Author: Highworth Town Council

Helping those who need it most in your community

Helping those who need it most in your community

Vulnerable people forced to self-isolate due to the coronavirus pandemic will be offered a helping hand, thanks to a new voluntary initiative in Swindon.

Swindon Borough Council has teamed up with Voluntary Action Swindon and the Volunteer Centre Swindon to help pair volunteers with those who have no one to help them during the current public health emergency.

Members of the community who want to help those who are self-isolating, who do not have their own support networks, can now log their offers of support with Voluntary Action Swindon, who will work with the Council to pair them up with those most in need.  This could involve speaking to someone over the phone to offer some companionship or collecting shopping for those who are staying at home.

Pam Webb, CEO of Voluntary Action Swindon, said:If you are someone who is self- isolating or in need of non-medical assistance as a result of coronavirus, we would recommend in the first instance that you reach out to family members, neighbours and friends that you know personally. But we are very aware that there will be people in our local community for whom this is not possible.

“These are the people we hope to help through our ‘Compassionate Swindon’ initiative.  We also want to try and help the many charities and care services continue to thrive who are also experiencing staff and volunteer shortages due to current containment protocols.

“As usual in difficult times the community spirit shines through and all three of the organisations in this partnership have been contacted by people wanting to volunteer.  We want to make sure that this fantastic community spirit is harnessed in the best way to keep both volunteers and those being helped safe.”

People who wish to support others should visit to complete a simple online form indicating how they are willing to help. The team at the Council’s Live Well hub will be helping to match all volunteers with those in need.

Councillor David Renard, Leader of Swindon Borough Council, said:The Live Well Hub in Swindon works all year round handling referrals and giving people access to opportunities and services which can help improve their health and wellbeing.

“We are therefore very well placed to step up our current service in these difficult times to help people in our local community who are feeling more vulnerable. We are delighted to be working in partnership with Voluntary Action Swindon and the Volunteer Centre Swindon to harness the goodwill of the people of Swindon to provide help where it is needed.

“Anyone in the Swindon community needing some non-medical help can call the Council’s team on 01793 465513 or email so they can be put in touch with residents willing to help.”

Sarah Troughton, HM Lord- Lieutenant of Wiltshire, said: “I am very pleased to back this initiative from Swindon Borough Council and Voluntary Action Swindon. It is a sensible and practical way of helping each other at this tricky time in different ways. We are only at the start of the three or four-month period of isolation and patience and goodwill is going to be required as much as anything. The Swindon community will be trailblazers.”

Sue Dunmore, CEO of the Volunteer Centre Swindon states: “The Volunteer Centre Swindon works hard to match people interested in volunteering with suitable opportunities and to ensure volunteering best practice is applied. We are delighted to be part of this partnership.” 

Bus pass restrictions to be lifted for older and disabled people in Swindon


Bus pass restrictions to be lifted for older and disabled people in Swindon


Older people and those with disabilities will be able to use their bus passes before 9.30am from Monday (23 March).


Swindon Borough Council has made the decision in conjunction with local bus companies to enable both older and disabled residents to get to the shops earlier during the current COVID-19 pandemic so they can take advantage of designated shopping slots from the major supermarkets.


Holders of a senior citizen and disabled bus pass were previously only able to travel for free on buses after 9.30am.


Councillor Maureen Penny, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for Transport and the Environment said: “I would like to thank all our local bus companies for their support in extending the period in which people can use their bus passes.


“This will make a real difference to the older generation and those people with disabilities, giving them greater access to shops during what is a really difficult time for our local communities.”


Swindon Borough Council has a statutory duty to provide passes for free bus travel throughout England for older and disabled people under the English National Concessionary Travel Scheme (ENCTS).

Swindon Borough Council urges parents to keep children at home if they can following government guidance

Swindon Borough Council urges parents to keep children at home if they can following government guidance


Parents are being encouraged to keep their children at home following the Government’s decision to close all schools after today (20 March).


Swindon Borough Council has reinforced the Government’s guidance to parents, which asks parents to keep their children at home, wherever possible, to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus.


Schools, and all childcare providers are being asked to continue to provide care for a limited number of children – children who are vulnerable, and children whose parents are critical to the COVID-19 response and cannot be safely cared for at home.


But the Government advises that by limiting the number of children in educational and childcare settings such as nurseries and childminders, the lower the risk that the virus can spread and infect vulnerable individuals in wider society.


The Department for Education has issued a number of key principles for parents to follow during the COVID-19 response:


  • If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be.


  • If a child needs specialist support, is vulnerable or has a parent who is a key worker, then educational provision will be available for them, should they not be able to be cared for at home.


  • Parents should not rely for childcare upon those who are advised to be in the stringent social distancing category such as grandparents, friends, or family members with underlying conditions.


  • Parents should also do everything they can to ensure children are not mixing socially in a way which can continue to spread the virus. They should observe the same social distancing principles as adults.


Parents whose work is critical to the COVID-19 response, or who work in one of the critical sectors outlined by the Government, and cannot keep their children safe at home, then their children will be prioritised for education provision.


Councillor Russell Holland, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member responsible for Education, said: “I cannot stress enough how important it is that parents follow the guidance set out by the Government which aims to minimise the risk of the COVID-19 virus spreading and infecting vulnerable people in our communities.


“The guidance states that if children can stay at home then they should and our expectation is that parents do all they can to ensure that is the case. I would also encourage employers to be as flexible as they can to allow parents to care for their children so as many people as possible follow the social distancing advice which has been rolled out across the country.”


The Government has produced some information for parents and carers on the closure of schools and care settings which is available here:



Landmark report on future of Mechanics’ Institute to be discussed by Swindon Borough Council

Preparations could soon be underway to bring Swindon’s historic Mechanics’ Institute into public ownership.


If approval is given at next week’s Cabinet meeting (Wed, 25 March), officers at Swindon Borough Council could begin to make the preparations that are necessary to allow the authority to make a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO), which could secure the Council’s ownership of the building.


A strict condition of the CPO process, however, is that a third party must first be in place to take over the building.


The Grade II* listed Mechanics Institute is currently owned by Forefront Estates Ltd and its eventual renovation is a key priority for the Council. It’s also the highest priority project in the Heritage Action Zone which was launched last year in partnership with Historic England.


Despite attempts by council officers to engage with Forefront Estates over possible restoration plans, the company has not been forthcoming, requiring the authority to step in.


Since January 2019, the Council’s Cabinet Member for heritage issues, Cllr Dale Heenan, formed a group made up of heritage experts at Historic England and the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, to identify a solution to the 30-year problem that is the derelict Mechanics’ building.


Together with funding and support from Theatres Trust and funding from the Architectural Heritage Fund, the group commissioned a viability study to determine a way forward for the building.


With the foundation work complete, the Council may soon be able to prepare the necessary paperwork to make a CPO, which will help to enable restoration plans to proceed.


An enforcement notice was issued last autumn which allowed the Council to step in to remove the bushes and overgrown vegetation from around the building.


Councillor Dale Heenan, Swindon Borough Council’s Cabinet Member for the Town Centre, said: “The Mechanics’ was a key personal priority for me when I took over as cabinet member 18 months ago, and I must thank my colleagues for letting me go out on a limb to get this sorted. Good news – we have nearly cracked it.


“For the first time all of the right people are at the table collaborating and we can demonstrate that there is a sustainable future for one of Swindon’s most treasured assets. This will comprise a mixed-use facility that can accommodate a range of business, community and social functions such as weddings, proms, concerts, theatrical and other cultural uses. What’s more, there is a strategy to secure the necessary £24m for restoration.

“The Mechanics’ is a complex jigsaw – you work out which pieces have edges and join them, then slowly build up the picture. If you jump to trying to find the right pieces that fit in the centre of the picture, then you’ve made it ten times more difficult. There is a plan and we are following it.


“Thanks to the collective efforts of Historic England, the Mechanics’ Institute Trust, Theatres Trust and the Council, I am pleased to recommend to Cabinet a way forward for the Mechanics’, and that includes authorising Council officers to prepare whatever is required for a Compulsory Purchase Order.”


Cllr Heenan added: “It’s important to stress that for the next stage, we must have a third party in place before the CPO occurs. If anyone is interested, please come forward and make yourself known.”


Rebecca Barrett, Regional Director for Historic England in the South West, said: “Through our Heritage Action Zone we have a crucial opportunity to make progress on a future for the Mechanics’ Institute.


“We know through experience that tackling historic buildings at risk takes partnership, imagination and perseverance. We have all of those in Swindon, with the right people around the table, all committed to finding a long term solution for this remarkable Grade II* listed building.


“We will continue to work with the Council over the coming months to work up a robust plan to help bring the Mechanics Institute back to life.”


Claire Appleby, Architecture Adviser at Theatres Trust, said: “The Mechanics’ Institute is an important Grade II* listed building and a fine example of its kind, which has been on our Theatres at Risk register since 2006.


“The viability study has clearly shown an exciting opportunity for the Mechanics’ to be brought back into viable reuse for its community and to once more be standing proud at the heart of the Railway Village.


“We are delighted to have been able to be a part of the steering group for the viability study and to help fund this work through our Theatres at Risk Capacity Building Programme at what is seen to be a crucial turning point for the future of this historic building.”


A definitive viability study commissioned by the Mechanics’ Institution Trust, and undertaken by consultancy firm Fourth Street, has shown that a high-quality, multi-purpose events venue is the best option for the future use of the building.


Fourth Street has outlined a delivery programme of four and a half years. Added to this, however, will be the potential time necessary to secure ownership of the building and to raise the necessary capital funds.


The Mechanics Institute was built by the Great Western Railway in 1855 to provide a place for recreation and education for railway workers. It included a theatre and a library, among other amenities.