In a pioneering move that could set a course for the rejuvenation of UK towns and city centres, the University of Gloucestershire has bought the iconic Debenhams building in Gloucester’s King’s Square. The forward-thinking university will convert it to become a new campus for teaching, learning and community partnerships.
The University intends to fully refurbish the 1930s Art Deco building, offering some 20,000 square meters of space on five floors. This will create attractive, modern spaces for teaching and learning for students and staff, accommodating the University’s ambitious plans to expand the scale and range of its higher education programmes. The University will review which combination of courses should be located in the building, with the University’s rapidly expanding programmes in nursing and allied health among the options being explored.
It also intends to explore options for working with local partners to allocate part of the ground floor space for dual-use facilities for the community and the University, offering city-centre access for the public to services. Potential dual-use services might include learning, wellbeing, enterprise and culture.
Stephen Marston, Vice-Chancellor at the University of Gloucestershire, said: “The Debenhams building has a special place in the hearts of local people, and we’re delighted that our plans will help breathe new life and purpose into a place that is central to the city’s heritage. It is part of the University’s mission to support the growth and development of our community, economically, socially and culturally. By repurposing this iconic building into a new hub for learning, we can make a major contribution to creating a better future for our community.
“We have ambitious plans for growth in our student numbers and the range of higher education courses we offer. The restoration of this iconic building will enable us to create the additional space we need for additional students and staff in a location with excellent transport links, new student accommodation, and local services in a phased way, while boosting the city centre economy.
“We want to explore a range of potential partnerships for accommodating services of value to the public, taking advantage of this prime city centre location to offer local people access to services they value. This is all part of the wider ambition, working with partners to bring new life and vibrancy to the high street.”
The redevelopment of the building will represent a further big step forward in the wider regeneration of that part of the city of Gloucester. Kings Square is currently being redeveloped by the City Council. ‘The Forum’ digital quarter development, being led by Gloucester City Council in partnership with Reef Group, will create a mixed-use new build development of office, hotel and residential space close by. The adjacent Kings House is being repurposed as a cultural hub, and new student accommodation was recently completed nearby at Blackfriars.
The University hopes that phase one of the project could open as early as September 2023, subject to statutory approvals, and is looking forward to sharing its plans with the local community as they evolve.
Richard Graham, MP for Gloucester, said: “This great good news will result in large numbers of University of Gloucestershire students getting vital skills in public sector courses like nursing and allied health courses in our city centre. I hope agreements will also soon be reached on partnerships, for example in learning and wellbeing on the ground and basement floors, open to all.
“When all is finalised, and after a much-needed facelift, this will be an imaginative use of a grand old building. Our city can be confident of both the future for this iconic building and the buzz in our city centre.”
Councillor Richard Cook, leader of Gloucester City Council, said: “This is fantastic news which not only guarantees the future of this much-loved building but also sees it become a hive of activity and learning.
“These plans fit perfectly with our multi-million pound regeneration of the Kings Square as an events space and The Forum which will attract specialised digital and technology companies creating a thousand new jobs.
“Combined with the transport hub and the refurbishment of the train station that is set to begin this year, our long-standing vision to regenerate and revitalise this part of the city is well on the way to becoming a reality.”
Peter Langley-Smith, Development Director at Reef Estates Ltd, which is currently developing The Forum in Gloucester, said: “Reef Group are delighted that The University of Gloucestershire have committed to redevelop the former Debenhams building.
“This sits at the heart of the city, alongside Kings Square, Kings Walk and The Forum, all of which are being actively invested in by Reef Group and Gloucester City Council to help revive the city centre. The vibrant mix of uses being proposed will create exciting opportunities for everyone, and demonstrates the value of all parties working collaboratively to bring about change.”