Move to Greenwich begins

August 28, 1998

Greenwich University is preparing to move into one of the most prestigious campuses in the country despite establishment "snobbery" against the "jumped-up" polytechnic.

The university plans to move the first students into the 300-year-old Royal Naval College on the banks of the Thames at Greenwich, London, in September next year, marking the end of a four-year battle.

A Pounds 20 million programme of works is under way. Tons of plasterboard that had subdivided the large open wards of the original Grade I listed buildings will be ripped out. The university says that the original wards lend themselves to modern teaching use.

The college, a baroque masterpiece designed by Sir Christopher Wren and completed by some of England's greatest architects, including Nicholas Hawksmoor, was the jewel in the Royal Navy's crown. But the end of the cold war at the turn of the decade brought with it naval contraction and questions about costs and logistics.

Few imagined when the site went on the market four years ago that the former Thames Polytechnic, which is able to trace its roots back 100 years to the Woolwich Polytechnic, would have the wherewithal and staying power to claim the navy's flagship.

Four years on and Greenwich University has a 150-year-lease on three of the four main buildings plus the neighbouring Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital.

Deputy vice-chancellor John MacWilliam has overseen the project since its beginning.

He said: "Some people think it is still a terminal mistake to have given the college to us. They saw us as Johnny-come-latelys.

"There have been a lot of snide attacks, usually badly informed. There were sneers because they said we were trying to don the clothes of an ancient university. I just laughed, because it's true."

The university's bid was carefully costed. It has managed to secure a Pounds 1.5 million grant for architectural works from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Annual running costs, estimated at Pounds 1.8 million, will be recouped due to yearly savings made by quitting existing sites.

But new clothes alone will not propel Greenwich into a higher league. Mr MacWilliam is keen to point out that the university raises Pounds 26 million annually in research and consultancy income - more than a number of old universities. "The 64,000-dollar question is who are we going to pull students from," he said.

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