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Impact of University on the city of Winchester - TrustNews Jun 05

Chris Higgins, Director of Estates,University College Winchester

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UNIVERSITY COLLEGE

WINCHESTER

The advent of the new University of Winchester must inevitably raise questions how a growing university will impact on the life and fabric of our city.

First of all, I should clarify that we are not really growing that much! But we have certainly grown and changed dramatically since our Anglican foundation as a teacher training college in 1840 and now cover more than 20 subject areas. For the last ten years we have concentrated on raising our academic standards in both teaching and research, while growing only by a few hundred full time students. For the foreseeable future, we will remain a community of some 3,500-4,000 full time students, 2,000 part time students and 500 staff. The only real growth will be in developing more foundation degrees and part time courses, mostly based in Basingstoke. We are the only higher education provider in that large catchment area.

A significant contribution

It seems fitting for the ancient capital of England to be a university city. This will complement Winchester's ecclesiastical, educational and military history with its position as an administrative centre, first established by William the Conqueror.

Just as the Cathedral lies at the spiritual heart of Winchester, so the University should make a significant contribution to its artistic and cultural life.

A flourishing academic institution will promote a wider cultural life and stimulate intellectual debate within the whole local community. We have commissioned various art exhibitions, and regularly hold other events which are open to the public (many of them free!) including Enterprise Lecturers, inaugural professorial lectures, debates and concerts.

Recent contributors at these events include Tessa Jowell, Greg Dyke, Professor Freeman Dyson, John Taverner and Terence Conran.

Our facilities are available for private bookings, which may range from family reunions to weddings receptions as well as a wide range of conferences. We endeavour to foster an understanding and a tolerance of other cultures and religions and encourage people who might not have considered higher education to stretch themselves with a degree; hence our many part time courses for those at work.

A major employer

The contribution of the University to the local economy is estimated to be over £40 million per year. Alongside the Hospital and the local authority, we are one of the major employers in the area. Importantly too our students are a key part of the lower paid workforce in a City where it is too expensive for people to live on low wages.

And our new Research Centre will promote and facilitate incubator units for start up businesses, which can be an essential lifeline to entrepreneurial students and others embarking on their first business venture.

Major building projects

Trust members will be aware of the new campus at West Downs with the student village and the Victorian prep school buildings restored as a Performing Arts Centre, where a number of public functions are held. This has been the start of a series of major building projects. We have just submitted a planning application. to save the grade II listed, but sadly derelict, Master's Lodge which we plan to refurbish as a Research Centre. James Lunn Rockcliffe is the architect for this restoration, which will complete the development of that Campus for the time being. We do have consent for a further phase of student housing if the demand and the funding prove this is necessary and viable.

The University has recently completed an innovative new Sports Pavilion at Bar End, and is considering improving sporting facilities with perhaps an all weather hockey pitch & athletics track on our land next to King George V Playing Fields for shared use with the local community.

We also have some exciting plans for the main King Alfred Campus, which should create a dramatic improvement to the approach from Sparkford Road. Following the extension to the Martial Rose Library with its illuminated stained glass staircase in the atrium, we have almost completed a radical redevelopment of the John Stripe Theatre. What was once a rather ordinary single storey 1960's auditorium has been transformed by local architects, Design Engine, into a stunning new lecture theatre suite with a first floor extension; quite a challenging construction project!

We are about to apply for detailed planning consent for a £9 million new University Centre on the site of the current dining hall. This will provide a new main reception to the University together with an internet café, bookshop, new food hall and social facilities for students, staff and at certain times, the local community. It is a much needed facility which should go some way to addressing the problems of a shortage of social club activities for young people in the City, especially a no-alcohol venue for the 15-18 age group.

Difficult issue of traffic

The University has done everything it can to tackle the difficult and contentious issue of traffic and parking. We have built the student village as a pedestrian community and introduced strict regulations on parking. We publicly support Park & Ride, but desperately need it to serve the Romsey Road arterial route into Winchester. Until P&R is launched in the vicinity of Pitt or Bushfield Camp, we can do no more to reduce traffic congestion.

Conclusion

I firmly believe that a University should be promoting the best contemporary architecture with an environmental and sustainable agenda. We should be setting a lead to inspire and influence the next generation of students and also to enhance the City of Winchester.

The buildings we construct today should last for 100 years, and we trust they will stand that test of time. They should do justice to John Betjeman's notion that “good architecture is like an art gallery that never closes”.