Is the area around the Dome looking a bit busier today? It should do – it’s the first day of business for Ravensbourne college, which has spent the summer relocating from Chislehurst to its new, £70m home at the tip of the peninsula. This blog was lucky enough to get a tour from the college’s director, Professor Robin Baker, as his staff geared up to accept 1,400 students – ranging from pre-degree learners to undergraduates and postgraduates.
More significantly for Greenwich, today looks like being the day the area immediately around the Dome stopped being a bleak, windswept, lonely corner and started to gain some life.
Contracts have been signed for cafes to open on Peninsula Square, and there’ll be a bit of life around there during the day now, instead of the O2’s security guards and their dogs. By next spring, it’ll be radically different around there. This can only be a good thing…
The impressive exterior – the pattern is a mathematical formula based on “non-periodic tesselation” , where the windows are tiles left out – bucks the trend for contemporary buildings to show off their interiors to the public. “It’s camouflaged, it’s challenges you,” Professor Baker explained. “You can’t look in and see what’s going on.”
Inside are 9 floors and vast open spaces, where students will follow courses encompassing design, broadcasting, fashion, architecture, animation and music production. No rabbit warrens of classrooms, computer rooms and lecture theatres – unlike the exterior, most of the interior is open. It’s almost like a cutting-edge, modern business centre, which isn’t an accident.
Most students will have their own laptops, there’ll be a clean-desk policy, but the building will be open 16 hours a day – with teaching taking place across just six of those. Professor Baker says he’ll have one big message for today’s new students. “We try to treat students as professionals. We’ll say to them, ‘this is the first day of your career’.” One aspect of the new site is what isn’t there – there’s no metalwork and woodwork facilities here, with them either being provided elsewhere or students being encouraged to find their own. It’s “all about using London as a resource,” Prof Baker says – something that wasn’t easy in Chislehurst.
One thing that did strike me as a little odd – their student union bar will be, effectively, one floor of the American Bar at the O2. Granted, they’ll offer a discount, but I’m not sure I’d like to have to walk through a security cordon every time I fancied a cheap beer.
What is provided, though, is state of the art. What’s thought to be the most advanced high-definition television facilities in the country sit alongside a recording studio paid for by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. “When Led Zeppelin played the O2, they turned to Harvey Goldsmith and said, ‘we want to give something back.” The cash is also going towards a course, designed to create entrepreneurs in the music industry. Fibre-optic links connect Ravensbourne with the O2 and the data network being created to support the Olympics. But easily the most impressive thing in the workshops was a 3D scanner, which you could use to create a virtual version of anything – a toy car, or your body.
What does Ravensbourne’s arrival mean for its neighbours? Pre-degree courses already mainly attract students from the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham, and Greenwich Council is backing the Greenwich Digital Skills Centre, offering courses for all ages. In the long term, the council wants to see the peninsula become a “digital destination”, and has two floors in nearby Mitre Passage as a “digital enterprise centre” for businesses to showcase what they can do.
But it’s Ravensbourne that’s playing a pivotal role here, providing a role incubating start-up businesses and giving them a space to get going. There’s a track record of success here – one student recently signed a £280,000 contract with Sony to develop a game. There’ll be 40 based in the new building, although only 15 are expected to survive – but those that do will be given help in finding cheap locations in which to base themselves. I hope that the benefits of this will be felt further into Greenwich – it’d be unfortunate if all this new activity was isolated up on the peninsula, and with nearby Deptford having a pedigree for nurturing creative businesses, something special could be created in Greenwich, if the will is there.
So that’s your quick tour of Greenwich’s newest arrival. Thanks to Ravensbourne for inviting me up there, and if you want to take a sly peek at it, their ground floor cafe is open to the public. At last, an alternative to Starbucks on the peninsula!