Visit Swindon Photography Competition

Visit Swindon Photography Competition

Photography competition focuses on Swindon’s architectural gems

Visit Swindon is inviting photographers to focus on Swindon’s architectural gems in its 2021 photography competition.

The Architecture photo challenge follows the success of 2020’s Hidden Gems photography competition. That saw almost 500 images of the town uploaded to the organisation’s Instagram feed.

The competition is a fun way for amateur photographers to get back out into their local environment. All the while following social distancing guidelines. The Visit Swindon team will share selected images on their own social media channels.

Visit Swindon Photography Competition - the david murray john tower
The David Murray John Tower as featured in Swindon in 50 Buildings and here on the blog

Emerging from lockdown

As the town’s businesses emerge from lockdown, one lucky photographer will win a £300 prize bundle sponsored by businesses in Swindon’s Old Town. The bundle will comprise £50 vouchers to spend in the following businesses:

1. Food Magpie
2. Magnum Wine Shop
3. Contemporary art and furniture gallery Oink
4. Lifestyle store Kapada Vintage
5. Willoby’s Furniture
6. The Wood Street Foodhall

There’s also a Sunday roast for two at The Bank restaurant and bar in Wood Street.

* A great bundle of prizes for sure. But what a pity and an opportunity missed by the competition organiser not to show some support for other independent business in the town. There’s enough of them. It’s almost like the rest of the town doesn’t exist. Such a shame.

Old Town-based branding agency Jazzbones is coordinating the competition. It’s MD Nathan Sandhu said: ‘Swindon is steeped in architectural history. And that history is a photographer’s dream.

Swindon boasts:

1. The GWR Railway Village conservation area
2. Victorian houses aplenty in Old Town including Vilett’s House – much-loved by Sir John Betjeman.
3. The Mechanics’ Institution and the Corn Exchange/Locarno and of course …
4. Our GWR Works reimagined as the Designer Outlet centre.

Indeed, what Swindon offers is a giant history book waiting for you to capture with your camera or smartphone.

Not only about old buildings

But it’s not only about the historic buildings. Swindon also boasts plenty of photogenic modern buildings.

Such buildings as the skyscraping David Murray John towert that casts a dramatic shadow over the Swindon skyline. And of course the Brunel shopping centre itself.

Or, of course, the Sir Norman Foster-designed Spectrum/Renault building as seen in the James Bond movie A View to a Kill.

Then there’s the stunning canal-side Hall & Woodhouse pub or the brutalist Wyvern Theatre designed by Sir Hugh Casson.

And for something left field, consider the Hongxin Chinese Restaurant at Peatmoor Lagoon – AKA the Chinese Experience. Or the futuristic Whale Bridge Car Park in Swindon’s town centre.’

How to enter

To enter the competition you must follow @visit_swindon on Instagram. Then upload an image or images using the hashtag #SwindonArchitecture2021.

The competition closes on June 30, 2021. A judging panel, headed by acclaimed Swindon photographer Mitchell Nelson will select a winner.

You’ll find full terms and conditions at www.visitswindon.org.uk

For more on Swindon’s great buildings:

Check out my book, Swindon in 50 Buildings, and
my work in progress blog series – Swindon in 50 More Buildings







Saving the Oasis – the story so far

Saving the Oasis – the story so far

The Save the Oasis Campaign: The story so far

https://www.facebook.com/saveoasis

April 2021

Saving the Oasis – the story so far
The Save the Oasis campaign has picked up many followers of late and gathered more traction on social media. So, I figured I’d post an update on who they are and the story so far.

The key figures spearheading the Save the Oasis campaign are Neil Robinson, Emma Williams and Helena Bowie. Though there are many others helping in many ways.

Neil and Emma were regular users of the Oasis, right up to its closing in November 2020. Helena Finch became involved with concern for the loss of the Oasis as a tourist attraction and as a vital facility for families and the disabled. So their passion for saving the Oasis is born of wanting to save a facility that they either used themselves or wish to see preserved for others whose needs only this facility can meet.

Said Neil: ‘I learnt to swim at the Oasis. What’s more I took my toddler daughter swimming there just before it closed. We were one of the last people to use it. This is the best facility for people with young families for miles around. Its loss will be tragic.’ While regular Oasis swimmer Emma Williams, who has knee and hip problems thanks to sports injuries, finds the centre a Godsend because she simply walk into the water, whereas she finds getting into a regular pool with ladder access difficult and painful.

The Save the Oasis Campaign: The story so far - the oasis dome from above

About the listing application

Almost the moment the Oasis closed, Historic England received a listing application from an unknown individual. The SOS campaign does not know who this person is. They’ve tried to find out but data protection prevents.

The 20th Century Society also put in a listing application – but they were turned down as someone else had got there before them.

How the campaign has unfolded

In the first instance the SOS campaign didn’t support the idea of listing the Oasis fearing it would impede renovation. They changed their minds on it as they understood that there how funding streams available ONLY for listed buildings. The Save Grange Lido campaign tweeted the group late March to give them information about funding streams for listed buildings.

Before that though, article from the 25th February edition of the Swindon Advertiser, reported that Cllr Heenan had written to Historic England asking them not to list the Oasis. He said: ‘People are passionate about the Oasis Leisure Centre and its emotional connection to families learning to swim, but this building does not have special architectural or historic interest, and no part should be listed.’

Further to that, on the 18th March 2021 the Swindon Advertiser published comment from Council leader David Renard:

‘Oasis dome is at the end of its life – it’s time for a modern leisure centre’ and ‘I for one, will be keeping my fingers crossed Historic England does not grant it listed status because it is time to give the Oasis a new lease of life and many more families treasured memories.

All that was in response to a considerable amount of flak that SBC got on releasing this:

screen shot of tweet showing a CGI of a leisure centre

IN THE MEANTIME

While all this was happening the SOS campaign didn’t sit on their laurels. They carried out extensive digging and researching to find ways to renovate the dome so it could be sustainable.

Towards the end of March the group had contact from two engineering companies, Studio Octopi and the Iceni Project. Both are experienced in restoring heritage swimming pools. And both were firm that the Oasis dome could be renovated by placing the roof panels with EFTE pillows.

Around this time the team also made contact with Mike Kirkman, director of Sports at Aston University and also involved with Historic Pools of Britain. It’s his belief that refurbishment is possible. Further, the fact that the Oasis has excellent access for the disabled, makes its renovation and saving vital. 

In addition, the team’s diligent research and social media use brought to their Twitter door, Robert Guy and Otto Suarez.

First contact from Robert Guy
First Contact from Robert Guy
Mr Guy wrote this piece about the Oasis for the Architects’ Journal

‘The loss of the Oasis would represent the loss of an entire building type which is both culturally and architecturally important,’ says Robert Guy, a partner at Bristol-based Arturus Architects.
Tweet from Otto Saurez

At every step of the way the team have passed everything they’ve learned and discovered to Cllr Renard. They’ve also tried, many times, without success thus far, to contact Seven Capital – the lease-holders of the Oasis site.

Indeed, the team have tried – hard – to engage with the current administration about the Oasis but with very little response and no noticeable cooperation.

Security and maintenance of the site

Between their own site visits and the ‘work’ of urban explorers and community litter pickers it became sadly clear that both security and maintenance on the site were less than adequate. Break-ins began to happen. This despite the team quite literally begging SBC/Seven Capital to do something about security.

Back in January the team asked for heating and ventilation to be operational to prevent structural damage. All fell in stony ground.

The team have seen many photographs of the dire condition the Oasis is in now.

NB: The contents of this blog are a condensed record of a great deal of tweeting and emailing and Internet research etc, etc, etc undertaken by the SOS team. I couldn’t put every single item into this blog or it would have even longer than it is now. If you want to know more then I urge you to contact the team via their Facebook page or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/SaveOasis

To conclude … for the moment …

Given all the above and given that GLL, who operate the Oasis, ripped out lighting and all the gym equipment when the announcement came that the Oasis would remain closed after lockdown, there’s no way it could re-open now.

Irrespective of the listing application currently in place.


That’s all for now – we wait with bated breath for Historic Engjand’s decision.

See also:














Dandelion Financial Keep it in the Family

Dandelion Financial Keep it in the Family

Financial planners keep it in the family with new mortgage advisor

Dandelion Financial Keep it in the Family
Financial planning firm Dandelion Financial is keeping it in the family by welcoming the director’s son into the business.

Mortgage specialist Ben Watch has joined the Highworth-based company. His mother Sarah Watch and business partner Andy Carter, run the business together.

Ben is joining the team after working at London & Country Mortgages in Bath. There he specialised in providing mortgage advice to a range of clients. They included first time buyers, property investors with buy-to-lets and high-net-worth individuals.

At Dandelion Financial, Ben will continue to offer mortgage advice and giving advice to clients on life and critical illness cover and income protection.

Further, Ben will provide paraplanning help to the financial advisors’ clients along with reviewing risk profiles and undertaking fund reviews.

Dandelion Financial Keep it in the Family - Ben Watch
Ben Watch of Dandelion Financial

It’s a family affair

Ben is the third generation of his family to work in financial planning. Sarah’s father worked for the Prudential and two of her brothers are financial advisors.

‘I’m excited to be joining Dandelion Financial and to be working alongside Sarah,” said Ben. “I know I’ll add value to the services we offer. I’m also working towards my financial planning qualifications, to become a financial advisor.’

Sarah added: ‘Andy and I are both delighted to welcome Ben into the business. He’ll make a great addition to the team. It’s so pleasing to see him carry on the family tradition of a career in financial planning.’

Sarah and Andy have provided independent financial advice in Highworth for over 15 years. Seven of these at Dandelion’s High Street offices.

For further information visit: www.dandelionfinancial.co.uk
Or call 01793 765153.

To contact Ben, email: benjamin@dandelionfinancial.co.uk

Ntegra back the Cotswold Challenge

Ntegra back the Cotswold Challenge

April 2021

Ntegra back the Cotswold Challenge
The team of self-employed entrepreneurs behind the educational initiative, The Cotswold Challenge, is celebrating. Why? Because they’ve achieved shortlisting in not one, not two, but three categories of the South West Business Awards. 

New judge Andy Langley, has joined Swindon-based IT company Ntegra as CEO. Thus further cause for celebration.

Andy, who is also a trustee of youth development organisation The Platform Project, said: “I’m honoured to have involvement with The Cotswold Challenge 2021. This initiative chimes with our company ethos of supporting new talent.

Last year’s Cotswold Challenge

Last year was and 2021 is,challenging for any young person. And we’re delighted as a company to be able to embrace the creativity we’re sure entrants will share with us when the competition goes live.’

Allison Murray, who runs a brand and identity business, Allison Murray Design is one of The Cotswold Challenge team. She said: “We’re thrilled to have our important initiative recognised. When we started this challenge for young students last year during the first lockdown, none of us expected it to be so successful. The 500 entries we received then overwhelmed us.

Nigel Chute of Chute Design agreed and said: “The Cotswold Challenge was set up to help students in Swindon and the Cotswolds that were going to miss out on their GCSEs and A-Levels. We were so fortunate to get support from:

1. many generous sponsors
2. Expert celebrity judges … and
3. … even a letter from the Secretary of State for Education.

I’m honoured to be part of the initiative.’

Ntegra back the Cotswold Challenge - the judges

Announcement

The South West Business Awards will announce the winners at a gala virtual awards ceremony on Thursday 29th April at 6pm. The Cotswold Challenge team will be in virtual attendance to see if they’ve won an award. They’re in the running for Charity of the Year; New Start-Up Business of the Year and Covid Community Champion. 

They’re in the running for:
1. Charity of the Year
2. New Start-Up Business of the Year and
3. Covid Community Champion. 

Fiona Scott, a media consultant based in Swindon and one of the team of four behind the challenge, said: ‘We never, in a million years, imagined how successful or popular the challenge would be. It was so successful that we’re extending it this year to Year 11, 12 and 13 students at schools and colleges in and around Swindon.

‘Then, to get the support from the Ntegra team, and for Andy to give up his time, alongside other judges, to look at the work the young peope send in, is humbling. Last year more than 500 young people took part and their talent was awe-inspiring.’



A new award this year

New for this year is the special recognition award for outstanding talent.

The judges will select, one student from each of the three categories:

1. Art & Design
2. Creative Writing
3. Innovation & Entrepreneurial Thinking …

… o receive a £250 prize by the team for their contribution. 

Launch date

The Cotswold Challenge 2021 will launch on Tuesday 1st June. The closing date for entries will be Tuesday 6th July. 

To find out more, visit www.thecotswoldchallenge.com.





Why do the council hate the Oasis?

Why do the council hate the Oasis?

April 2020

Why do the council hate the Oasis? Indeed, DO the council hate the Oasis?

I confess I’d not considered these questions at all until more than one person gave voice to them on Twitter in recent conversations about the Oasis. And the more I ponder, the more I’m forced to confront the possibility. Let’s look at the evidence for the prosecution.

Back in February Cllr Heenan told the Swindon Advertiser in this article: https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/19114529.listing-oasis-stop-revamp-costing-millions/  that he’d written a letter to Historic England urging them reject the listing application for the building.

In the first instance that action, I assume sanctioned by the Council leader, raises many questions.
1. Is it an appropriate thing for a Cllr to do?
2. Does such an action best serve the residents they’ve been elected to serve – many of whom do not want to lose the Oasis for a not-very-lovely, definitely-not-iconic gasometer look-a-like.
And many others of a similar ilk. 

I don’t know – I’m merely putting out there that maybe this is not something a councillor ought to do.

But putting all that to one side for a moment, isn’t such a thing an overt act of hostility to the Oasis? At the very least it feels like a petty action to take. One that smacks of a mystifying desperation to demolish something deserving of the term iconic. Something interesting, something significant and replace it with something about which, the word bland is the most positive spin I can find.

And on that note – from the Guardian ‘There’s a simple way to make our cities greener – without a wrecking ball.

Why do the council hate the Oasis? Drone photo by Stuart Harrison showing the Oasis and the DMJ.
The drone photograph here is by Stuart Harrison: https://www.cotswoldsbusinessphotography.com

Why wouldn’t they?

*Why wouldn’t a town’s administration want to do their damnedest to keep a heritage building? And let’s be clear – the Oasis is equally as much a heritage building as the Mechanics’ Institution, the GWR Railway Village, the town hall and many more.

*There are answers to that question for sure but I’ll leave it there for now.

The aforementioned Adver article quotes Cllr Heenan as saying: ‘People are passionate about the Oasis Leisure Centre and its emotional connection to families learning to swim, but this building does not have special architectural or historic interest, and no part should be listed.’ Cllr Heenan speaks there with both breath-taking arrogance and an authority on architecture I didn’t realise he possessed. Who knew?

Note – since the publication of that piece the Save the Oasis campaign have amassed a great deal of evidence to refute that statement.

Screenshot from tweet

Marching on!

Now I’ll push forward into March and this commentary in the Swindon Advertiser by the Council leader, David Renard: https://www.swindonadvertiser.co.uk/news/19167555.david-renard/

Is this or is this not an act of hostility towards the Oasis? And indeed, I will argue, Swindon itself: 

I for one, will be keeping my fingers crossed Historic England does not grant it listed status because it is time to give the Oasis a new lease of life and many more families treasured memories.’

Yet again, so many questions raised. How is it appropriate for a Council leader to actively and openly wish for the demolition of a heritage building? That’s an astonishing thing to say and surely wrong on so many levels?! For a start – how are we meant to have any trust in a Council leader with such an approach to heritage assets?

‘Oasis dome is at the end of its life – it’s time for a modern leisure centre’ screamed the Adver headline. 

In the first instance there’s no such thing as a building lifespan – only lack of maintenance. And again the Save Oasis campaign have evidence to support that assertion. Apart from that, what gives Cllr Renard the authority to tell Swindonians that it’s ‘it’s time for a modern leisure centre’. Yet more breath-taking, paternalistic arrogance.  Whether Swindonians want a new leisure centre or not, is for them to decide – not the council to dictate. 

screenshot of a tweet about building lifespans

The Oasis as a tourist attraction

The Oasis used to be a huge draw. As Barry Leighton wrote in the Swindon Advertiser in 2015, it was a bigger attraction than Stonehenge! And it could be again! With vision and the right management. Whereas, ‘let’s go to Swindon to swim in a leisure centre that looks like a gasometer’ no-one will say ever!

Anyone would think that our current Conservative administration don’t want people to come to Swindon and spend their money here. Certainly, demolish the Oasis and you’ve got a gaping hole on the Visit Swindon website. #awkward

Have they thought this through AT ALL?

 And another point to be clear on there. Any replacement leisure centre that doesn’t feature:

  • The dome
  • A freeform lagoon pool that offers easy-access for the less mobile and for small children the like of which nothing else in Swindon offers.
  • … a tropical themed interior … 

    … isn’t the Oasis. It’s a North Star Leisure centre.

    Thus, dressing that hastily-shoved out CGI as ‘saving the iconic Oasis’ is a misrepresentation at best. And woeful ignorance of what the word iconic does in fact mean. Unless they were being ironic …?

    And aside from the swimming, there was football, live music, roller-skating, martial arts, gymnastics and more.  I could go on for hours.

    But instead, I’ll return to my original questions: 
    Why does SBC hate the Oasis? DO SBC hate the Oasis?

Answers on a postcard! Preferably to the Swindon Advertiser Office!

See also: