Day 5 : Choose a different route and see what you notice on the way.
I spend a lot of my working life in university buildings in and around the Clifton area of Bristol. The University of Bristol is custodian of an extensive portfolio of properties. Some of them (like the Wills Memorial Building at the top of Park Street, or Goldney Hall with its Grade 1 listed gardens and grotto) have attained iconic status in the city. Others (and I won’t name them) are less merit-worthy.
Today’s challenge inspired me to walk the long way round to a meeting today. In the process I wandered down St Michael’s Hill from Tyndall Avenue and actually took the time to look properly at the buildings around me. Tucked slightly up from the road and in the shadow of the Biological Sciences building to one side, and St Michael’s Hospital opposite, is the university’s David Smith Building.
The building was originally erected to house the Bristol Hospital for Sick Children. It was completed to a design by Robert Carwen in 1885 and remained as a healthcare facility until the opening of the new Children’s Hospital on the Bristol Royal Infirmary site in 2001. I haven’t been able to find out anything else about Carwen, but the Tudor Gothic style of the building is reminiscent of Edwin Seward’s Cardiff Royal Infirmary building that opened two years’ earlier in 1883.
There’s a pleasing symmetry to Carwen’s design, and the scale of the building suggests large house rather than institutional sanatorium – presumably being much less daunting to children attending appointments. It’s a far cry from the monolith that replaced it at the start of the twenty-first century.
Following the relocation of the hospital, the building was acquired by the university and now provides accommodation for the South West Nuclear Hub, a joint venture collaboration between the Faculties of Science and Engineeering. The Hub seeks to lead research and innovation in civil nuclear energy, bridging the gap between academia and industry.
I find it reassuring that a building designed to support the art and science of medicine has now found a new use facilitating the art and science of nuclear physics. It may be 130 plus years old, but there’s no indication that the David Smith Building has reached its half-life yet!
Regular readers will know that I feel really lucky to do the job that I do. I have the privilege of working with fantastic colleagues, world-leading clinicians and scientists, and I get to support some of the brightest and most enthusiastic students around. This term, I’ve taken on an additional role leading a team providing pastoral care to 500 first year students in halls of residence in Clifton and the city centre. It’s a whole new challenge and (in all probability) an absurd psychological over-reaction to the empty nest syndrome that Charlotte and I were facing up to. It’s also great fun.
Working with students, many of whom are experiencing life away from home for the first time, is hugely rewarding. And it’s humbling to see their care and concern for one another, and to feed off their enthusiasm for making their formative community as inclusive and supportive as possible.
It’s also fascinating to see the very different cultures that exist in the two halls that I have responsibility for. The city centre property is literally right in the heart of the city, and the overwhelming majority of residents there have chosen it precisely because of its proximity to the bars, clubs, theatres, and other venues that make Bristol a great place to be a student. Trying to generate enthusiasm for organised events here is difficult. There is little that we can offer at the hall level that competes with the bright lights and razzmatazz of the competing commercial offerings. But we have been able to gain some traction with relatively simple and straightforward events like a group booking for the newly opened ice rink.
At the Clifton residence, on the other hand, the students tend to be more community-oriented, planning events such as Bake-Off challenges between kitchens, film nights, and tenpin bowling. Ironically, the Clifton hall has far less ‘communal’ space than is available in the city centre residence, but this has almost spurred the students on to build the sense of community in spite of the shortage of facilities.
I was convinced that I had the best job in the world already, but the added satisfaction that comes from playing a very small role in helping our students make a successful transition into university life means that the best job has got even better!