On a balcony four flights up in crisp spring sunshine and a breeze that is spearmint fresh, David Laing, the Lord Lieutenant of Northamptonshire, declares: “We are truly beautiful.”
There’s no template for topping out ceremonies when you are building a whole new university district in one of the country’s largest towns.
The Senate Building has been chosen as a suitably significant spot to celebrate this milestone in the construction of the University of Northampton Waterside Campus.
The ritual traditionally represents the point in construction when the shell of the building is complete. Perhaps pureblood brickies consider everything after this to be interior decorating but it looks like there is plenty still to do before it all gets handed over at the end of summer next year.
The VIP guests are looking out over acres of building work fringed by the greenery of Delapre on one side and the familiar landmarks of Northampton on the other. You can see Carlsberg from there, and the lift tower. You can see for miles. Right underneath your feet you can see university buildings taking shape out of the mud of a brownfield site and there’s no doubt about it, there is a zing in the air.
Lord Lieutenant David Laing and the new Chancellor of the University the Rev Richard Coles screw the glass panel representing the final piece of the structure into place.
UoN Vice Chancellor Nick Petford makes a short speech: “In less than 16 months this will be home to over 14,000 students and 2,000 staff. It’s going to be an amazing thing when it’s all up and running.
“This isn’t just about being an international hub for education. It is also about regeneration. This will really bring this part of town back to life and everything that goes on here will be part of the enduring legacy.”
John Kirkland, Group Chairman of family run construction business Bowmer and Kirkland, highlights the professionalism of his workforce who have been praised for creating a “flagship” for big projects: “I know the excellent standards being set now will be continued until the Waterside campus comes to life in September 2018.”
In his speech Mr Laing refers to Northampton’s medieval university which was closed down after Oxford petitioned the king, eager to protect its own status as a seat of learning.
“A giant can be seen. A colossus can certainly be seen. However, you don’t need to be a giant to be heard. You don’t necessarily find beautiful giants. You don’t have to be a giant to have ambition, or indeed a giant might well not have great intelligence. A giant might have strength but you don’t need to be a giant to have that strength. Here we are at a site which is looking out to where in the 13th century, half a mile over there we were the original seat of learning outside London, the place where it was letters and law and real education. Where people came to get the best.
“Here we are now the heart of the town, the heart of the county, rapidly find ourselves to be heart of the country. This university has real strength, the strength of the partnerships of everybody that has been involved in bringing this project together. It will be a centre for great intelligence and learning, where we unlock ambitions for so many young people, a centre where we will certainly be heard around the country and around the world. Last of all I think we are truly beautiful and from here we march on.”
“This is a truly exciting project. It will give the whole town a lift. People see things going on and it inspires them to do things too,” says the Rev Coles.
The UoN is expected to take over the site from Bowmer and Kirkland in July next year.