Professor Guy Orpen on the civic university

The University of Bristol has its roots firmly planted in the city from its formation as a civic university. When University College Bristol opened in 1876, in rented premises on Park Row, it had two professors and five lecturers offering courses in 15 subjects – with local people as students, many of them studying at night.

Drawing on a local history of education in medicine and engineering the University itself was formed in 1909 with the support of the City Council and individual citizens alike.

And it was always innovative – the University was the first higher education institution in England to admit women on an equal basis to men.

Over the past century the relationship between the city and its University has waxed and waned, but the last decade has seen a strengthening relationship as the mutual benefits to be gained have become strikingly obvious.

Bristol is a wonderful city in which to live, work and study, and for its citizens there is much to be gained from having one of the world’s top 100 universities at its heart. That said, for much of the past century neither the University or the city has actively sought to build on that mutual benefit.

This dynamic changed after the 2008 financial crash. The world now needs much closer partnership between cities, their communities and their anchor institutions, universities included, across the public, third and private sectors.

Now is the time to reimagine our University as one of the world’s great civic universities

We welcome the opportunity to build on the education and research that is our core mission by actively partnering with the health, educational, cultural, industrial, community and governmental organisations in our city-region.

We have been following this path for a decade and more. We were founder members of the Bristol Green Capital Partnership, Bristol Health Partners, the Bristol Cultural Development Partnership and the Learning City Partnership – to name but a few. The University played a key role in launching the Science Park by basing the National Composites Centre we own and operate there as its anchor tenant. Likewise, the University runs the Engine Shed and the global number one SETsquared Centre at Temple Meads.

Our role is clear – we can and should work with others to change the city for the better – to create jobs, cultural, social and learning opportunities. So, what next?

The city faces great challenges in building on success in challenging times, while bridging its divisions and sharing opportunities more fairly. Similarly, the University is under tremendous competitive pressure to be able to deliver public good while public funding is on the retreat.

The good news is that we can rise to these challenges together. The Temple Quarter Enterprise Campus is the most visible of these opportunities. Its development is gathering pace, and the prospect of us having a campus that is for open collaboration with business, third sector partners and communities of the city has attracted great interest.

Research and innovation on the campus will co-create solutions to the challenges faced by society in Bristol and around the world – in the face of climate change, technology and demographic shifts – and bring out the talent that we need to deliver those solutions in practice.

To succeed, co-creation will require us to learn from, and partner with, our wonderful city and learn from the expertise of its diverse and challenging communities, businesses and organisations.

We invite you to join us on this journey – help us to reimagine how the University and city can work together to meet the challenges we face over the century ahead.

 

 

Artist-in-residence – Paul Hurley

Paul Hurley is one of three Artists-in-Residence working with local communities on projects to celebrate the regeneration of the Temple Quarter area and document its heritage.  Paul, who is a Bristol-based performance artist, will look at how both human and animal communities inhabit the site and connect with each other.

His insights will be turned into a series of films to be shown on multiple screens to create a thought-provoking and immersive experience.

I’ve lived and worked in Bristol for a number of years but am always seeing it in new ways. The city is always changing, but so am I – my perspective shifts when I meet new people, learn new things about Bristol, or see and observe different lives being lived here. This was one of the starting points for my residency at the Temple Quarter. How can I make an artwork about a city that is always changing? And whose story is most important? Mine? The University’s? Someone who’s been born and raised here? Someone who’s recently arrived and wants to feel welcomed?

This then got me thinking about ‘communities’ (never a simple term) around South and East Bristol and the encounters they might have – encounters with me and my art project, as well as with the broader project of the new campus and the University at large. I have a long history of making performances with communities as well as performances with and as animals, but have never mixed the two. It struck me that in a big development project like the new campus, the communities around it are multiple – both the different human communities that live and work around here, and the nonhumans that also inhabit its spaces.

My plan is to create a performance for video work that will bring together some of these different communities in a kind of council or community meeting to reflect on the area’s past and to think about its future. This meeting will be attended by representatives of different human and nonhuman communities, expressing their interests and concerns. The work will be a space for differences to be explored (differences of opinion as well as differences of lived experience), and to consider how the campus might fit into a broader ecology of human and nonhuman lives in the city.

Fun Palace Barton Hill Settlement blog: – 6th October

On a slightly cold and rainy October day I went to Barton Hill Settlement, to take part in one of Bristol’s annual Fun Palace events. The Settlement is a community centre dated back to the early 1900s. There are some interesting archival photos here. Although the clothing and the centre might look very different today, the activities of the centre remain focused on creating opportunities for local residents to participate in positive and life-affirming activities. Fun Palaces are an initiative that “promotes culture at the heart of community and community at the heart of culture”. At Barton Hill, the day brought together artists, University staff and families to play video games, make bubble paintings, eat samosas and enjoy a free lunch from Food Cycle.

I used the opportunity to do a creative mapping exercise with families, drawing a map of East Bristol and asking people to draw where they thought different nonhuman communities might live. I discovered not only that most children can draw animals better than I can, but that they see the city as a place shared with a huge a range of nonhuman animals. As well as obvious ones like cats and dogs, people drew ladybirds, snakes (spotted near the river Avon), gulls, bats, nits and a pet tortoise. Almost 60 species (although that included a panda, two monsters and a reindeer).

Just one afternoon spent chatting to families not only opened up my own thoughts about the nonhuman communities around here, but felt really encouraging about how the project idea can connect to peoples’ imaginations. We will see how bringing human and nonhuman communities works – maybe the final piece will include a panda and a monster!