Ground-breaking RAU Cultural Heritage Institute opens its doors
By Sarah Wood
The Royal Agricultural University's new Cultural Heritage Institute in Swindon has officially opened to students.
The new facility, in conjunction with Cirencester's Royal Agricultural University (RAU), has been established to help bridge the gap between academic study and professional practice in archaeology and applied heritage.
Situated in a workshop in the former GWR carriage works in the railway heritage quarter of Swindon, the Cultural Heritage Institute (CHI) will offer postgraduate courses in archaeological practice, cultural heritage leadership, historic environment management, and the conservation and management of historic buildings.
The purpose-converted building, which has been transformed thanks to a £1.35m investment by Swindon Borough Council, provides modern and fully accessible facilities in an innovative learning space designed to encourage collaboration and interdisciplinary studies.
Dr Geraint Coles, director of the Cultural Heritage Institute, said: "With the bounce back from Covid and massive infrastructure projects, heritage professionals are in demand like never before.
"By developing courses which respond to the needs of the profession - and which offer professional experience - we aim to create a career springboard for the next generation of heritage workers.
"This fresh chapter for the RAU is a perfect complement to the university's established programmes, with their emphasis on the sustainable management of landscapes, towns, cities, and businesses."
The CHI currently offers masters courses in archaeological and heritage practice; historic environment management; historical archaeology; and conservation and management of historic buildings. The institute also offers an MBA in cultural heritage leadership, with more courses planned.
The new programmes have been developed in partnership with practitioners from across the cultural heritage sector, while the CHI teaching team brings together experienced university lecturers and professionals from archaeological and heritage practice.
Professor Peter McCaffery, RAU vice-chancellor, said: "Swindon is set to be the heritage capital of Britain and, through the Cultural Heritage Institute, the RAU aims to establish a national training consortium that meets the essential needs of the heritage-related professions.
"We are Swindon's closest university and, with the launch of our new Cultural Heritage Institute, we are delighted to contribute to the regeneration of the town centre."
The new RAU Swindon centre forms part of the Carriage Works regeneration, led by Swindon Borough Council, and is a case study in sustainable, heritage-led, regeneration.
The location will give students access to learning resources including Historic England, English Heritage, the National Monuments Archive, the National Trust and STEAM - the museum of the Great Western Railway - all within a five-minute walk.
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