The Covid-19 "lockdown" may have brought a temporary halt to day to day proceedings at our beloved Institute but in the background, the Save Our Stute team have been putting some of the money raised from donations and the events from the past six months to good use.
Based upon a recommendation the Shildon Heritage Alliance CIC, the company founded by the Save Our Stute group, has commissioned a reputable and experienced chartered surveyors and building project management company, Eddisons of Newcastle Upon Tyne to, conduct an in-depth condition survey on the building, with a view to estimating the scale of any problems and likely cost to rectify.
We've known for some time that the 'grand old lady of New Shildon' has been looking a little tired to say the least. Whilst in years gone by the membership have been able to look to whichever of the railway companies governed the town's works, (the Institute has existed under the patronage of the Stockton & Darlington Railway Company, the North Eastern Railway, LNER and later British Rail Engineering Limited), since 1984 it has been the responsibility of its owners, the members. Sadly, in part through neglect, and partly through ailing fortunes, this has become harder to manage.
Last year, the Railway Institute Committee announced that with only thirteen years to go until the Institute's two hundredth anniversary, it looked as though this famous organisation would admit defeat and fold. However, as we found during the second half of 2019, Shildon still has a lot of love for, and a demonstrable need for its Institute, and through hard work and a change of perspective, a new lease of life was revealed along with a possible pathway for the future.
That cannot be achieved, however, without addressing the matter of the Institute's building. The condition survey revealed that a lot of the material fabric of this Grade II listed, William Bell designed, Institute is either close to exceeding, or already has exceeded, its serviceable lifetime. At the moment the potential of the Institute is already being stifled by the fact that the upper floors are out of commission. It is only a matter of time before the general malaise starts to prevent use of parts of the lower floor too.
Rebooting the Railway Institute as an organisation, so that it meets the needs of its surrounding community throughout the twenty-first century which differ somewhat to those of the previous one-hundred years, will also depend upon rebooting this iconic and historically significant building. For this, as in the old days when respective railway companies blessed this town, we will depend upon external support. However, we must also learn from this and, should we be able to secure the lifelines we will need, we must plan to protect and better maintain the building from that point forward.
Any renovation must go further than simply being of the building itself. As we learned from the advances made last year in attracting new business and meeting new needs, we must consider this a sustainable renovation of our Railway Institute as a whole - the building, and the organisation.
Returning to the condition survey, the most significant finding is that it will take an estimated £2.27 million pounds to bring the building back to something approaching its original glory. Now that we know this the Committee and the Shildon Heritage Alliance, together, are able to focus anew on achieving that, and on developing a new vision for the future that justifies the expenditure and benefits the whole community being there to meet their varied needs.
For now, watch this space
(27th May 2020)