Aberystwyth University’s iconic Old College, one of Wales’s outstanding Grade I buildings, has today been awarded almost £10 million (£9,732,300) of National Lottery money to help in its renovation and secure its long term future as a centre for culture, heritage, discovery, learning and enterprise attracting 190,000 annual visitors.
An additional £3 million will also be invested from the Welsh Government and £3 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the Tourism Attractor Destination programme to promote the new tourism opportunities that will come in the wake of its redevelopment.
The Grade I listed Old College is synonymous with expanding educational horizons and with Welsh nation-building and pioneering higher education in Wales, following its purchase by the University of Wales for just £10,000 in 1867 using money donated by the local community.
After first opening its doors to students in 1872, for almost a century the Gothic seafront building saw thousands of students come and go. It played a pivotal role in the educational history of Wales and the survival of the Welsh language, culture and national identity.
However, when the University moved to a newly built campus in the 1960s, Old College became largely redundant. That is about to change as it finds new life and new purpose. It is hoped that the building’s rejuvenation will be completed by 2022/23 as the University celebrates its 150th anniversary.
New lease of life
Aberystwyth University was initially awarded development funding of £849,500 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund in 2017, allowing it to progress with its plans and submit a detailed proposal for the full grant.
Now, funds generated by National Lottery players will see this much-loved building reclaim its place at the heart of Aberystwyth and the local community by opening up the hidden and previously inaccessible heritage of Old College and transforming the building into a welcoming and vibrant cultural and creative centre – not just for Aberystwyth but for Wales as a whole.
Making the announcement at an event in Old College today was Baroness Kay Andrews, UK trustee and chair of the National Lottery Heritage Fund in Wales: “At the start of a new decade it could not be better news that Old College – thanks to National Lottery players – is about to embark on a new lease of life.
“Like many Aberystwyth graduates, I have very fond memories of this beloved and hugely significant building, so central to life and learning in Wales for almost 150 years. Now it will come into its own again – but this time, it will be at the heart of the whole community – creating jobs, and offering hospitality, helping to turbo-charge the economy, building community skills and opportunities, and opening its doors to all manner of discovery and learning.
“It will be a place which will welcome volunteers and visitors, the curious, the creative, and the entrepreneurs of all ages and the National Lottery Heritage Fund is proud to be part of that renaissance.”
Re-creating a building for the future
With support from local people and youth representatives who have been part of the project board, there is a strong focus on engaging the surrounding community in various activities as the nationally-significant building will be developed as a centre for engaging activities with gallery spaces for exhibitions, art and music, a centre for entrepreneurs and new businesses and artist studios, as well as café and community rooms and facilities for major events and festivals. A new Centre for Dialogue, the first in the UK, will be a key attraction in new spaces for meetings and conferences.
The project has also been awarded £3 million from the Welsh Government and £3 million from the European Regional Development Fund to enhance the tourism opportunities as Lord Elis-Thomas AM, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, explains: “Aberystwyth Old College is a treasured local building that is recognised as one of the UK’s most significant pieces of Gothic revival architecture.
“Thanks to our funding alongside National Lottery players’ support, it will create a thriving visitor and learning destination, incorporating a boutique hotel that will further enhance the area’s tourism offer while acting as a catalyst for regeneration by creating jobs and boosting the wider local economy.
“As the University approaches its 150th birthday, Old College can provide a lasting legacy that will promote its heritage while looking confidently to the future.”
Old College will house a Discovery Centre – the World of Knowledge, allowing some of the 30,000 items normally in storage to be shown the light of day and science exhibitions will showcase cutting edge interactive displays alongside an AV space, highlighting the University’s role in space exploration.
New student study spaces and lifelong learning facilities will be blended in across all spaces and new shared spaces established with young people from local and regional schools and youth organisations for activities, volunteering and the development of activities across the whole building.
Professor Elizabeth Treasure, Vice-Chancellor of Aberystwyth University, added:
“The Old College project will restore and re-purpose for future generations one of the nation’s most important historic buildings and create a major centre for culture, learning and enterprise. But on a local level it will see one of our most loved landmarks regain its rightful place as a focus for community activity and a practical day to day working space.
“I would like to congratulate all the staff and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to make today a reality. I would also like to thank the funders for their support and belief in this work and all those around the world who have donated to the fundraising appeal and generated £1.6 million so far towards the project, helping to build momentum at a crucial stage of the plans. Today’s announcement is a significant catalyst as we continue to fundraise and develop exciting ideas with our project partners, the National Museum Wales, Hay Festival and the National Library of Wales.”
Around 900 people will benefit from training in heritage, tourism and hospitality as a result of the redevelopment and some 250 of those will gain formal qualifications. As well as creating around 50 new jobs and 400 volunteer opportunities, plus apprenticeships and work placements, the revitalised Old College will also encourage graduates from the university to stay within the town and establish new businesses.
The total cost of the redevelopment is estimated to be around £27m, with the University planning other sources of financing for the project including a second phase of its major fundraising appeal.