After “nearly two years” of negotiations with Bristol Rovers Football Club (BRFC), UWE’s Public Relations (PR) proudly made a “ground-breaking” announcement this summer that 9.3 hectares of the land at Frenchay would be used … to build a massive stadium! Strange announcement to make and to read, not only because UWE is making cuts across most services and staff justified on the basis of claims of public deficit, but also because one might wonder why UWE’s senior managers spent so much time talking to a football club.
From BRFC’s perspective, when asked “Why plan for 20,000 spectators given the club’s recent relegation and existing attendances at games?“, the justification provided is that this capacity matches the club’s ambitions, to attract new players (sic!) and to provide a better experience for existing and new fans (note the resonance with the notion of student experience cherished by UWE top management and UWESU ‘leaders’). I can’t get my head around the fact that this is somehow the people who came up with this plan believe these to be credible and legitimate justification (for themselves and for others), but that’s not the point of this post!
From UWE’s perspective, according to Steve West (UWE’s Vice-Chancellor), this is an “exciting strategic agreement which will bring tremendous benefits to the University, students and the local community” (emphasis added). So what are such expected tremendous benefits? According to UWE’s website, the key benefits of this investment are:
- the facilities themselves. Now, I must be a little stupid but it is really unclear to me how a 20,000 seat stadium can be of use to this university, or even to a university in general. Is the Vice-Chancellor hoping to hold ever-larger monologues and thinking about speaking to 20,000 people at the same time? Or is that expected to be the number of students attending a lecture in 10 years (“One University, One Lecture”)? More seriously or hopefully (you never know), the most substantial anticipated use case is probably only UWE Varsity (mentioned as the third key benefit).
- Second expected key benefit: jobs and career development. According to UWE’s relevant webpage, “[t]he Stadium will create 270 jobs”. What type of jobs? According to the UWE stadium website, there will be part-time matchday positions (bars and catering: c. 125 people, stewarding and turnstile operators: 120 people, non matchday part-time operations, 20-25 people and other relatively undefined jobs for so-called auxiliary uses). What’s in it for students? UWE’s announcement says that “Students will be offered the chance to take up casual employment vacancies for match days, as well as part-time jobs in catering and bar work”. What about career development? On the same webpage, you can read that “Internships will also be offered annually for students into the operation of the Club.”
- Fourth and last expected key benefit: discounted tickets. According to the same webpage, “Students, staff and the local community will be able to purchase discounted Match Day tickets”.
While UWE’s 2011 financial report states that “will bring investment of approximately £30 million pounds to the University”, the cost of the stadium remains unclear and no revenues from it have been evoked. The cost breakdown is not mentioned on the UWE stadium website. The relevant UWE webpage announces that it “represents a significant investment by BRFC of approximately £40m”. However, according to the Western Eye: “The overall scheme is thought to be in the region of £60 million, a significant investment for quality facilities by both parties” (emphasis added). Finally, according to a webpage on UWESU’s website, UWE will only be paying for the car park.
As always, UWESU’s ‘leaders’ did not provide students with any analysis or information about what is going on. In fact, it is most likely that they did even not bother to make any analysis, as usual, just relayed propaganda from the university’s PR office or so-called senior management. According to a webpage on UWESU’s website updated this summer, they merely picked up argument about Varsity:
Nadia Harding [Nadia Harding was UWESU’s Sports President for 2010/2011], Sports Predisdent [sic] has responded to the news: “UWESU will be delighted to have a stadium on campus where students can hold their Varsity’s on home ground!
UWESU’s webpage evokes that this announcement has caused a lot of criticisms from students. This is not surprising given the absurdity of the project, but also since the decision has been made by the clique at the top of the university without any discussion and came up as a surprise to most staff and students. [UWESU elected officers later refused to make further comments or obstructed requests for accountability; Colin Offler, UWESU’s president, also ignored a request to share the criticisms the Students’ Union had received from students.]
The Western Eye, UWESU’s newspaper operated as a relay of senior management’s propaganda by publishing in the frontpage of its October 2011 issue an article by Jamie Anderson enthusiastically entitled: “UWE Stadium To Go Above And Beyond Expectations“. The article did mention, but quickly moved away from, “fears from local residents regarding the expected high volume of traffic congestion, as well as possible noise pollution from other events”. It did not mention anything about students’ criticisms.
To legitimate an already made decision, that has been — and is being — contested, proponents of this project are now planning the usual so-called ‘consultation’. According to the UWE stadium website, the consultation “very much welcome input to the developing proposals from local residents, businesses and Club supporters” … but not UWE students.