Vice-Chancellor’s Community Question and Answer | University of Oxford
VC Q&A June 2014
The Vice-Chancellor answering question in the Andrew Wiles Building
Credit: John Cairns

Vice-Chancellor’s Community Question and Answer

Thursday 5 June 2014. The Andrew Wiles Building.

The Vice Chancellor, Professor Andrew Hamilton, hosted a discussion with community representatives on a gloriously sunny June evening at the new Andrew Wiles Building on the Radcliffe Observatory Quarter.

Representatives from across Oxford were invited to question Professor Hamilton on the University’s relationship with local communities. With leaders from the city and county, arts and youth groups, civic and environment bodies and the police all taking part, the discussion was wide-ranging. Topics included opening University and college space to community use, philanthropy and local volunteering, traffic management and pedestrian access, health care and support for the arts, building design and conservation. The discussion was chaired by the Bishop of Dorchester, the Rt. Revd Colin Fletcher and followed by a reception and the opportunity for further conversation.

Below is a transcript of the event; minor edits have been made to the transcript because of technical difficulties with the sound recording.

Jane Woodley, Oxfordshire Community Foundation:

How might we work together so that the university development programme inspires philanthropists to invest not only in the University but the wider communities of Oxford?

Professor Andrew Hamilton, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University:

The University benefits the local Oxford community and I need look no further than our great museums – the Ashmolean, the Natural History Museum – those, in very significant measure, have been supported, developed, renovated, in the case of the Ashmolean and the Natural History Museum, thanks to financial giving. 

We’ve also, I think, got many other areas where we might well be able to explore new possibilities. One focus for us was the philanthropy to support students, and the challenges that they have, both undergraduates and graduates, with the financial burdens of studying in the twenty-first century. And we have a wonderful gift from a man called Michael Moritz, a very large gift of £75 million, and part of Michael’s gift was to – number one – support students, British students from lower-income backgrounds, for studying at Oxford. But – number two – to encourage them to do volunteer work; to encourage them to work in the community, connect to the community. 

So, again, I think there are things that we can do that have natural, knock-on effects for the benefit of the community, through philanthropy that comes from the University. 


Jane, do you want to come back on that?


Please do.


My real question is, obviously you are enabled through significant gifts, and that there is... some philanthropists do like to have their names associated with, ... say, capital projects, that have longevity ... ... ..., but I guess my question was that there probably is some room to inspire in those philanthropists an interest in the wider needs of the communities of Oxfordshire, and in particular the city of Oxford. And If we’re talking even a smidgeon of the amount that you have – a fantastic achievement, £1.5 billion, probably more than that now – even if we are talking about 0.1% of it, it would be good if it somehow found its way back into the community. 


You know well that conversations with philanthropists take different twists and turns, and one of the challenges in all fundraising is to align the priorities of the institution, and indeed the community, with the interests of philanthropists, that are often very strongly held. And so there are philanthropists who do recognise, as we do, the very important role that the community plays in the life of this University. I would be very pleased to explore where we might achieve some of the things that we are hoping, that some of those resources would flow in some form. And it’s hard to make a direct commitment about how that would be achieved, but in some form to the benefit of the community. 


Anyone want to follow up on that?

We talked about space, and spaces – Jeremy I know you had one on public space, because the University clearly both owns quite a lot of public space, and the colleges, but also has a relationship with a lot of spaces – Jeremy, your area.

Jeremy Spafford, Director, Old Fire Station:

I would like to ask about the potential for public access to land. I think how we are able to share public space is really significant in terms of how communities are able to understand each other, get along with each other and enjoy being alongside each other. If you’ve ever been to Gloucester Green on a wet Sunday morning you’ll know it can be one of the most miserable places you’re ever going to go to; and people travel all over the planet to come to this beautiful city, and have this. The people that live in this city are basically squashed into three small corners, including the Westgate Centre and Gloucester Green. It’s about how people that live in the city can have, can enjoy public space, more than they are able to at the moment. I think that there are moments where we try and achieve that; a lot of cultural organisations work together to try and create a better city, and to be honest, you get a lot of resistance from the colleges, particularly, as we have seen recently, I know it is an odd relationship.


Not an odd relationship, an old relationship


It’s quite depressing to be unable to see the city, for everyone to be able to see the joy. For the residents of Oxford, particularly residents who live on the outer edges, in Blackbird Leys for example. Being able to come in through ownership, and to celebrate, and have the ability to engage with museums and cultural organisations in a way they don’t normally do. And for that to be made difficult by some of the University institutions. 

And I just wonder how we can together find – make it easier – for the people who are not directly associated with the University to be able to have more of a sense of ownership and enjoyment in the public spaces.


I suppose there are two segments to your question Jeremy. One is, public space that is true public space, like St Giles, like Broad Street; both of those are spaces that are not controlled by the University in any way other than by the colleges, who have concerns, but I suppose the key word you said there is ‘together’. 

And I would hope that the Winter Light ceremony; which was glorious, and has grown over the last couple of years, was a magical event. Clearly within St Giles there are a number of colleges that abutt directly onto St Giles and those colleges have concerns; so in a sense you have to work on how we can mitigate the disruption, but find, together, ways of mitigating the disruption so that we can have, and rightfully be proud of, events on those glorious settings like St Giles’ and the Broad. 

Obviously the other issue in a sense is something from the other perspective... space that is owned and controlled by the University, owned and controlled by colleges, and of course part of that is finding opportunities, those can be harder than it appears, to make a natural new space that is open for all. 

Inevitably, the colleges have their own needs and challenges; they do open, and they make themselves open, and they will try and have a public opportunity. Again they are working with spaces for a community. They also need to have controlled time as well. So I think that the key is ‘together’, and I would hope that working together we can find ways to restore the Winter Festival. To have the kind of events on those spaces that really are a wonderful opportunity for the city to come together – University, city, residents, students, and those kinds of events really are important in the life of the city... ...for the mutual understanding of residents, students and local people of Oxford. I think it is something that I know... in terms of making space available, improving tourists’ experience, these are things that can have actually a very significant impact. I won’t try to hide from you that it’s not particularly with me; it’s not with anyone. This is a complex University, and every one of those 38 colleges is independent from each other and from the University, so everything requires a certain form of consultation and– but I think until we ask those questions; is it possible? We have Open Doors; we have Open Doors weekends. 

Nicky Moeran, Save Port Meadow:

My name is Nicky Moeran and I am here to represent the Save Port Meadow Campaign. You have just spoken very positively about the care the university takes to get the relationship right between its land development and Oxford's precious open spaces. However, given the recent disastrous university flats development at Port Meadow I think a great many people who know and love this city would be surprised to hear you say this.


We are now beginning a phase of looking at what the perspectives of the Goodstadt report...the perspectives of the environmental impact assessment will say, and at the point that those are delivered, we will then continue, as we have over the last two and a half to three years, a full and open discussion with the planning authorities and with the City Council. 


What our supporters will be saying to me is the only thing that matters to them is that Port Meadow, the views from Port Meadow are restored – that’s what they want an answer to. 


For me one of the great delights of the city, one of the great delights of this University, is that they are both constantly changing. And Port Meadow – the skyline, the factory chimneys that used to run along the canal – those have changed, over decades and centuries. For me, watching the trains go up and down Port Meadow is a sign that it’s a space that’s changed. 

And so, in that regard, we will take very seriously the environmental impact of the buildings; we will seek to follow appropriate recommendations of how to best mitigate the impact on the views from Port Meadow. And we will allow that discussion with the planning authorities and with the City Council to take its course.


I’m conscious we have one in a similar area from Richard, Richard; do you want to ask your question?

Richard Bradley, Oxford Civic Society:

The Roger Dudman Way review document written by Vincent Goodstadt, in the section on Wider Implications, contains a paragraph on the importance of community engagement (para 219) as a continuing process. The report points out that there are good examples of university and civic community engagement in the UK and elsewhere, citing Harvard University as one such example. What plans does the University of Oxford have for developing formal and informal processes with Oxford’s civic communities? And how can our civic communities help in the development of such mechanisms?

How is it that the University was so eager to obtain more postgraduate accommodation that it constructed the Roger Dudman Way flats, to such approbation, yet Merton College has advised that its proposed, identically-sized development in Manor Place is not required for itself, nor for any other college or department of the University; is there no coordination between the constituent parts of the University, to optimise provision for itself, and the built environment of the city?”


Well I hope that actions speak louder than words. We have, over the past year, engaged in what we hope is an improved consultation process – again, very much altered by some of the recommendations of the Goodstadt report, over recent planning applications to the City Council on the Old Road Campus, and then on the development of new facilities in our medical research centre. And certainly at this stage we have received positive feedback about those applications being considered properly at every stage in our application process..., ensuring that we have email communications with interested parties. And so we will learn from the Goodstadt report, and we will implement a good number of those recommendations. I would hope that it is already making an impact

Richard Bradley: 

This is more of a community engagement issue over the long term, what the University does has major impacts on the city, and the people should be in more of a partnership.


I would hope that there would be examples of where that actually is taking place, and so for example the students, the cap on those living in private accommodation, that’s a very major issue in the City. Students who require private accommodation, it’s something that both Oxford Brookes and Oxford University live with, but not uniquely – there isn’t another University city in the world that does not have this problem.

And of course it does require us then to take the opportunity, whenever available space comes up, both for Brookes and for the University, to source that space and to use it for student accommodation. I would also hope that some of the processes we’ve put in place, some of the mechanisms we’ve established such as the neighbourhood wardens, where students who are living out in parts of the city take on the responsibility to ensure that students are tidy and are behaving in a socially acceptable way. These initiatives lessen the impact on local people.

And so those kinds of responses I hope are things that are beginning to tackle concerns that local residents have, and solve some of those examples. Is that clear enough?

Chair: question....yes, please – 

Corinne Grimley-Evans, Oxford Pedestrian Association:

My question overlaps slightly, we’ve been campaigning for Oxford pedestrians, for 20 years, to improve conditions and in some ways it’s got easier, but the situation hasn’t got much better. 

And look at some of the public places, you would think that the University, it is just something for the tourists who come. We are at the moment looking at St Giles’, which seems to us to be a wasted opportunity – it could be a magnificent open space, four lanes with no traffic. We’ve done surveys to show that most of the users would wish to see this. Yet space goes to waste we know some of the colleges are interested but what we’d like from the University is some indication that they are interested in this, and might like to join, and help. We know that individuals support it but I don’t think we hear it from the institutions. 


Let me express personally I would be happy to discuss this a little further among my colleagues in the University. I am a Vice-Chancellor who walks everywhere. So I travel around this city on foot, I can be seen scurrying, with my flat cap on to keep the sun off my bald head. The issues you raise are ones that I face every day as I walk around from college to University location. 

I couldn’t agree more, I think, that I look at the Broad, and see already an under-exploited, glorious area that is semi-pedestrian, but not quite there. And it is fascinating because as one travels, as I do for this job, in different cities, particularly in Europe – America is even further behind than the UK. But I was not long ago in Bordeaux. The inner city is just a glorious pedestrian area – thriving, lively, during the day, and especially in the evening, with restaurants – and entirely pedestrian. Quite a significant area. And I look at the Broad, and I look at St Giles’, and the potential there for the kind of open promenade that would be truly outstanding I think. And, you know, for those colleges who worry about noise, that would be a perfect riposte, that the city would then be doing something to even lower the noise –

Joanna Simons, Chief Executive Oxfordshire County Council:

... ... this is about a balancing act in our city that is a centre for the whole of Oxfordshire and not just for the University and the traders, people need to get to the centre of it.


It is complex – 


You should have lived in Yarnton when the Abingdon Road flooded, the Botley Road flooded, and the High Street hadn’t been opened to traffic. It was interesting at that point – I just told people not to come and see me! ... ... ... ... Anyway, anything more on that sort of area that people want to follow up on? 

Richard Bradley:

This is about access for walking routes and access to land for walking. You can pretty well walk all the way from Pembroke to the Thames Valley, along the Thames, all of that is about access. In Oxford, you can walk along the Thames of course, but you can’t walk the other way; you can’t actually – there is no route that takes you right round the Thames. So I think there are one or two visions that people have, and this is one of them: a walking route around the Thames. So this is the basis of the question, of access to college land. Could we make that circular route?


I am happy to pursue that, obviously I cannot speak for the colleges, I would hope that appropriate arguments can be made that they will benefit, but obviously the colleges have their own issues. 

While we are on the subject of walking, and while we have been touching upon rural spaces that the University makes, I always forget to mention my favourite place in Oxford, which is the University Parks, and when one thinks about the open space – the walkways, the running ways, the races that take place there in the spring and summer, that too. While we may have challenges in some areas along the Thames, and access to colleges, as an entity we are providing some pretty good spaces for residents of Oxford to walk. 


Jeremy and a twofold attack with the microphones.

Jeremy Spafford, Director, Old Fire Station:

I would like to bring you back to the significance of this in terms of the relationships. But it is still the case that I think part of the thing about this is that there remains this extraordinary gap between the people who live in the city and those who work and study at the University, which I find sad. I did a straw poll quite recently of people who were born and bred in this city and I asked them where Trinity was, and of the 10 people I asked, only 2 of them knew. There’s something, for me, deeply depressing about that, and I just wondered what we can do. There is something about the kind of preparedness to open ourselves up to and I’m going to go back to my original question – I’m only using it as an example, the great thing about the Winter Festival last year, is that the Natural History Museum, as I understand it, had more visitors than they had ever had before, and most of those visitors were people who never go to a museum, and they were there because we’d managed to create this event. So it is very sad when that isn’t built on. Now that is just one example but it’s more as an example of how we could try and change that. 


That’s a fair comment. But we can only respond as we can only respond, and obviously the Natural History museum is open all the time, and it’s free. The Ashmolean is open all the time and it’s free. We publicise them, we attract many schools; many, many school programmes are part of our museum structure; I haven’t even mentioned the Botanic Garden and the Parks I’ve just mentioned. So there are many ways in which this University can connect with the community, and there are many ways that we can think about improving those connections. 

But I don’t think we should underestimate the ways that already in place. I think that the [Oxford] Hub, the student hub, just two days ago was awarded the Queen’s volunteering prize The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service so they’ll be going down to Buckingham Palace to receive that. The wonderful centrepiece on Turl Street, the Kitchen, encouraging students – now more than 1,000 students in Oxford – to engage in community interactions, community projects. Reading with children in local schools that’s one way academic volunteering links to other parts of the community that our academics are involved with in different ways. 

Let me mention a really wonderful new initiative called The Oxford Deanery, which you may be aware of, which is the opportunity now of creation of a Deanery – it’s a wonderful old medieval word, and it’s actually the creation now of a link between the University and schools in the city and the region, providing opportunities for our students, particularly PGCE students, particularly students in our Department of Education , providing opportunities for the teachers in those schools to benefit from the educational research that’s going on here. 

So there are many different ways in which the University can better connect to the community. It is easy to say that it’s not where it needs to be, and it’s almost certainly accurate – but in a sense the way we would improve it is by coming up with ideas, encouraging our students, our academics, our staff that are involved in that kind of thing. 


I’m trying to remember, is the Hub an Oxford invention? 


It is an Oxford invention.

Chair:’s been franchised out everywhere now.


It has, that’s exactly right. Let me point out that it was an Oxford invention, but it was a partnership between Oxford University and Oxford Brookes University, and a good example of a number of partnerships with our sister institutions in the city area, certainly from our side, we are very pleased and proud of it. 


Your next-door neighbour also had some questions, loosely connected in this kind of area.

Revd Jim Grote, Director, Ark T Centre:

What about a day in the year when the colleges open their doors not to let people in but to let them out so staff and students shared in the life of a community project in the city?
Could each college sponsor an Oxford-based charity each academic year?
Could support be given to community-based organisations by hosting fundraising events in the colleges? 
Could the colleges’ partnership with the city and its community [...] in an Oxford Festival?
What is the real issue about the Winter Light Festival – and why the fuss this year?

I think part of it is about how you communicate all of this but it is about how you find out about these things and it is about – I suppose about taking it one step further, that you can ask people where Trinity is and they don’t know, and you can ask them, how do you get into the colleges? How do you talk to them? How do you find out about what sort of things they would like to do, what sort of things students would want to do, in community projects such as the one that I’m involved in, and it’s actually very, very difficult to get in there – other than through personal relationships, and knowing someone, in one of the colleges. 

And that’s how it grows; it grows almost by chance, and the problem with that is when it grows by chance, then it’s back to being highly dependent on particular people or people who are in the right place at the right time. Obviously knowing the right people, having those sorts of opportunities to make stuff happen. It’s a question of how the University, or colleges, can become just a little bit more proactive in making that happen. Whilst acknowledging, for example, Turl Street Kitchen, but then there’s lots of things going on, I am aware of that, but it’s how you actually make things happen. 

So, for example, there’s a small community project, where we are trying to build a community, not just in that group of people, but because you belong to the city, across the city, so that we feel as though there are channels through which you can communicate. 

And things like the Winter Light Festival, that does have a huge dampening effect on so much that it becomes symbolic and almost iconic in terms of, ‘Well, that’s it’. You know, and you really can’t get rid of that for quite a number of years, and I suppose there’s a cost to that.


We try to communicate to the community as best we can. Obviously part of that in the modern world is our recently revamped, and new web site; new in all sorts of ways, and very successful. It comes through events that are very well publicised like Open Doors, like open days that we have in the departments, as well in colleges. 

There isn’t a magic wand – this is a University that’s been in the city for getting on 900 years, so in a sense we are talking about issues that have been around for a very long time. I would hope they are far better now than they have ever been – since the Saint Scholastica riots of thirteen-something-or-other led to hang academics! I think we’d prefer not to head in that direction, but the relationship is, we hope, getting better. We have a reputation, but we hope it’s getting better. And ways in which we can communicate what we do and what activities and ‘openness’ events are going on is something we would like to hear from you, how we can improve. 

Because obviously we do the main things, you know, the pamphlets and fliers and website. We are in the top ten in the world for Twitter followers, and Facebook friends, and so this is something that we are trying hard, through all of the modern social media networks, to get the message out about this University – of course, as a teaching and research establishment, as well as a local partner.


Thank you. Jonathan?

Jonathan McWilliam, Director, Public Health, Oxfordshire County Council:

The Public Health function has returned to its home in Local Government after 40 years’ exile in the NHS, recently. We would like to engage with a wider set of organisations, including the universities. However, one of my issues is that the areas I tend to work in are anything but glamorous. In fact they are unglamorous, and low tech. How do we tackle problems as well as provide solutions? How do we deal with increasing numbers of, basically, lonely old people, living across our county? How do we cope with the still wide divisions, and basic social disadvantage, in our communities across the county? 

I want to frame this question around your excellent strategic plan, which has a section on widening engagement. And I congratulate you on the good work you’ve been doing engaging in our schools and young people. My ambition would be for the next strategic plan, 2018, so we have got a little bit of time to prepare – 


– Might be my successor, but go on! –

J McW:

I’m sure you can speak for him or her! – Would be able to say, ‘Amongst these other projects we are engaging in – and we work with the County Council Public Health Scheme to help lonely...old people across the county... ... Now, my question is, would the University co-operate? How would one start? Who does one speak to? Would this be an ambition you would share?


It would certainly be an ambition I would share. I’m not going to respond to the specifics of how to interact with the Public Health Department in the City Council. Let me make a couple of comments. We talk about loneliness, we talk about... interaction. I know for that at the Hub, student activity is very much involved in a number of different projects interacting with elderly people in the city and the region. 

You will have noticed the scaffolding, that is on the old outpatients’ building, it’s been pretty derelict for the last decade, and now undergoing, we think, a magnificent renovation. We have won awards for the renovation of the Radcliffe Infirmary into our Humanities buildings. That outpatients’ building will become the site of Oxford’s renowned Department of Primary Care. Richard Hobbs is the Chair of that department. We have in this University a world-leading medical research enterprise – that is in the city centre, half of it, but of course the vast bulk of it, including the renowned Department of Public Health, Population Health centre with Sir Rory Collins is located there. 

The Medical Sciences Division of the University has been a very active participant in recent developments that greatly strengthen the links between the University’s medical enterprise and the community and the region. One of them has been the Academic Health Science Centre, that we were awarded the partnership between the Oxford University hospitals, the Oxford Health, Oxford Brookes and the University. 

Another, very significant development has been the recent AHSN, the Academic Health Science Network. And that is a network that goes far further; it goes into the regions, the county and even beyond. And it’s fascinating, because it’s very relevant to the question you’ve asked – whether the AHSN, which involves not only those four major centres, it involves the GP group, it involves social care, it involves all the elements of health support and care from world-class, research-driven care at the Oxford University hospitals to care in the home, social care from care workers... 

And as we were planning the AHSN, this is now about 18 months ago, we wanted an initial test case; how could we get the machinery well oiled, so that the different parts of the AHSN can clearly demonstrate that they’re working well together? And the test case we took was dementia. Dementia became the model by which we would see the University’s work including release of patients from hospitals, health care, social care in the home, nursing from the Oxford Brookes nursing school, all of these different things working together.

So I think, again, there are efforts being made. How those directly connect with the County Council’s Public Health Department I can’t answer. But I hope the intention is there, demonstrated by these recent, effective and growing and strengthening networks and partnerships. 

J McW:

Could I just make a comment on that: the County Council is also a primary member of these networks –


Indeed –

J McW:

– and we were there also at the inception. What tends to happen is that these things have a natural history. So they start off as partnerships – or civic society, academic society, medical school, whatever – but they tend to be inexorably drawn towards the international, the research, and the high tech, and they leave behind precisely the lonely old people and the basic social care in our local community. And that is what happens, and we are in a debate with Gary Ford, who runs the AHSN, about how to establish the AHSN statutory duties, have a proper balance.

And it is difficult. Because the money lies in the high tech, international, quite glamorous, work, in some cases, and it’s how do we get the social capital back into Oxfordshire without always being drawn away. I think it’s very easy, I can see exactly how it happens, that one gets pulled in that direction.


Well, I think that comment is a very well-positioned one. Obviously there is great benefit to the city and this region to having a world-class centre of academic medical research. Much flows into the way in which care is then given at the highest level. 

But when I talk to our wonderful Dean of the Medical School, Alastair Buchan, who is himself a specialist in stroke, Alastair talks eloquently about the role of the doctor beyond the high tech, when the high tech has failed and the true calling of a clinician perhaps comes to the fore of caring for the blind, caring for the elderly, for the lonely, and I think these things are very much now being instilled into our medical students as part of their training. They are very much part, as I understand it, and of course this is now getting a little distant from my own specific expertise, they are very much part of the current culture within the Department of Health in government, and so I would hope that the issues you’ve raised will be a key priority, or a key part, of the future for the AHSN. 

J McW:

Very happy to help make it so with the universities.


Thank you. Margaret?

Margaret Ounsley, Head of Government and Community Relations, University of Oxford:

Yes, I just wanted to follow up Jonathan on that. Just a specific thing, a sort of detailed thing on your point, Jonathan. I had a meeting with Maggie Scott from the County a few weeks ago, and she raised this issue, and I am setting up a meeting to get the right people into the room to deal with this; and you would be welcome to come.


Something I have got very excited about recently are community information networks. Which is the Council putting money into a bid system which Age UK Oxfordshire won, in order to provide the elderly with signposting to the support that is already on offer. 

Most elderly people actually want to stay at home as long as possible; they do not want to go into very, very expensive accommodation. 

Very often – I saw this when I was a vicar in Margate – it’s actually quite small supports that can make all the difference in the world. It’s exciting seeing that beginning to take off at the moment, with bereavement support and all sorts of things going on. They’re very low tech, they’re very cheap, and they’re transformative. 


May I just add to that, because it really does reinforce the connection between internationally competitive research and care for the elderly in their homes: one of the most exciting areas of research going on in the biomedical engineering department in Oxford at the moment is the burgeoning field of telemedicine. 

The field of telemedicine is using your mobile phones, using your smart phones, to transmit information about your heart rate, your temperature, your – even, it’s moving into levels of being able to measure oxygen levels in your blood, glucose levels – and then transmitting that information to your GP. And this a revolution that will allow elderly people to stay at home rather than having to be transported into hospital, because it will allow modern technology and world-class research to actually influence their care.

There’s a wonderful example: Lionel Tarassenko, who is the Chair of Biomedical Engineering, has just started a company, another element for this University, a spinout company. It’s a fabulously simple idea: it’s putting a silicon chip in pills. And the idea is that when you take a pill, the silicon chip tells your phone, and your phone tells your GP that you’ve taken that pill. This is one of the biggest issues – patient compliance, particularly among the elderly and those with dementia, is a major issue, and that’s why they’re often brought into hospital, to make sure they’re taking their meds. In fact, using modern technology, we will be able to know that they’ve actually swallowed the pill. 


Right! I’m looking to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, I think...

Margaret Hauser, Trustee of Oxford Citizens’ Advice Bureau:

I am here for the manager, who was unable to come today. 

You all probably know about the Citizens’ Advice Bureau; it’s got a good national profile. It’s here to – exists to give advice advocacy, provides advocacy, and increasingly, education in consumer affairs has become its third strand. 

The Oxford CAB is in a unique position, in that last year it saw 7,000 people, in this city of great privilege and beauty, who are living at the other end of the spectrum. The word ‘destitution’ is perhaps the most appropriate. Increasingly, the problems that they are consulting the CAB about concern debt and immigration issues. Having worked at the University I know some of these topics are part of research projects here. These that have come up today are of great interest to the CAB, but I’ll just pass over those – one of them is access to philanthropy. CAB is not the recipient of state funding – which people feel, and often presume, it is. It has a 40% grant from the City Council; the rest has to be raised by CAB. It has a half a million budget – relies enormously on volunteers. 

Space is another issue which we’ve talked here today; every few years there’s a problem with renegotiating the lease of the building in St Aldate’s with one of the University colleges. Has the University got buildings that it could help? I don’t know. 

But the question we wanted to address today refers to the discussion you’ve just had. It’s about building a bridge between these 7,000 people and the work that’s going on in the University. How can we do it? We welcome enormously any work to look into this initiative today. Because the contacts between what the CAB are doing and the University have been slim. 

There is one initiative: Oxford Legal Assistance. The CAB is using six students from the legal faculty to volunteer which is an excellent start. Having worked with universities in the University Museums, and seeing work with volunteers, working with volunteers isn’t easy. They need management and support. Can we have some feedback, and some lessons learned? 

But could the CAB work in a joint project, a jointly funded project, as a partnership with one of the University departments? That’s my question. And if you have any ideas today for the future, we would really welcome talking to people. 


Thank you. Let me say I am a great fan of the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, and happen to know one of your volunteers very well. And it does great work, and it has an incredible challenge given the number and the scale of some of the issues that it is advising people on. I know well about the law students, and in a sense that’s one of those wonderful win-wins: the students gain experience and you gain that energy and also burgeoning experience in their own legal trade. 

But that being said, I would very pleased to think through what would be the right part of Oxford that could contribute in a significant way. Is it the Law faculty at a higher level, the academics – many of our academics are involved in pro bono work in different ways around the country. Is it the Sociology department, is it the Business School, is it financial advice that might be available? 

– I’ll give you an example. I won’t volunteer things specifically but I’ve been at the Business School, and a man called Peter Tufano... and Peter was recruited from Harvard about three years ago. Peter has started his own charity in the US, and he’s brought it over here, providing financial advice to low-income individuals. Debt advice, access to funding for services, that kind of thing. We have programmes of that sort going on around the world, supported by Oxford. Last week we had an event that was wonderful; attended by 200 people, focused on empowering women, and women’s financial support in the developing world – a critical step, and it would be interesting to explore whether there is expertise in the Business School that might be of value on a voluntary basis to the CAB. 


Can I ask how I could follow up on that?


We can certainly – I mean, Margaret can help, and we can certainly put you in contact with people. Inevitably they will do what they want to do, so I can’t promise anything, but at least having people aware of the issues is – we’d be very pleased to encourage.


Thank you. One last Oxford question.

John Hobart, Director, Modern Art Oxford:

I have two questions, one of which you’ve started to answer, and I don’t know if you would be able to elaborate on. And that’s really of progress on the public art strategy here. You mentioned that artist Weimin He is the current artist-in-residence [for the University Estates Directorate]. I don’t know if you have any information to hand, on what the next stage in that process will be? 


We acquired this site from the NHS in 2003. We laid out the site plan, the master plan, in 2007, and then we all know what happened in 2008! So the speed of development, much to my regret, has not been as fast as we would have hoped. We’ve, obviously, we’ve built this building, we have the Blavatnik School of Government, which will be a piece of art in itself, a Herzog & de Meuron designed building, and obviously that will begin to form at least this southern end of the site, and that will begin to allow us to start initiating the public art plan. It will likely be a few more years before the site is fully developed, partly because of the cost, and the need for fundraising and the need for funding sources. But I can’t comment on what the next phase of the public art project will be.


Thank you. Putting a slightly different spin on the relationship between University, colleges, and arts and cultural organisations in the city – and indeed, it ties in with an initiative that the City Council has been pushing and developing, which is in particular relationships with colleges, which vary from being extremely good to being any which way possible to support the various charities within Oxford that deliver an art service to the community. 


We’ve done that; I’m happy to explore how we can improve. Modern Art Oxford has a natural relationship with this University, and that’s of course with the Ruskin School of Art, and I’m delighted that that’s a strong one, and certainly in the past has been very strong. A few years ago we were talking about exciting projects – they’ve sort of slowed a little, complications of two different organisations working together, it always is there. But I would hope that when significant things happen at Modern Art Oxford, that requires engagement with the University, then one starting point there would be the Ruskin School. 

Obviously it’s hard to respond in any kind of specific way to accommodation requests. I would hope that that might come through academics within the Ruskin School, who can then... every one of them being part of an Oxford college. And I hope that that would, in and of itself, be part of the way in which the relationships can be improved. We have a number of very distinguished, and ‘arts-receptive’ heads of house. People like Will Hutton and Helena Kennedy, and others, who I’m quite sure would be receptive to potential interactions. I can’t speak for them, of course, but we could not have a more diverse group of college leaders, many of whom have distinguished careers in the arts or allied fields.


Could you, on the other hand, speak for the University, the University-owned spaces, to make them available for community arts projects? 


Again, I can certainly say, John, that we’d be pleased to explore that with you. We are a teaching and research organisation, we can’t have every door open all the time, and there would need to be a conversation and a discussion about usage but I’d be happy to explore if there were specifics, or even more general issues that might be tackled.


Thank you. We did promise to keep to time; that is, we are keeping to time now, because time includes time for a drink, I think, at this stage, and continuing conversation. On your behalf can I thank the Vice-Chancellor very much indeed. 

That last conversation reminds me of the sadness I have every time I walk down Walton Street, and you go past a former church, now Freud’s, which was originally given as, or sold – I much regret this, and it shows how narrow minded and unimaginative... we don’t look far enough ahead as a church, because now it would be a superb place, but that was originally meant to be a community arts centre. And if you want to grab it back, you would have my warm support! But I will probably get lynched by others for saying that!


Colin, if it’s any comfort, our hope very much is that St Luke’s, out there, in time, when full renovation and usage becomes finalised, will itself become a potential site for arts events and arts displays. So we might have one – 


 – You have won where others failed! – 


- one church playing that role. 


That’s lovely. Thank you very much, everyone.

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