More than two months have passed since we learnt that Birkbeck had acquired the lease for the Student Central building with plans to remove the swimming pool and all of the activity space. Birkbeck gets the keys on 23 July and we’re trying everything we can to get them to see sense and save this essential save student space.
Write your own letter to Birkbeck and the University of London. We've created a template you can use and included the contact details for the leaders of Birkbeck and the University of London.
We asked that they conduct a review of the facilities and their benefit to its users, and consider how the building could be developed to include the existing sporting and social facilities and the live music venue, before charging ahead with their removal. This is, after all, a historic and significant building in the heart of Bloomsbury - a purpose-built student space with nothing else like it in the capital.
Over the past few months, we’ve learnt that no students were consulted about the removal of the facilities. Not a single view was sought from the community, the staff, the student groups, or the elected student representatives from the University of London. No equality impact assessment was carried out, and no analysis on the health and wellbeing of Londoners in the community was undertaken. The University of London are responsible for managing this space on behalf of students and they’ve completely failed.
The communication we’ve received so far from Birkbeck and University of London has been dismissive and half-hearted, failing to grasp the impact closure of the facilities will have. The University of London declared that the pool is no longer financially viable, having allowed it to fall into disrepair over several years. But rather than invest in its improvement, they’ve sold it to Birkbeck who will spend millions removing it altogether. UoL made no effort to look for financing options for the pool, including readily available grants from the swimming national body, Swim England, or investment from UCL.
UoL Vice-Chancellor Wendy Thomson told us that “the pandemic not only caused financial losses but brought into sharp focus the need for a long-term sustainable use for the entire Student Central building.” UoL fails to recognise that they are destroying the opportunity for thousands of local residents, students and staff to take part in physical activity in the area. In a time where the mental health of the population is at its lowest, this decision is the exact opposite of what the local population needs for its well being and is widely opposed by the community.
A building of significant cultural importance
We're not only at risk of losing an essential sporting and social facility, we're also losing a building of cultural significance in London. Completed in 1957, The University of London Union aimed to fulfil the ambitious project of creating a central hub for all students across the fragmented colleges of the university. It became an incubator for some of Britain’s biggest post-war cultural movements, and artistic creative figures.
During the punk heyday of the 1970s, both The Clash and The Sex Pistols played at ULU while one of Joy Division’s few live album releases was recorded there, (so did Led Zeppelin 18 years later in 1998). In the 1980s numerous seminal indie bands appeared on stage, from The Smiths in 1983 to bands such as Scritti Pollitti and My Bloody Valentine, and Britpop figureheads Blur in 1990.
Coldplay held their first gig at the Union, with both singer Chris Martin and drummer Will Champion working behind the bar before being catapulted to superstardom. Shortly prior, a then-unknown Ricky Gervais was working as Entertainment Manager at the Union, prompting him to use the Union’s 4th Floor as filming location for the pre-pilot episode of The Office.
We’re still working hard to stop Birkbeck’s plans and save the space for students. Thank you for all your support so far, we’ll share further updates shortly.