Archive | August 2014

A rough guide to Swindon: The Magic Roundabout

Dare you navigate yourself across the infamous & world-famous counter-flow ‘Magic-Roundabout’ – the ‘white-knuckle’ ride of traffic?


The Magic Roundabout

The Magic Roundabout

You’d be forgiven for being perplexed at the notion of a traffic roundabout being of any interest to anyone other than traffic-system aficionados. But you couldn’t be more wrong. This fabled entity is known the world over.

Created in 1972, Swindon’s Magic Roundabout was originally named the County Islands roundabout due to its location in close proximity to the town’s County Ground football stadium, home of Swindon Town FC. But the locals were not long in bestowing upon it the nickname ‘The Magic Roundabout’ after the TV programme of that name. Eventually the local authority submitted to the popular consensus and officially re-named the roundabout and gave it appropriate signage.

Swindon is famous, even infamous, for its roundabouts. But this legendary one surely has to be the jewel in the town’s roundabout crown? Situated on a junction where five roads meet, the traffic-consuming monster vexes native visitors and utterly baffles those from across the pond. For all this though Swindonians love it and generally find their passage across it to be smooth and fluid, even at peak times.

The roundabout was created by the Road Research Laboratory (RRL) to deal with an area that was a motorist’s nightmare, being routinely unable to handle the sheer volume of traffic converging on it from five directions. Like many of the best ideas their solution was stunning in its simplicity. They simply combined two roundabouts in one. The first being of the conventional clockwise type and the second, revolving inside the first, sending traffic anti-clockwise.  This counter-flow roundabout solved the congestion problems back in the 1970s and is still, despite the ensuing increase in traffic volume over the last 40 years, processing it all as quickly and as smoothly as a giant Magimix.

Traffic keeps moving almost all the time, waiting only a few seconds to join each mini-roundabout and thus steadily travelling at low speed across the junction. A normal roundabout would involve long waits to join; signals would involve bursts of movement and long enforced stoppages. As a result, it has been calculated that the Magic Roundabout has a greater throughput of traffic than anything else that it would be possible to install in the same space. Magic indeed! Moreover, it has an excellent safety record.

Although voted the seventh worst junction in the UK, the roundabout’s bark is worse than its bite. Though appearing difficult to negotiate, all it asks of the driver is to be observant and to always give priority to traffic coming from the right.

One approach to the roundabout is to drive down Drove Road from Swindon’s Old Town. If you don’t fancy manoeuvring it in a car it’s possible to stand and observe the carefully controlled mayhem from the safety of the pavement – you can even consume fish and chips from the chippy on the corner while you do.

Swindonians are very proud of their Magic Roundabout and the tourist information desk, situated in the town’s central library on Regent Circus, sells a wide range of Magic Roundabout memorabilia that runs the range from key-rings to mugs to tea-towels and even T-shirts. So, if you’ve braved this colossal contraption of a road system you can celebrate your feat of derring-do with a suitable souvenir or two.

Whether you love it, hate it or are indifferent to it one thing is for sure: visit Swindon and you can’t ignore it.  Swindon-grown band XTC effectively and poetically capture the dizzying assault on the senses this behemoth can induce in their 1981 song: ‘English Roundabout’:

‘ … all the horns go ‘beep! beep!’

All the people follow like sheep,

I’m full of light and sound,

Making my head go round, round.’




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A rough guide to Swindon: The West Swindon Sculpture Trail

Take the sculpture challenge: follow the map and go in search of the sculptures

Somewhat surprisingly perhaps this sometimes un-prepossessing town possesses a rich cultural landscape liberally scattered with public art – in particular in the West Swindon development. This extensive and extremely green suburban area links the town with the M4 and comprises several distinct ‘villages’, several of which feature a ‘village centre’. Punctuating this conurbation is a fascinatingly diverse collection of sculptures that comprise the West Swindon Sculpture trail. Installed between 1982 and 1992 these sculptures are unexplained and mostly unnoticed by the locals. They are also rather neglected but no less interesting for that encompassing as they do a gamut of subject matter ranging from realism to abstract with a film star and a nursery rhyme in the mix.

A circular walk, approximately five miles long, will take you around all seven of them. The terrain is largely flat so is therefore family friendly and suitable for those not inclined to inclines. Swindon is astonishingly rich in parks and green spaces and the trail traverses some of them. There are children’s play parks and an outdoor gym en route giving plenty of added interest and making it dog-friendly and picnic-suitable. And it would add a new element to a bike ride too.

A good starting point for the trail is the West Swindon Centre: home to a supermarket, a coffee and fast-food chain and the Link Centre – a sports centre housing an ice-rink, swimming pool and sports hall. It additionally offers a café and a play area for tots. There is ample free parking here and the centre is additionally well served by buses from the town centre making the start of this trail easily accessible.

Appropriately located outside a multiplex cinema on Shaw Ridge leisure park (across the road from the West Swindon Centre) the first sculpture encountered is a flamboyant bronze portrait of the late film star Diana Dors, a daughter of Swindon. Unveiled by David Putnam this piece is a larger-than-life homage to the woman billed as Britain’s answer to Marilyn Monroe. Also home to a bowling alley, a De Vere Village hotel, two Indian restaurants and a pizza restaurant this leisure complex also offers ample free parking.

A few minutes walk up a slight incline from the cinema brings you to the Shaw Ridge open space. Take a few paces more and you reach number two on the trail ‘How the Mighty Fall’ (1989). This cast iron and cast aluminium sculpture was envisioned by its creator to be imagined as an archeological artefact from the 20th Century requiring viewers to transport themselves into the future. A future that is now our reality. Here too you will find the outdoor gym and a children’s playpark.

A walk along the ridge and across the somewhat Stepford-like Bramptons housing estate and you arrive at the third sculpture on the trail: ‘White Horse Pacified’ (1987). Created in conjunction with the Portguese Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation this large blue and white work is an interpretation of the chalk-cut white horses surrounding Swindon.

The walk to the fourth sculpture ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ (1982), passes through Shaw Village Centre which marks an approximate half-way point. Here you can stop for an ice-cream or even a meal in the Village Inn. This is a chain pub so be under no illusions about the fare on offer but it’s a convenient and comfortable pit-stop. Surprisingly set in a front garden in The Prinnels this charming sculpture is carved in Portland stone and depicts the popular nursery rhyme in a domestic setting.

You now have a lengthy but level walk to sculpture number five in Freshbrook village centre: ‘Nexus’ (1986). Comprised of Blue Pennant stone and railway sleepers this piece was carved with hand-made tools, in public and in situ by the late Japanese sculptor Hideo Furtura.

The walk from Freshbrook to Toothill Village centre, the home of the sixth sculpture ‘The Watchers’ (1982) gives a panoramic view over the Marlborough Downs. As the name suggests, this sculpture cast in ferro-concrete and featuring a mother, father, child and dog represent guardian figures looking over the then new community.

On leaving Toothill a downhill path and a short walk by a stream eventually takes you to the seventh and final sculpture ‘Looking to the Future’ (1985). Completed by the first artist in residence during the development of West Swindon, this glass-fibre resin sculpture depicts three life-sized sunbathing figures relaxing at the edge of the pond. Cross the road from here to return to the starting point.

This is an activity of which you can make as much or as little as you wish. At a steady walk, and with only a passing examination of each sculpture, it could be completed in a couple of hours. But you could really take your time about it and make a day of it.

NB: Both Freshbrook and Toothill village centres have shops and pubs so there’s further refreshment opportunities there before the walk returns you to the start point.

#travelwriting #publicart #publicartswindon #scultptures #art #swindonblog #swindon blog #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #BAS #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #travel #writing #travelwriting #guidebook roughguidetoswindon

A Rough Guide to Swindon: Introduction

This section of the blog is going to be rather different from my other posts. Where they are written in my own voice, these are going to be written as if for a rough guide to Swindon so, therefore, from a neutral viewpoint describing things as they are and the merits or otherwise of visiting them.

The inspiration for this stems from a travel writing module I undertook in my 3rd and final year of a BA Hons degree in English and English language. The pieces on the Magic Roundabout and the West Swindon sculpture trail were written for my coursework portfolio for that module. So this new section of the blog is dedicated to Professor Robin Jarvis and Dr Melanie Ord of UWE’s English department for their support and guidance.  Thank you both.

So to get it started here’s a draft of what could serve as an introduction to just such a book. It’s most definitely not a ‘finished’ piece but a serving suggestion as it were.


Swindon is a large town within the Borough of Swindon and the county of Wiltshire in South West England.

The home of the Great Western Railway, Swindon has excellent rail links to Bristol, 64 km to the west, Reading 64 km to the east and London, 130 km to the east and also to Bath. Additionally there are good road links to Cheltenham, Cirencester, Oxford and the Cotswolds. Featuring a number of decent hotels: The Marriott, the Hilton, a Jury’s Inn and a selection of budget hotels these combined factors certainly make Swindon an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding area. However, Swindon itself has many attractions that are well worth seeking out. Despite being the butt of many comedians’ jokes and having a dispiriting skin in places this is a many faceted town worthy of closer examination.

Swindon is a town of two halves. The original Swindon, Old Town as it is referred to, sits atop a hill. This is an attractive area with many coffee shops, bars and pubs. Old Town is home to Swindon’s museum and art gallery which houses a decent art collection – the displays of which vary periodically. There is also an art’s centre, the town gardens – a Victorian park complete with aviary and bandstand – and The Lawns, once the Goddard family estate but now another public park with spectacular views across the town towards Highworth.

Down the hill is the new Swindon born of Brunel’s railway and later the car industry. Neither particularly ugly nor particularly attractive the new town merits visiting if only for the vestiges of history to be found, notably the Railway Village – the housing built by Brunel for occupation by the men and women who toiled in his mighty GWR workshops.  Paying homage to them is the renowned STEAM – the museum of the Great Western Railway. It has some decent shopping in the form of the Designer Outlet Village. Formed from the ashes of the great GWR works the outlet centre makes a historic supplement to the town centre, all of which is pleasantly pedestrianised.

Two other interesting museums in Swindon are the Museum of Computing and the Richard Jefferies museum. Though small-scale they are worth getting to if their subject matter is of interest to you. The former is located near the central library where you will find the tourist information centre. Unfortunately by dint of being situated in the library the tourist information desk is not open on Bank Holidays – the very time when a visitor may well venture to Swindon.  The latter is right by Coate Water, another large park area that has a pitch and putt facility, lovely walks, a children’s play area and a miniature railway. At the time of writing the mini railway is being extended and will include a halt right by the Richard Jefferies museum.

To the west of the town centre is Lydiard Park and house, once the ancestral home of the Viscounts Bolingbroke. The town further boasts a range of leisure facilities and, spread across the town, an interesting collection of public art much of it on walking and cycle paths of which Swindon also has many.








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Incredible edible Swindon

I’ve recently come across some fab new groups on Facebook, that beloved of social media platforms.  As a result we recently had a guest post from Sarah Harris telling us all about the fabulous Free Art Friday movement and now we have Amanda writing about the Incredible Edible movement which has now taken root – geddit?! – in Swindon.

Before we get into the post ‘proper’ here’s some housekeeping:

If you wish to contact the group you can e-mail them on: Alternatively find the Incredible Edible Swindon on Facebook  or Twitter: @edibleswindon. The Incredible Edible Network is here:

Mechanics Institution Trust: and @mechanics_trust and and the Central Community Centre: and @Swindon_CCC

Okay listeners – now, as the newspaper sellers used to cry, ‘read all about it’:

“The Incredible Edible movement has arrived in Swindon! But what’s it all about?

 The Incredible Edible Network is now a UK-wide phenomenon, which started in Todmorden. They started a growing revolution that has been so successful and now even has the support of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Prince Charles. We want to replicate in Swindon those positive changes, which are happening in Todmorden and all over the country.

 At its core, Incredible Edible Swindon, is about getting the community involved in planting edibles (veg, fruit trees, herbs etc.) throughout the town centre and surrounding areas. The produce is available for anyone to pick and enjoy. By making healthy food accessible, we also hope to promote healthy eating. As individuals, communities and local businesses come together to plant and maintain the beds we are also collectively revitalising our cherished public spaces.

The group started in June of this year after a conversation with my friend Anna who had listened to Pam Warhurst, a co-founder of the initiative, speak about what had been achieved in Todmorden. Despite my lack of gardening knowledge I just knew I had to get involved – Anna’s enthusiasm is infectious – and after Anna wrote a blog on the Incredible Edible Network’s webpage (while slightly tipsy 🙂 ), there was no going back! Kathryn our mutual friend, who already knew about Incredible Edibles, came back from holiday to find we’d been busy, and was involved immediately as someone with great experience as Vice-chair of The Secret Garden, Swindon and a background in community regeneration. Anna also had a like-minded work colleague, Stan who soon joined and after a small advert in the Swindon Link for new recruits, we were introduced to Lisa, whose enthusiasm for the group matched ours.

As our first project we have been given a great opportunity to team up with the Mechanics Institution Trust at the Central Community Centre, which they run in the Railway Village. With the support from Swindon Borough Council, in particular Frances Barrone and Mark Walker, we have been working with Sean Haines (Community development co-ordinator), to create a vegetable patch that can be used for the residents of the Railway Village, especially at their luncheon club, and hopefully, in time, cookery classes. It really is fitting that we should have our first edible patch at the centre, as this building was the Railway Village hospital and, when in the 1940s, the government needed a model for the founding of the NHS, they turned to the Swindon Works and its pioneering local healthcare.

Here’s a few photographs of the group working on their first patch at the Central Community centre:

 We have only been going for three months but already we have met some incredible and passionate people who also care about Swindon and its communities and want to see them thrive. We are keen to get many people from across the town involved and would love anyone who has any ideas or who can help, in whatever form that may be, to get in touch with us. 

What a delight it was to be asked to be a guest blogger here on Born Again Swindonian. Thanks Angela from all at Incredible Edible Swindon!”


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Round and round – we go again

Wednesday 27th August 2014

Hello listeners. Here we have the second installment of posts featuring just a few of Swindon’s roundabouts and the reasoning behind their names. In the first post – Round and Round – I looked at roundabouts that are related, by dint of name and location, to some of Swindon’s industry. This time around it’s pubs. Unsurprisingly, what with coaching inns in days gone by often being on road junctions, a number of Swindon’s pubs are situated on or near to roundabouts thus giving the planners a convenient handle for said roundabout. So yesterday, on a somewhat dreek and dismal day, @Swindondriver, Swindon bear, Penny penguin and myself set out on a second EXPOTITION to check them out.

Swindon bear and Penny Penguin go on a road trip.

Swindon bear and Penny Penguin go on a road trip.

First stop on the road trip was the Rat Trap, an Arkell’s pub in Stratton St Margaret. This hostelry – or maybe it should be HOSTILERY – has an interesting little story. Originally called the ‘Speed the Plough’ (generally shortened to The Plough) the landlady in days of yore, one Fanny Stroud, devised a foolproof method of making her customers settle their bills: quite simply she locked then in the pub until they coughed up. It wasn’t long before the locals nicknamed the pub the Rat Trap – it becoming so interchangeable with its official name that, in 1875, court records referred to both.

Arkell’s bought the pub in 1899 and it’s official name remained The Plough until 1974.  However, following refurbishment and an extension being added, Arkell’s endorsed the nickname re-naming it The Rat Trap. Echoing this story, the pub’s interior features a carpet with a Pied Piper motif whilst on the outside roof there is a plough and the pub sign depicts the landlady taking money from her customers.  I wonder if the Boomtown Rats had heard this story….?

Next up on our agenda was the Crown Inn, again in Stratton.   A 19th century coaching in, the Crown Inn has, as it says on their website,  come full circle in returning to its former function as an actual residential inn even if there’s no longer accommodation for horses.  Furthermore: “An inn has stood at the junction of Highworth Road and Ermin Street for the best part of 250 years – and possibly much longer, making the site of The Crown an important one indeed to the local historian. 

The original building was sold for £60 in 1767 when it was called The Sow and Piggs. It became the Crown in 1792 – ironically the same year that King Louis XVI was losing his crown – not to mention his head – in France. 

Forty years later a new building replaced the old one, complete with the impressive arch, pretty courtyard and stable block – typical of coaching inns at this time and all of which can be clearly seen today. 

Arkells’s bought the building in 1868 and – as with many of the pubs it has brought – proved the stabilising element in the story.”

Well the food and the rooms may well be perfectly fine but the coffee most certainly isn’t. The one I had yesterday was absolutely vile I’m sorry to say.

The gallery below shows The Crown Inn:

Now we go to The White Hart, still in Stratton….and another Arkell’s pub. As Arkell’s do with all their pubs it seems, they have some history and background to this hostelry on their website:  As a change from being rooted in Swindon’s railway history, the original White Hart owed its existence to the Wilts and Berks canal which once ran nearby. As it goes on to say: “Coal merchant William Seymour was the owner by 1841 and his family kept it for many years. In those days The White Hart stood on the other side of the current Oxford Road and sold beer produced in the brewhouse on the opposite side of the road. 

Brewing naturally ceased when Arkell’s bought the freehold of the pub (and an adjoining orchard) in 1878 for the princely sum of £925. The original building remained in use for another 59 years before it was demolished to make way for another pub with the same name. Completed in 1938, the current pub is a much larger building than its predecessor … “

It seems rather a pity that there is no White Hart emblem anywhere on the pub.

The final place on the pub crawl, sorry I mean cultured tour of Swindon’s hostelry and roundabout history, was The Moonrakers – another Arkell’s pub, this one on Cricklade Road, with a roundabout named after it.

As with all these pubs/roundabouts there’s an interesting tale behind it. The legend of the Wiltshire moonrakers is well known round these parts and Swindon Web have an excellent article all about it so to get the full story go there. But in essence the story goes likes this:

A pair of Wiltshiremen, engaged in smuggling brandy, hide a barrel of the contraband from the excisemen in a nearby pond and when they return at some later time, in the dark, they are caught in the act of raking the barrel back to land.  They immediately claim that they are trying to rake cheese – the reflection of the moon – from the pond and the excisemen, amused by the apparently simple-minded rustics, leave them to it.”  The moral of the tale being of course that Wiltshire folk are not as daft as some would believe.

I don’t get to that side of town overly much and, since I was last there, the parade of shops across the road has been piffed up somewhat. The frontage in front of the shops now features some rather wonderful giant flowerpots – which immediately brought a certain ancient children’s TV show to mind … little weeeeeeed ….  flob a dob …. there are also some benches, funky asymmetric patches of lawn and wooden posts that turned out, on closer inspection, to be a rather well-thought out homage to the moonrakers legend. Fab stuff! I loved it.

So all in all our little group, @Swindondriver, Swindon bear, Penny Penguin and me, had – and despite the drizzle – an interesting afternoon of urban discovery, local history, good beer and lousy coffee.

Swindon bear & Penny penguin sample the offerings in the Moonrakers.

Swindon bear & Penny penguin sample the offerings in the Moonrakers.


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Free art Fridays

As regular listeners will know, here on Born again Swindonian I’m keen to get ‘out there’ anything ‘arty’ that’s going. Even when a ‘thing’ isn’t my thing I like to give it a shout-out. And as I’ve discovered since I set this blog up there’s so much arty stuff happening in Swindon it’s quite amazing. Indeed that very sentiment was expressed in a recent guest post from Beatrice, part of the Second Mouth group.  So the latest addition to the arts scene in Swindon is Free Art Friday which, apparently, is a global movement. So isn’t that fine thing – Swindon being part of a global movement?

I really like this idea and would love to chance upon a piece but the chances are slim as I’d never get myself organised enough. I’m not sure why but it vaguely brings to mind the art boxes one used to be able to get in the Arts Centre.  There was an old wooden condom vending machine on the wall into which you stuck a pound coin and out popped a little box of out. I absolutely LOVED it. It was like some sort of lucky dip. I still have all the pieces I collected artfully (Ha!) arranged in a 3D box with a perspex front. Can someone not bring that scheme back? It was great!  Anway, here to tell us more about Free Art Fridays is Sarah Harris who describes herself thus: ‘ A mum of 4 boys aged 12 to 24  that works as a statistician . An enthusiastic amateur artist in my spare time. My favourite artists are Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg and various street artists including Borondo, Alexis Diaz and Herakut.  Other hobbies  are Sci Fi , comics, ice hockey (Swindon wildcats season ticket holder of many years). I’m the main point of contact for FAF Swindon but there are lots of other peeps involved too.’ So now you know. Actually, that’s interesting about the ice-hockey interest. A guest post about that would be good! Okay – that’s enough waffle and twaddle from me. Now over to Sarah:

Free Art Friday Swindon

Free Art Friday is a global movement, originated by My Dog Sighs, a street and gallery artist from Portsmouth – who in turn was inspired by a number of other artists who have been happily distributing their work for free for many years.

In essence – it relates to pieces of art made to give away, which are left out on the street or any other public place (usually, but not always, on a Friday) for any passer by who takes a fancy to it to pick up and take home. For free.

The finder has the thrill of the hunt or the excitement of an unexpected gift – and it is just as exciting for the artist: leaving the artwork out in public, guerrilla style; wondering who will pick it up; getting an acknowledgement and a thank you if they are lucky; and new exposure to a whole new audience.

This short video from the BBC’s Culture Show explains the whole concept pretty well:

The Swindon Launch

We launched the Swindon branch of Free Art Friday with a major event in late July – over two days (the last Friday and Saturday in the month) 200 pieces of art made by over 50 artists were distributed all around the town:

Free Art Friday pictures

Free Art Friday pictures

On the Saturday in particular, one of the hottest days of the year, we were out dropping art in the town centre, Old Town, Coate Water, Lydiard Park, Queens Park, and many other well-trodden local spots for 13 hours straight! But it was totally worth all the effort as we had plenty of delighted finders:

Free art Fridays

Free art Fridays

Ongoing weekly activity: 

Now that the big launch is out of the way, we have settled into a regular routine of smaller drops every Friday – we are currently putting out 4 pieces a week in various spots around town, and will continue to do so while we still have art to give (so let’s hope the contributions keep coming in from our wonderful artists….)

For the finders, we hope they are finding it a really fun experience, because who doesn’t love a treasure hunt??

We post “hint” photos to the Free Art Friday Swindon Facebook page as each item is dropped, to give a clue to where it is, and then the race is on to see who can find each piece first! We always hope that the finders will complete the circle by taking photos of themselves with the pieces they have claimed and post them back up to the Facebook page along with a message to the artist – after all, everyone likes to get some feedback 🙂

And as for the artists, for the professional artists this gives an opportunity to create anything they like, free from the constraints of commerce, try out new ideas, and just have fun! And for the keen amateurs, it’s a way to get their artwork out into the world, and enjoy the reactions of the strangers who claim it for their own, and it makes a nice change from giving stuff to family and friends

The artists can make any type of work that they like, the only rules: 1) make sure that the work is easily removable and does no damage to its environment,

2) nothing too adult in theme, as these items are going to be left in a public place where anyone could pick them up, including kiddies and

3) probably best to stay away from anything edible as we don’t want to be attracting the local wildlife (unless they are art fans!)

For further details, please see our Facebook page:


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Round and Round

Swindon, as we know, is famous – even infamous – for its roundabouts. Of course there’s the grand-daddy of them all, the Magic Roundabout. Such a rich vein of material is that particular jewel in Swindon’s roundabout crown that it has its own category on the blog. Better than that though, is that the imagined guide-book entry  I wrote on it for my travel writing module, helped me to a 1st for the module and a 1st class degree overall. So huge thanks go to the Magic Roundabout for being such a great creative source!

But as any driver will tell you there are sooooo many more roundabouts in Swindon. Whilst they can’t all be as exciting/terrifying/world-famous as THE roundabout many of them are, nevertheless, quite interesting – if only by dint of what they are associated with and named for.  With this in mind, myself and Jess Robinson, aka @Swindondriver on Twitter, recently went out – in manner of Winne-the-Pooh – on an EXPOTITION to photograph some of them and dig out a little of the history behind their names. When we started to look at this idea in more detail it became clear that, due to the rather large number of roundabouts in Swindon, we’d have to break them down into sets of some kind.  So if you are sitting comfortably listeners – then I’ll begin – with roundabouts associated with Swindon’s industry – something that segues nicely into a post I did not long back (with lots of photos and input from @leefer on Twitter) about just some of Swindon’s industry. 

After some discussion we figured the most interesting ones to focus on for the purposes of this particular post were the Supermarine, Vickers, Deloro and Renault roundabouts – all of them named for industries/organizations that were once close by to the location of the roundabouts.

It is perhaps surprising to know, indeed I didn’t realize until relatively recently, that Swindon has an interesting connection to aviation history – which is where Supermarine and Vickers come in.  It may have been in 1912 when the first aeroplane, a Bleriot monoplane, visited Swindon but it was not so many years later that Swindonians found themselves thrust into the midst of both aviation industry and history when – in 1938 – South Marston was chosen as a shadow site* due to its good communication links and proximity to the skilled workforce of the Swindon’s GWR works. *As Swindon Web explain in one of their articles on the subject, shadow sites were sites intended to provide back-up to the leading aircraft factories in the event of war-time attack.

As the jolly useful Swindon Web website further describes, the factory was eventually to pass to Supermarine with the South Marston site becoming a shadow site of the Castle Bromwich site in the Midlands and the original Supermarine factory in Southampton. Though little is left of that factory – it now being an industrial estate and part of the massive Honda plant there are still echoes; the sports club that was once part of Vickers still retains the name. Additionally of course, there’s the Supermarine roundabout and further homage to the Spitfire is paid in the industrial estate in the area. As can be seen from the picture gallery there is a Spitfire Way with model spitfire and a Spitfire Cafe also with model plane. As is only fitting.

So where does the name Vickers fit with all this you may ask? Well, back to our old friend Swindon Web again for enlightenment. It seems that, by the 1950s, the South Marston factory was part of the Vickers-Armstrong (Aircraft) Ltd, Supermarine Division.  There’s much more information on their article about what came off the production line, in particular about the Supermarine Swift. But the link between that and the model of Concorde you see in the pictures below is that, through the 1970s and 1980s, the South Marston site produced components for a range of Vickers products – and for Concorde. Supersonic Swindon eh? Hence the model you see in the pictures below. It would be nice though if someone gave it a wash and brush up… I do really miss Concorde coming over…


1) Supermarine, Vickers and Deloro – with Equity Trading centre

Deloro, or Deloro Stellite (Kennametal) is a specialist engineering firm – no longer manufacturing in its Swindon factory and now a distribution centre but again the name lives on in the roundabout sign.

So anyway having tramped around Supermarine and Vickers, had coffee in the Spitfire cafe, stopped for a peek at the nearby portrait bench on the South Marston cycle path, one of the figures on which is a Spitfire pilot, and chuckled at the sign for Equity Trading Centre which just looks so very, very random … etc….. we headed off to the other side of town to a have a look at the Spectrum Building still indicated as Renault on the roundabout sign and indeed I still refer to it as the Renault building – never the Spectrum building. But whatever you want to call it, this Norman Fostor designed and now listed building, is I think, fabulous. It’s certainly iconic anyway.

I have to say, and more than one person has commented on this to me, that by and large the roundabouts in Swindon are really very well kept. Whether it’s trees or aggregate and cordylines or whatever they do all generally look very good.

2) The Renault or Spectrum building




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The Five Ways Project

Since I began writing this blog I’ve encountered many great people via social media. Some of whom I’ve also met in the ‘real-world’ and some of whom have remained as virtual contacts, But whichever camp they are in, I can honestly say that communicating with them has enhanced my life.  I recently made contact on Twitter with the account for the Five Ways Project who were looking for people to give a little voluntary help here and there.

As many of you listeners will know, I have recently graduated from university. In order to support myself I’m now setting up a business offering editorial services. But I’m very fortunate in that I don’t need to work full-time thus am able to give some time elsewhere. To that end I’ve been helping out a bit at the Richard Jefferies Museum and have volunteered some help to the Five Ways Project  (search for  Five Ways Project on Twitter) using my capabilities with the English language. So by now you might be wondering what The Five Ways Project is all about – fear not listeners! Belinda Platt who is part of the project, has written a lovely guest post to tell us all more about it.  First here’s some context from Belinda about herself in her own words:

I have Bipolar and OCD and have suffered with an eating disorder. How does this relate to the 5 Ways and Swindon, you ask? Swindon was the home of my recovery. Swindon was the home of hope. Swindon was the home of Me.

In 2011 I was referred to TWIGS (Therapeutic Work In Gardening Swindon) in Cheney Manor, where I took part in the Arts and Crafts activities. I was terrible but I tried my best. It was there that I learned of the Five Ways to Wellbeing. It wasn’t in our everyday programme but it was always there in the background. Suddenly – for me – things seemed a lot clearer. I looked at which of the five I had in my life at that time.

I had always felt something was missing in my life – but could never put my finger on it – I just never felt “whole”. I scored extremely low out of the five. So I decided I’d try this out – “Give it a chance” I said to myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Well I’m here to tell you the BEST happened.

This is what I’m hoping to tell people through the Project. And at the same time give back to that much-maligned town I love: SWINDON. As well as putting all our efforts into helping the Swindon community, we are going to use purely local Swindon businesses, volunteers, organisations to create it. We have website designers, printers, distributors all from our very own town. It is by Swindon, for Swindon, with Swindon at its very heart.

We want Swindon to become the HUB OF WELLBEING. People look at us all and go: this is what we want to be. They visit and they feel our community spirit, the town’s own wellbeing.

We want Swindon to be happy and healthy. It deserves to be, and so do you.’

At this point I should say that, as a previous sufferer of depression, I’ve some personal experience of what this is all about and when I came to Swindon I was able to access mental health services that were simply unavailable to me back in Derbyshire. Similarly when my mother developed Alzheimer’s disease the help she got here in Swindon was fantastic. All of which, combined with complicated pragmatic reasons, is a big part of why I feel so strongly about Swindon. That and the fact that it has lots of great facilities and public art of course!  🙂

So now to Belinda’s post about the project itself – much of it is common sense really – and I’m certainly doing the ‘keep learning’ bit but it never hurts to be made to consciously think of these things I feel. So thank you Belinda for this and very best wishes for the success of the project.


Fiveways Project Logo

Fiveways Project Logo

 The Five Ways Project – a new initiative for Swindon

‘How happy are you? Really? Why do you think that? Happiness is such a tricky subject – and means different things to different people. For one it might be family – to others their health – to others a big bar of Dairy Milk!

 Well, we have just started a new initiative for Swindon called “The Five Ways Project” and I’m here to tell you what WE feel is the route to happiness and, more importantly, personal well-being.

Wellbeing is defined as the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.”

  In 2008, a group called the New Economics Foundation devised their theory of the Five Ways to Well-being. In case you haven’t heard of them, these are five methods that the NEF say all intertwine to create a happy and healthy wellbeing: CONNECT, TAKE NOTICE, GIVE, KEEP LEARNING and BE ACTIVE.

Connect with those around you – family, friends, even strangers. Build on your relationships with people, create new ones.

Take Notice of everything around you – your surroundings, a scent of a flower, the way the sunshine hits the grass.

Give – to others, to yourself – money to your favourite charity, time to another person – perhaps that elderly lady who lives across the hall from you that no-one ever visits – listen to her, talk to her, be with her.

Be Active – this is obvious – your body is extremely important for your wellbeing – physical and mental health should be, and are, equals. Many see physically active people as “healthy” – yes they are and it’s extremely necessary – but ARE they healthy? Wholly?

Keep Learning – as just mentioned we are constantly told to keep fit physically and that is correct – well your brain is just as important as your heart – they are linked as people say – it needs exercise – go to that evening class – read a book you’ve not heard of before – go to a cookery demonstration – the world is full of things we don’t know (despite many people thinking they DO!!)

I asked above whether you would think a physically healthy person – someone who eats the right number of calories, goes to the gym 3 times a week, is the right weight for their height – has a healthy well-being?

We feel not so – we believe well-being is a combination of all five different factors.

That physically healthy person – have you seen them away from that “exercise regime”. Do they have friends? Maybe they’re extremely lonely people behind closed doors. Do they ever give their time to someone else? Or are they completely self-involved – have the “Me, Me, Me” syndrome? Yes their heart may be fit and working to the best of its ability – but that doesn’t necessarily make them have a healthy well-being.

We say ALL the aforementioned five qualities should be present to feel truly balanced, healthy and well.’


#swindon #wiltshire #swindonblog  #thingstodoinswindon #thingstoseeinswindon #whattodoinswindon #swindonia #swindoniablog #hiddenswindon #swindonian #swindonia #BAS #bornagainswindonian #twigs #fivewaysproject #wellbeing #mentalhealth

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