’s vision is very exciting. We have already had discussions with council leaders about the digital mapping technology we develop for clients outside of Swindon and the UK, so to be potentially undertaking more work locally, that benefits the town’s residents and my own family, is fantastic.

“We are also looking to employ locally too. We are very much looking forward to showcasing our location-based 3D and Augmented Reality tech at the new office and inviting our clients to Swindon, rather than travelling out to see them!”

Nick Prescott, Managing Director of design and branding agency BRAVEDOG, who have also set up in the Carriage Works, said: “From the first moment we stepped inside an empty Unit 3 a year ago and saw the vision for what’s now Workshed we were sold.

“It’s absolutely perfect for us. As a creative team our working environment is really important. Having our studio in a setting that blends Brunel’s craft and heritage and with a contemporary architect-designed space is fantastic.

“It’s a home that enriches our working day and the sort of place that clients want to visit and enjoy with us. Workshed raises the bar for Swindon and offers something completely different for local creative, tech and entrepreneurial start-ups.”

Anyone interested in finding out more about Workshed can contact Jol Rose, of The Enterprise Network, by email at: info@theworkshed.co.uk or by calling 01793 230322.

People and businesses who would like to find out more about the opportunities available at Workshed and the wider Carriage Works can pop along to two upcoming events.

Next Thursday (14 June) Switch On To Swindon will be holding its latest Ambassadors event at the newly-opened Workshed at the Carriage Works between 6pm and 8pm, while The Enterprise Network will be holding a launch event and open day for people interested in Workshed on Thursday, 21 June.

The day starts at 10.30am and will feature key speakers and free use of the co-working facilities until 4pm. To book place a visit: https://workshedlaunch.eventbrite.co.uk

Further information on the wider Carriage Works refurbishment can be found at: http://forwardswindon.co.uk/developments/carriage-works

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