MOLLY LEMPRIERE

The University is always working to improve the campus and the facilities it can provide for its students; this is currently taking the form of £150 million of investment into providing new spaces both on and off campus.

The start of these developments is now beginning to be seen around campus, with new rooms and buildings being purchased, renovated and created within the existing confines of Brunel, including the massive refurbishment of the Wilfred Brown Building, arguably currently the biggest change. The new spaces Brunel is hoping to create will benefit all sorts of people, both staff and students as well as possibly external groups who use the facilities bringing in important income for the University. The changes of space around Brunel are not solely positive however, which a campaign currently underway as the Arts Centre fights to defend its use of the Roberts Room.

A large problem mentioned often by off campus students is the lack of social spaces in which they can relax, see friends and spend time when they need to stay on campus but do not have lectures. Although the library is now open 24 hours throughout the week, this provides little space for people to socialise with most areas being quiet zones deliberately designed for working in.

There have been improvements with the spaces available within the library; most notably the group study rooms, which until recently closed at 10pm meaning any group would have to leave at that time. However after a successful test period during exam time last term these hours have been extended so that it doesn’t shut until 2am. This improves the options for those working in groups, giving them more time to work on projects in a quiet environment, but later times seemingly does little for off campus students, most of whom would be unable to travel home at that time.

Changing Spaces CREDIT Ben Lunato Doyen (3)
Photo by Ben Lunato Doyen

The demand therefore for social spaces within the University is not a new one, nor is it restricted to Brunel. Other universities have already sought to counter this problem, most notably Coventry, whose impressive social spaces are rumoured to be the basis for Brunel’s own plans. The space they’ve provided known as the Hub includes pods, chill out areas such as bean bag sections, as well as places to get food. One student currently attending the University has said “It is a very modern place to catch up with mates, grab some food or use a computer. A great meeting place”, and seemingly that is what Brunel is after, more relaxed spaces.

Using this as a jumping off point, Brunel is intending to create a similar space within the Wilfred Brown building. The mass refurbishment of this building, which has previously been used for central administration started this term. Named after the first pro-Chancellor of the University in 1967 it has had little done to it since its construction, but changes are already underway. The building has been entirely cleared, a process which included a three day free-for-all on the furniture within it allowing students and staff to help themselves to bookshelves and desks. In order to bring this refurbishment into action there has already been over ten separate meetings to set this plan in motion, although questions have been raised over the lack of student representation within these by the Union. In order to put these plans into action the University is spending within the region of £10million, making it all the more important for the investment to work out.

This is not the only proposed social space the University currently has planned, with some of the biggest being the suggestion of covering the Marie Jahoda and Gaskell building courtyards with glass to create indoor spaces. This is still very much in the initial stages but it has begun to be discussed within the University Infrastructure Meetings from the 9th of October. This is not a new idea but instead one that has come out of Union President Martin’s manifesto, but it has the support of the Vice Chair as well adding weight to the proposal. If this was to go ahead it adds a further two spaces on top of that of the confirmed Wilfred Brown space.

It is not solely social spaces that the University in currently investing in, it has also recently purchased a facility called the Barn just off campus for £1.2 million. The property is located on Kingston Lane near the University's Eastern Gateway and St John's buildings. According to The Barn's website, the property features "a meeting room with kitchen" and "secluded garden", with a maximum seated capacity of 75.

It is not yet clear how exactly the property will be used, although Le Nurb understands that discussions are in place about the possibility of using the space as a créche for student parents, or a year-round conference space. The building is thought to date from the 1800’s, but has been totally updated to include central heating and a sprung floor. Although the market asking price seems a substantial amount of money, it’s situated within an area that is currently seeing a 10% property increase making it a key gain in the Universities property portfolio.

However the changes around the University do not seem to be being viewed as entirely positive, with a current campaign under way by Arts Centre students to save the Roberts Room.

It is clear that the University is continuing to expand and evolve, changing in ways that may seem costly but ultimately improve the facilities around Brunel in particular socially for both those on and off campus. Although some of these changes are meeting resistance, largely that of the changes to the Roberts Room usage, overall the increase in facilities is something bringing about a great amount of excitement throughout the University.