A new theatre, museum and art gallery could form the basis of a new Cultural Quarter for Swindon.
Swindon Borough Council has identified the Kimmerfields development site as the location for the £80 million scheme, which it says could create 1,200 jobs. and add more than £35 million a year to the town's economy.
The Council’s Cabinet will discuss a report next Wednesday (October 21) which proposes to relocate the Wyvern Theatre and build the Cultural Quarter on the derelict Kimmerfields site, which lies between the railway station and opposite Debenhams on Fleming Way.
Kimmerfields will also be home to the new flagship Zurich office, the first major office development in Swindon town centre for 20 years.
The plan to establish a new Cultural Quarter has been funded by the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, and has followed an established development process with input from professionals in the sector.
A new theatre would replace the ageing Wyvern Theatre, which was built in the 1960s and is reaching the end of its life. Engineering reports highlight that there is a need for over £20 million of refurbishments.
Other aspects of the Cultural Quarter could include a dance centre – the world-renowned Swindon Dance is based in the Town Hall – digital media and arts hub, and new facilities to display Swindon’s nationally-significant art collection.
A £12.7 million grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund towards the construction of a £22 million art gallery was rejected in May 2018.
The whole development is expected to cost in the region of £80 million. Most funding routes for cultural projects and capital infrastructure have been placed on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic, though the Council expects new schemes to be announced later this year and next.
The plans, if agreed at Cabinet next week, will be progressed through a partnership approach that brings together the town, the arts sector, diverse public and private sector stakeholders and funding bodies to develop and sustain a long-term cultural offer of internationally recognised scale and quality for all the people of Swindon.
Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s cabinet member for the town centre, culture and heritage, said: “When I took over as cabinet member, I made it clear to everyone that there needed to be a focus on fewer, more impactful projects that will make a visible difference to Swindon, and that change doesn’t happen overnight.
“The pieces of the jigsaw are slowly fitting together, with cranes and diggers now on site for the first new office development in 20 years, imminent decisions for £50 million of funding bids for the town centre, a refurbished Health Hydro, completion of the fantastic Carriage Works regeneration, new Hampton by Hilton and Premier Inn hotels and much more.
"Now is the time to present plans for a new Cultural Quarter and build on Swindon’s momentum to ensure that, by 2030, we will see a very different town centre.
“Cabinet’s ambition is to see the building of a new Wyvern Theatre with capacity doubled to 1,200 seats, which will attract the best national and regional shows and performers for residents to enjoy. We also want to deliver a new museum and art gallery that proudly displays Swindon’s nationally recognised collection of artefacts and exhibits.
“If approved by Cabinet next week, the next six months will see focus placed on writing the financial business case and investment prospectus. This is a fantastic opportunity for Swindon and we must grasp it with both hands.”
Viv Slayford, Artistic Director at Swindon Dance, said: “Swindon Dance has been based in the town hall for over 40 years, and while the building has been the bedrock to our early development it is now a cap on our future growth.
“Moving to the Cultural Quarter will give us the space and facilities to continue to grow and prosper across all areas of our work – professional and non-professional, local and international. It will also enable us to work with Swindon’s other cultural organisations to kick start the town’s economy and bring the passion and heart back to our town centre.
“Swindon Dance has a national and international reputation for developing young and professional talent in the dance world, supporting the growth of the art-form on the international stage and for making quality dance projects accessible to our local community regardless of a persons’ background.”
Paddy Bradley, CEO of the Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Partnership, said: “This is an exciting project for Swindon, which is rich in both arts and culture. Swindon has always had a fantastic cultural offering, from its amazing art and museum collections, through to its nationally recognised dance and theatre companies and vibrant music scene.
“The choice of the Kimmerfields site for this development is an inspired one, linking the railway station transport hub with the town centre through a cultural quarter buzzing with people. The SWLEP is delighted to help cement the future of Swindon’s cultural sector allowing it to expand and thrive.”