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A long way from Brookes' small art school origins
5:26pm Monday 9th December 2013 in News
IN 2015 Oxford Brookes University will celebrate 150 years since it started life as a small art school operating from one room in the Taylor Institution.
The celebrations will be officially announced in March next year with a spectacular Live Friday event planned for the Ashmolean – next door to the Taylorian – and will continue into 2015 with a series of amazing events and activities.
To accompany this feast of festivities will be an anniversary book featuring 150 stories that makes Oxford Brookes great and I’ve been tasked with managing the production. And what a task!
It’s true to say that this type of book usually follows a more traditional format, but ours will be more than just a coffee table book.
It will be a vibrant mix of written stories, photography and illustration, which you can dip in an out of, celebrating the diversity of the university, and it will be something for all to enjoy.
The thought of finding 150 stories terrified me to begin with and, as other universities have a longer history, it was a case of where do you start? My first port of call was to the university’s archive.
I’ve been at Oxford Brookes for four years now and I’m ashamed to say that I’d never frequented this Aladdin’s Cave.
Maintained by the archivist, Dr Eleanor Possart, it has an abundance of artefacts, from paintings to pottery, gifts from the gods (well, the governors) and, for me, most notably, Chef Ken Hom’s absolutely astonishing donation of over 2,000 cookery books.
So what better way to whet your appetite for the Oxford Brookes book than to start sharing some of these wonderful objects and stories with you?
In the next few University Life articles, we’ll give you a snapshot of the stories from all of Brookes’ incarnations.
Some are from the archives, and some from people we’ve interviewed and met along the way, so you can begin to get a picture of our distinctive past.
I’ll start 25 years ago and my reference point is the Oxford Polytechnic Full-Time Prospectus for the 1989 entry.
A lot is still the same; we’re still in the fabulous setting of Oxford, we still have great teaching spaces (and this will be cemented with the opening of the John Henry Brookes building in 2014) and we still thrive on providing the best possible experience for our students.
But upon reading, I saw quite a few obvious differences.
The fashion and haircuts was the obvious feature that stood out (however, many of our students ironically model similar now) and Dr Clive Booth was at the helm.
In 1989, there were 5,000 full-time students. As we approach 2014, and following many changes to the institution such as taking on Westminster College, we’ll have 18,000. There were also 850 members of teaching and non-teaching staff, there are now around 2,500.
There were just two main campuses 25 years ago: Headington and Wheatley.
Now we have five, with Harcourt (home of Westminster College which is now our School of Education), Marston and Ferndale in Swindon.
It will be hidden gems like this that will bring our book to life, but I do need more.
So, do you know a quirky story or an unusual tale about Oxford Brookes?
Or even better, you may have a secret to share or an old rumour that you’ve kept quiet.
If so, I’d love to hear from you because no matter how big or small, strange or absurd, we’ll certainly consider it, as long as it’s not photos of students with 80’s hairstyle though. We’re alright for those.
If you have a story about Oxford Brookes, we’d love to hear about it.
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