The Engine Shed Project – Background and History

This is a Project which is borne of an idea in the 1990s. An idea to find a building suitable as a theatre for Wivenhoe’s many performing groups. This building, known as the Engine Shed (technically a Goods Shed to railway purists) seemed like an ideal building and a group of people came together to try and turn an idea into reality.

The original idea soon became a much broader one with the realisation that the population was continuing to grow. When the project started thee were marshes behind the building, now there are nearly 300 new homes.

This was a building that could serve Wivenhoe and the surrounding area as a Community Arts Centre. It could be run by volunteers under the constitution of the Wivenhoe Community Association, a registered charity.

A planning application was submitted to Colchester Borough Council in January 2003 for a scheme which included an extension on the rear of the building. This application was for an auditorium for up to 200 people as space for performances, shows and exhibitions plus 4 rooms which would support other arts and educational activities. Click here for more information about the planning application.

The project received a major boost when the project received news of a £75,000 grant from the Railway Heritage Trust (for more info click here). 

The planning application was approved inAugust 2004 and work started to refresh the project costings.

However, by 2005, it was clear that building costs had risen so much the original scheme was not going to be viable and we revised the scheme by scaling back the extension. In 2006, even the extension looked untenable.

In the summer of 2006, the Project team took a hard look at the scheme and determined that the most important thing was to save the building. With so much elapsed time, the fabric of the building was steadily deteriorating. At least Network Rail had taken steps to prevent the walls falling over or the roof caving in.  The team got the consent of the wider supporters of the Project, and the backing of the Town Council, to appoint a local firm of architects and with their professional help to make more rapid progress with a grant application to the Heritage Lottery Fund. 

The Project team also reduced the scope of the Project to an absolute by eliminating a requirement for an extension but leaving that as a longer term ambition, when funds became available. Taking away the extension does reduce the scope of the building and probably eliminates the possibility of putting on activities where changing rooms would be required – because there won’t be any, unless it was possible to bring in some temporary changing rooms!

The team also determined a new focus for the building, that of being a base from which to promote Wivenhoe’s rich heritage and using art, in its many forms, to be one channel by which people could become knowledgeable and appreciative of our past. And not just of Wivenhoe’s past but that of this area which goes back 2,000 years to the Roman invasion after which Colchester became a Roman colonia and carries the accolade of Britain’s oldest recorded town.