Swindon’s Street Art Back in the day, thanks to a Labour government job creation scheme and a visionary arts officer called Terry Court, Swindon became something of a mural capital thanks to the work of Swindon-born artist Ken White. One by one his murals disappeared and now only one remains, the first one, the Golden Lion Bridge mural.
But in recent years murals and street art have once again started to grace Swindon’s walls, gable ends and ugly hoardings.
Back in 2015 I wrote about the new mural on Cambria Bridge. As it happens, there used to be a mural by the aforementioned Ken White on the self-same wall. So, in a neat bit of artistic symmetry this new mural references Ken.
And now here we are in 2021 and Swindon’s street art and murals are cropping up all over the place. I haven’t seen them all and can’t possibly cover them all in one blog post. So I’ve picked out four – in no particular order.
1. The Morrison’s building on Regent Circus
You can read more detail on this mural in this article here.It explains who the artists are and what the mural depicts. This particular piece of mural magic happened in a partnership between the Regent Circus management and the artists, Swindon-born Martin Travers and a London-based street artist, Lionel Stanhope.
2. Princes Street
This is a Swindon Borough Council production on an old wall near the Rendezvous Chinese restaurant. It’s co-creators are Peter Cowdy and Caryn Koh from Artiste and the Post Modern.
This mural is staggering and I can not at all show it properly here. Funded by InSwindon, it’s painted by Pete Cowdy and Dayna Baxter and runs the length of the wall where the sadly-defunct big screen hangs.
4. And last, but by no means least, a note of HOPE
Though it may appear that nothing is happening, a great deal of work is being planned behind the scenes to build up a programme of work that ticks all the boxes.
Towards the end of the year we’re hoping to hold some involvement events. In the meantime we will endeavour to keep you informed. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions we would love to hear from you.
Starting this month we will be showcasing a different feature of the Hydro in each newsletter. This time we would like to highlight the stained glass windows in the building.
You do not need to visit a church to see some truly magnificent stained glass windows in Swindon, just take a walk around the Health Hydro.
The windows were all made in the GWR works by Mr T Rice and his team of highly skilled craftsmen. What this tells us, beyond the skill of the men and the obvious beauty of the stained glass panels they created, is that the workers had enormous pride in their work, crafting things of beauty for this utilitarian building. The windows look as magnificent today as they did when they were installed nearly 130 years ago.
A featured article from a health hydro supporter
Recent years have seen significant progress with regard to the Swindon Baths and former Medical Fund Society medical centre in Milton Road. But now we must all keep our eye on the ball to ensure that the prospective ‘renovation’ achieves what Swindon deserves for the future. By that I mean something which Swindon people aspire to today. Something that builds on the physical heritage as well as the social achievement of past generations of Swindonians. Recent steps forward include:
1. The Friends of Swindon Health Hydro group has formed to champion the building.
2. The Friends proposed the recently awarded (by Historic England) heritage listing upgrade to Grade 2* (from 2)thus affording the building extra protection.
4. Swindon Borough Council (SBC) have budgeted £1.5 million for building ‘repairs and maintenance’.
5. Significantly, £5million has been awarded as part of the government’s Towns Fund, applied for by SBC.
People could be forgiven for thinking the Baths are safe, but a close eye is needed on the future. A few months ago the Adver ran a piece that suggested the Swindon Baths as ‘the town’s very own Bath Spa’. That facility isn’t a project to aspire to. It ran massively over its projected budget and provides ‘high end’ expensive facilities in a town with a very different population to Swindon. One with significant international tourist appeal visiting a range of nearby heritage attractions like the Roman Baths. The Milton Road Baths has a unique character that deserves appreciation for what it is and for what it means to the people of Swindon. Swindonians who have so long lobbied to have their railway heritage properly understood and appreciated.
What should we be looking for?
The recent Conservation Report outlined the key features which merited the grade 2* listing. One of these is the Small Pool. Right up until four years ago this pool saw crocodiles of school children enjoying their weekly swimming lessons. This opportunity was not only one experienced by local railway children since 1896. Newcomers to Swindon shared this pleasure too. That pool is one of the unifying features of life in Swindon before and after 1986, when the Works closed. The Small Pool should be a top priority for repair and re-opening. Why should we have less provision for children that we did in 1896? (NB: ditto the Oasis – says me – Born Again Swindonian)
The expressed aspiration by the Council for a wider health and well-being provision echoes even more recent innovation. Innovation lost in the thirty-four years since 1986. It’s a function downplayed at the time as the Council emptied the premises of the range of voluntary organisations housed there. The objective being to clear the premises for lease to a privatised ‘leisure operator’. A policy driven by the government policy of cutting local government funding.
The Swindon card
Who remembers the Swindon Card? It supported widespread access to leisure for Borough residents with limited income, in the interests of improving health? From 1986, the £300,000 put aside for renovation of the Mechanics’ Institution*, got spent in the next two years to fix the Bath’s roof and replace the boiler. Altogether, there was an investment of £750,000 or so in modernising the services on offer, including the swimming pools and Turkish Baths. The re-naming as the ‘Health Hydro’ reflected the long understanding in Swindon that bathing formed a key aspect of health and well-being.
*Before the Council declined to take it one for £1
Practitioners such as osteopaths and a well-woman centre developed by local charity volunteers were developed too.
These services and therapies replaced the doctors’ surgeries. They saw re-location to Carfax Street (and recently again to Islington Street). We easily forget how quickly things have changed in Swindon as the town has expanded.
So, the first objective should be to restore to Swindonians the level of provision that they long enjoyed and paid for themselves. Once renovated, wider promotion in the modern town should provide the income needed to provide for programmed maintenance in the future. Thus this level of deterioration should never occur again.
Now seems a good idea to bring together past users and community organisations to engage in discussions and review ideas for future use of this massive complex of three buildings. The future must belong to the people of Swindon, not only today’s Council or GLL.
The Friends of the Milton Road Baths will need support – so if you’re so inclined get in touch with them!
Between them the small pool at MRB and the Oasis, form touchstones of many Swindonian’s lives. Are we going to have a generation of children in Swindon that don’t learn to swim for lack of facilities?!
Other things in need of support
I only wish that Milton Road baths were the only thing needing support. But sadly there’s a growing list: the Oasis, the museum and art gallery – let’s not forget the Mechanics’.
Indeed it’s easier to list what doesn’t need supporting/saving in Swindon these days. There’s a depressing thought!
The Platform Project, based in the Dorcan area of Swindon, is a social enterprise that helps young people aged 17-24 find employment. It does so by helping them develop skills such as IT, administration, marketing, sales and videography in a youth led ‘training workplace’.
The interns work on many industry standard projects. These projects span such experiences such as online publishing, project management and self-employment. It all helps them build up their CV with meaningful experiences and figure out what they want from their early-stage careers. The design of the work experience internships accelerates a young person’s progression into their next steps after finishing education. They’ve supported over 100 young people this past year alone.
From College drop-out to employment for Charlotte
After dropping out of college, Charlotte, who lives in South Cerney, didn’t know what she wanted to do. She knew that college was not for her and that she didn’t want to be stuck in a dead-end job. But she was getting no response from her applications for dozens of jobs. Then she saw details of The Platform Project on social media and signed up to join their internship scheme.
My very first project with The Platform Project was helping to make a video on anger management and taking photos behind the scenes to make a trailer clip,” said Charlotte. ‘It was so much fun! But I also learned how to take a client brief, plan a project, and work in a team.’
Soon afterwards, Charlotte got involved in projects planning two charitable events. She also continued to develop her photography skills behind the scenes at exhibitions and participated in a fashion shoot.
‘When I first joined The Platform Project, I had no self-confidence. I didn’t believe in myself at all. I was very shy and didn’t talk to people,’ explained Charlotte. ‘Now I will go up to people and talk to them. The internship has helped me with my communication skills and people skills. I have so much more confidence in myself. This enables me to apply for a job, talk to people on the phone and write formal letters to companies.’
When she went for an interview for her current role, they asked her what she’d done at The Platform Project and what projects she’d worked on.
‘It was great to be able to put my experience at The Platform Project on my CV. My new employer said it showed I was hard working and had a wide range of experience and skills for someone my age. I’m so excited at getting this job in the hospitality sector. It’s exactly what I wanted and I am now starting a new chapter in my life and am confident about my future.’
Daniella, who lives in Dorcan, Swindon, joined the internship scheme in March. And now, after four months there, she’s secured herself a job with First City Nursing Services.
‘The scheme has supported me gaining confidence, learning new skills and enhancing my talents,’ said Daniella. ‘Getting a job in care has always been a dream of mine. But I never believed in the past that it would become a reality because of my low confidence.’
During her four months with The Platform Project, Daniella focused her creative writing passion to produce content for the projects youth led blog #iDare. She also worked with an employability mentor to help her develop such work readiness skills as timekeeping, interviewing and organisation skills.
Daniella said: ‘If you’d like to feel welcomed into and involved in a professional team and find new and exciting opportunities for the future, The Platform Project is the place for you.’
The founder of the Platform Project
Sadie Sharp, founder of The Platform Project, said: ‘I’m super proud of these two. They embraced their time with us and all the experiences on offer. It’s so difficult for young people to get into work without any work experience. And it’s a difficult cycle to break. In particular when the number of people applying for entry level jobs is so high as a result of the pandemic.
We’ve honed our internship programme to give young people a real, practical and hands on work experience. One that loads their CV with experiences that help them stand out to employers and secure entry level jobs with a professional level of skills. We’re fortunate to have secured an enormous amount of funding to increase the places we can now offer to young people in and around Swindon.
The Platform Project are now interviewing young people to fill their internship placements starting from September.
Follow up survey GWR Park Vision for GWR Park 14th – 30th July
News from the GWR Railway Village Heritage Action Zone
GWR Park Follow-Up Survey ‘We had a fantastic response to our survey about GWR Park. Over 400 people told us why the park is important and what needs to change. Landscape architects Cookson and Ticknerhave prepared a draft conservation management plan. That plan that takes on board these views and sets out the park’s future management.
Go to www.swindon.gov.uk/gwrparksurvey to see how people responded and view the vision and the draft Plan. (That collates a wealth of historical information and images)
That done please do then complete our short survey by following the link above.
This project has been made possible by the Heritage Action Zone. Through which the Council is being supported by Historic England to deliver a range of projects aimed at revitalising the Railway Village.
GWR Park Follow-Up Survey
About the consultants – Cookson & Tickner:
‘Cookson & Tickner Ltd is a landscape architecture practice with a wealth of expertise in landscape planning, design and management. Our services range from countryside planning and strategies for green infrastructure and woodland through to the management and design of parks and gardens. We are specialists in the conservation, restoration and management of historic landscapes.
We provide advice to public, private and charitable organisations throughout the UK. Also, we work at a variety of scales, from county and district wide landscape assessments through to detailed design and site supervision.’
A Journey through the Heart of Wiltshire without getting your feet wet: the Kennet and Avon Canal By Rebecca Davies Bsc. (Hons).
A Kennet and Avon Canal Journey
Wiltshire is the finest county, with a great many things to see and do, and good access to London and Bristol. If, like me you’re interested in the past, there is, what appears to be, an endless supply of antiquities to study. Such as the Alton Barnes white horse that you see in the image below.
But! One big snag in Wiltshire life – no coastline. Nor are there are many navigable rivers or lakes in the county. And so few opportunities for boats.
So…we need to dig a canal…
In around 1373 the Dutch invented the pound lock. That being a simple system for getting boats over different water levels, on a river, below the weir to above the weir, and on a canal allowing it to cross over a hill rather than having to go around it.
This is, of course, a Eurocentric version of the story; the Chinese had pound locks on their canal as early as 984 AD.
The Kennet and Avon (K&A) canal is in many ways a typical English waterway. It opened in the late 18th century, enjoyed profitable use until the coming of the railway. And then suffered a slow decline until closure. Now, in recent decades, it’s re-watered as a tourist attraction.
John Rennie, in 1794-181, built this canal. The canalised part is 57 miles (93km) long. including the canalised sections of the Kennet and Bristol Avon it is 87 miles (140km) in total. There are 105 locks and the last barge through came through in 1948.
The Kennet & Avon Canal Trust was one of the first organisations to fight for the preservation and restoration of the canal system for the benefit of the leisure industry. This idea took a while to absorb, given the negative vision of canals as nasty stagnant places full of rubbish winding without purpose through drab urban slums.
The K&A canal opened fully once more in 1991.
Wiltshire Features – Travelling from Avoncliff to Little Bedwyn
Caen Hill Locks (Lock numbers 22-50) – How do you get a barge up a hill? With a great deal of patience and one of England’s longest flights of locks.
It takes 5-6 hours to navigate by boat, though people say that a Newbury trader, J. T. Ferris, worked up the flight in 2.5 hours. This was the last part of the canal to see completion with the locks opened in 1810.
K&A Canal Museum. The museum of the K&A is at Devizes, run by the K&A Trust. This is the location of their headquarters and the shop. They do cruises in the summer months.
Honey Street Wharf – Roughly the half way point of the canal, Honey Street wharf was the main boatbuilding yard on the K&A. It’s known for its famous pub, The Barge.
Wilcot Wide Water– Environmental concerns amid industrial envelopment are not new things. Lady Wroughton, unlike some landowners, was not against the idea of a canal. But she cannily insisted it should be in the form of an ornamental lake. `Wilcot Wide Water`. The bridge at the end is especially decorative.
The Bruce Tunnel – Thomas Brudenell-Bruce did not like the idea of a canal cutting upon his land, so a tunnel, (502 yards 459m) got built instead. Since there were no towpaths, the unpowered boats became drawn along by a chain.
Crofton pumping station
Crofton Pumping Station – This is the summit pound of the canal meaning that everywhere else is downhill – or stream. Using locks loses water and so needs topping up. This happens via a reservoir (as we see at Coate Water, near Swindon). Or pumped up from lower levels. There are both methods used at Crofton.
The `Number One` 1812 Boulton and Watt engine is the world’s oldest steam engine still in its original location. And it’s still able to do the job it first was fitted for. It’s accompanied by the `Number Two` engine, built by Harveys of Hayle, in 1846. This is the high point of the canal in more than mere altitude.
Water Adds Value` the Canal and River trust tell us. A canal is a haven for wildlife which one might otherwise not find in the dry county of Wiltshire. It\s a place for industrial archaeology, a throughway for the waterway traveller, and a dwelling place for boat people,. And lastly it is part of flood prevention systems.
The Kennet and Avon is one of England’s most beautiful canals, being free of dowdy industrial or urban stretches. Yet, due to the significant number of locks, (105) it is more for the dedicated boat traveller rather than the cruising holidaymaker. Though you can hire holiday boats!
And, incidentally, you can enjoy the canal on foot or by bicycle as well as by boat.