New life for Old College
The vision is to bring new life to Old College, a grade 1 listed building and home of the first University College of Wales and to transform this iconic building into a major cultural and creative centre for Wales.
To bring new life to Old College and transform this iconic building into a major centre for learning, heritage, culture and enterprise for the University, our community and for Wales by 2024, a year after the University’s 150th anniversary.
The grade-1-listed Old College on the Aberystwyth seafront is one of the nation’s most important architectural landmarks, and the University’s first home. Our vision is to bring new life to this iconic building and transform it into a major cultural and creative centre for Wales where diverse communities can engage with learning and heritage, share in discovery and prosper from enterprise. Old College will offer shared facilities, resources and activities that benefit our local and academic communities, our 8,000 students, alumni, 200,000 annual visitors from around the world and thousands more through digital and community outreach.
This vision took shape in 2014 when our remaining academic departments moved from Old College to the University’s purpose-built campus overlooking the town. A joint University and Welsh Government feasibility study that year evidenced the strategic need for major new facilities that would bring the town and University communities closer together. It further highlighted the unique opportunity to build these facilities at the Old College and so create a catalyst for social and economic regeneration in a disadvantaged region of the UK.
Our project is one of the most ambitious educational, heritage, cultural and community projects in Wales and mostly dependent on external funding. The University launched the project’s Delivery Phase in January 2020, having secured 70% of the total costs in January 2020 thanks to a further grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund of £11.4 million, grants from Welsh Government/EU of £7 million, trust and other grants of £2.1 million and donations and pledges from alumni and friends around the world totalling £1.3 million.
We have consulted widely to develop this vision and are continuing to do so, with the support of a Project Board and a Youth Board combining the voices of University, student, alumni, community and youth representatives. Planning permission was granted in 2019 and plans are progressing well, with the support of a team experienced in the delivery of major heritage projects: architects (Lawrays and Austin Smith Lord), consultants in activity and audience development (Headland), business planning (Amion), construction project manager (Blake Morgan), quantity surveyor (RPA), design and exhibition team (Mather and Co) and a collections researcher.
A major development in design terms included the incorporation of two Georgian villas adjacent to the Old College, resulting in exciting new opportunities for enhanced visitor access, hospitality and increased capacity for major events and festivals. We will now be able to offer a wide range of activities and events in stunning spaces across 7 floors and 143 rooms, including 10 rooms with capacity ranging from 60 and up to 200 people.
Our plans are supported by Welsh Government, Ceredigion County Council and our project partners of National Museum Wales, Hay Festival and National Library of Wales. A robust operating model and business plan is in place with projected annual gross revenues of £2.33 million, 48 new jobs, 900 training opportunities, 400 annual volunteering opportunities and contribution of £3.55 million p.a to the region.
The Old College will throw open its doors to enrich lives and stimulate learning across all ages and attract hard to reach and excluded audiences. Activities will take place in four inter-related zones with the aid of state-of-the-art technology that is sensitively integrated within the building’s inspiring and eclectic high Victorian gothic architecture. These four zones will be:
- Public entrance and visitor welcome-a visitor welcome centre, volunteer facilities, stunning new atrium and rooftop function room with sea views, seafront café/restaurant, bar and shop and access to 31 hotel rooms.
- Community and cultural engagement-art galleries in and around the Quad for permanent and temporary exhibitions of University and partner collections, galleries for University collections of national significance and to showcase major University research projects. Spaces for festivals, activities and functions will include the Old Hall and Library. This large zone also includes spaces for Meetings and Dialogue and the flagship project of the UK’s first Centre for Dialogue for 60 participants in a unique ‘in-the-round’ setting. The Centre will be located alongside multi-purpose teaching and training rooms for students, our community and business visitors, including the seafront Seddon room named after the building’s visionary Victorian architect.
- A World of Knowledge- Taking its inspiration from the University’s motto, this zone will inspire learning that is accessible to all, and will include a Centre for Science with a cinema and virtual reality experiences for public shows, a University Museum, a Centre for Advanced Study to drive innovative interdisciplinary approaches to global challenges, further exhibitions of University collections and archives, 24 hour student study spaces, a Young People’s project, Lifelong Learning teaching spaces, 5 artist studios and a Printmaker studio. This zone will also include spaces to deliver much needed curricular and non-curricular learning opportunities for schools and colleges in rural West Wales aligned to the new Wales Curriculum 2022.
- Enterprise and Innovation- a Business Enterprise Hub with 12 units and communal spaces to encourage young entrepreneurs in creative and digital businesses, two fast growing sectors of major economic importance to West Wales. Tenants and visitors will showcase, research and test their products, including apps and virtual reality applications through public demonstrations and programmed activities across Old College for wide audiences, including schools and colleges as well as industry and supplier networks.