A sense of belonging in Bleachfield?
My old bedroom is now an office. However, it could have been worse: my housemate’s old bedroom is now the corner of a foyer. In the space where he (and the many other students before him) once slept now stands a lonely pot plant, amid bland, sub-IKEA decor.
I am talking about the newly refurbished Vanbrugh C block. Although my nostalgic feelings are irrelevant, they led me to wonder: with the Bleachfield project now underway, where, save for “round the back of biology”, is Vanbrugh college going?
Obviously, the plush new Bleachfield accommodation can only enhance the college, and the re-instatement of a Vanbrugh Laundry has been far too long coming. Thankfully, judging by the plans, there will be a genuine community feel, with the six blocks arranged round a central area.
But how will all the changes affect college identity, and (dare I speak of such a nebulous concept) ‘college spirit’? Well, hopefully, not much at all. There were those who thought ‘Valcuin’ would be the beginning of the end for Vanbrugh, but this has certainly not been the case. Hopefully the University will do the sensible thing and call the Bleachfield blocks something like ‘Vanbrugh Gardens’ (which sounds rubbish at first, until you remember we already have the ridiculous ‘Vanbrugh Paradise’) and thus create a sense of belonging.
However, a worry does remain, and it concerns the underlying structure behind the York College system. One of the key factors in my decision to come to York was that each college seemed like a self-contained community, centred on a nucleus of local facilities (bar, JCR, events hall, laundry, porters, cafeteria, welfare services). York colleges are supposed to be more than the average university ‘Hall’, and this is especially important given the absence of a central Union venue.
However, upon completion of the Bleachfield project around eighty percent of Vanbrugh freshers will be scattered a considerable distance from Vanbrugh itself. This seems to me like a very odd way to apply York’s ‘college-based’ philosophy. Surely it would have been better to retain blocks A, B and C as the epicentre of the Vanbrugh student population, and move Linguistics, Languages and the Computing Service out to the Bleachfield site (with new accommodation too, perhaps).
What is vital to Vanbrugh is the retention of A and B blocks as student accommodation. Although at present there are no plans to the contrary, this possibility requires no stretch of the imagination in what is increasingly perceived as a business and conference-driven university. If the whole of Vanbrugh is turned into neutral office and teaching space, then what will the bar and JCR end up as?
With Heslington East on the horizon it is all the more important to recognise what is valuable about the current campus and collegiate system. Re-development is all very well, but on its current approach, the University stands to lose a lot of what makes York special.