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Council launches vision to deliver one of the UK’s most ambitious cultural projects

A bold vision to deliver a Cultural Quarter in Swindon will be shared with major investors and funding bodies through a new prospectus which sets out a clear roadmap for its delivery.

Published: Thursday, 18th March 2021
Cultural Quarter theatre image

Contributing to the recovery of Swindon’s town centre post-COVID, the Cultural Quarter would be delivered over the next 10 years and located between the railway station and the new Zurich offices, which are being built next to Fleming Way.

The Cultural Quarter vision has been developed by Swindon Borough Council in partnership with key Swindon cultural organisations and their users and participants including Swindon Dance, Create Studios, HQ Theatres and Prime Theatre.

Sustainability will also play a crucial role and there are plans to make it the UK’s first net zero carbon development of its type and an exemplar for the positive contribution culture can make to the environment and to a town centre.

A 1,200-seat theatre - twice the size of the current Wyvern Theatre and able to receive the very best touring theatrical and musical productions - would form a key part of the new cultural offer.

The theatre’s auditorium would also be flexible enough to welcome music concerts in all genres, including for standing audiences, and a new 200-seat studio for local groups would sit alongside the main house.

A new dance studio, media and arts production centre and art pavilion to display Swindon’s nationally-significant art collection, also form part of the plans. Under the proposals, and with Swindon Dance moving to the new dance studio, the quarter would extend to the former Town Hall, which is being considered as a home for Swindon’s museum collections.

It is estimated more than 850,000 people will visit the Cultural Quarter and its venues in the first year alone, generating more than £35m of retained local economic activity and more than 1,300 jobs. Around 75,000 training, learning and engagement sessions would be held in the quarter, annually.

It is anticipated the whole development is likely to cost in the region of £80m, and the investment prospectus will be used to attract the investment necessary from the private sector and various cultural funding bodies.

The prospectus and the work to date has been funded by Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership (SWLEP) and its board will meet next week (25 March) to hear the latest on the plans and the next steps for delivery.

Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, Culture and Heritage, said: “Delivering a 1,200-capacity theatre to replace the Wyvern, a new media and arts production centre, new dance studio and art gallery will provide a huge economic boost, and reinforce our long-term plan to improve our town centre.

“Six months ago, the idea of a Cultural Quarter with construction finishing within 10 years was praised by many residents, businesses and arts groups who read the business case. We approved the plans, and decided that it was an important step to write an investment prospectus by March to showcase what we aim to achieve in Swindon.

“Today we have that investment prospectus and it will help to attract the money we need to pay for everything. We will be putting in a bid to the Government’s Levelling Up Fund which gives us the chance to receive up to £20m and, if successful, that would go a long way to helping us achieve our funding target.

“I am optimistic because my new approach to the town centre has seen more than £100m secured over the last two years, and the first crane is already here. It's taken time but people will soon start to see real visible changes happening so we can be positive about Swindon's future.”

Paddy Bradley, CEO of the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “Swindon town centre’s Cultural Quarter is a great vision which will benefit the town’s population, businesses and visitors alike. The impact of cultural assets on a local economy cannot be overstated.

“This project will generate skills, products and insights that will contribute to the social and economic well-being of Swindon’s business community and add vitality to the town centre which is important for our region. This fantastic project is another reminder of why Swindon is such a unique and dynamic space to live and work.”

The Theatre

  • The Wyvern Theatre is nearing the end of its lifespan and even essential repairs would incur £20m of costs. As with many theatres of its time, its facilities are ill-suited to the more flexible and diverse uses of the modern performing arts, and there are significant access challenges.
  • The market appraisal has led to the development of a vision for a 1,200 seat number one touring house – a major theatre receiving the very best touring theatrical and musical productions and with the flexibility in its auditorium to welcome music concerts in all genres, including for standing audiences.
  • Many local groups will continue to present their work in the Theatre, including in a high quality 200-seat studio alongside the main house. Together with the other venues of the Cultural Quarter, the Theatre and its studio will provide formal and informal spaces and facilities for festivals as diverse as the Spring Festival of Arts and Music and of Science.
  • The landmark building will attract 400,000 visits a year, and be sustainable – from its performance economics, its extensive food and beverage provision and its contribution as a conference, event and exhibition venue at the heart of the town centre.
  • As a net zero carbon major theatre – the new Wyvern has the opportunity to be a national exemplar for the 21st Century.

Dance Centre

  • The proposed new Dance Centre will provide fit-for-purpose, professional standard studios, facilities for therapy and recovery and for student learning, together with a performance studio designed to the needs of dance and expressive performance. It will change lives and inspire tens of thousands of young and older people from the town and region to participate, to express themselves, and to explore their professional potential.

Media and Arts Production Centre

  • An innovative combination of theatre, film and digital arts production organisations and independent cinemas will occupy this characterful new facility at the gateway to Swindon’s Cultural Quarter. This new facility re-homes Prime Theatre and Create Studios, who currently occupy inconvenient and cramped spaces on the top floor of the Wyvern Theatre.
  • The vision for the building has been developed with the young people who drive Create and Prime – as a contemporary and welcoming space with facilities for exploration, engagement and expression – supported economically and reaching a large audience through provision of independent film and media screens and social facilities.
  • Already Create Studios and Prime Theatre work with more than 30,000 participants annually and Create’s online presence reaches digital audiences of more than 3.5m. With these new facilities and continued super-growth in the sector in the town, these metrics are set to grow exponentially over the years to come.
  • The specification embraces new digital, film and live recording production facilities, rehearsal and informal performance studios – providing the facilities for many organisations in the town to continue their growth into digital - and three state of the art cinemas showing independent mainstream and alternative film and providing screening facilities for the town’s screen industries cluster.

Art Pavilion

  • The town’s Art Collection is a superb, international quality celebration of painting and studio ceramics, much of it among the very best work of British artists at work in the mid-20th Century. The collection is loved and cherished but deserves to be seen by many more people – and to be a visitor destination for the town in its own right.
  • To achieve this, the Cultural Quarter will feature a new and dramatic Pavilion at the heart of the new public park in the Kimmerfields development. It will act as a permanent home for the display of the collection and its appreciation through permanent and changing displays of art and ceramics – in a landmark building – set in a public realm that will itself be a place for public art and for outdoor and informal performance.

Museum

  • The town’s Museum collections tell important stories about how Swindon came to be – and about the lives of its communities down the centuries. For new communities, and for young people growing up in Swindon, the Museum collection is important in defining what it means to be a ‘Swindonian’. To ensure the widest possible access to and enjoyment of these collections and stories, the Quarter will extend to an imaginative project to consider their redisplay at the Town Hall, from which Swindon Dance will move to the new Dance Centre, linked with the town’s Central Library, at the southern end of the Quarter

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