FEATURE: The week Northampton became a 'student town' as thousands filed into new Waterside campus
Seven years after plans were first released of a shiny new student campus on the banks of Becket's Park Marina, the big day has finally arrived. The students are here. And they are already making a mark on the town.
This week some 15,000 of them descended on the new Â£350 million Waterside campus for the first time, leaving behind the university’s outdated buildings on the edge of Kingsthorpe and The Racecourse and taking up residence in a large new single site on the edge of the town centre.
But town leaders, businesses and high street investors will be hoping the move marks one of the most significant changes to the landscape of Northampton since thousands of Londoners travelled north for a new life here a generation ago.
No longer are the cohort young learners isolated in campuses three miles away from the heart of the town. Now, little more than a sculpted wooden bridge and a short, lit walk separates a tidal wave of youthful spending power from shops, cafes, pubs and the market.
As Market Square bustled with the sound of students on Monday, eager to join up to new societies, the sense a change was afoot was palpable.
The students had arrived. It was time to get excited.
“It will really bring a vibrancy back to Northampton,” said senior lecturer in sports rehabilitation,
Brendan Skinner, speaking on the Chron’s tour of the new campus this week.
“Young people bring energy to a town.
“They bring ideas, they bring innovation. They will really contribute.
“It’s a misconception that students don’t have money.
“It can only be good for business. You are going to see a huge increase in footfall to the town centre and the high street.”
The facilities themselves mark a dramatic upgrade to the “isolated” former Park and Avenue campuses.
Its learning hub, complete with escalators, cafes and layered walkways resembles an airport terminal rather than a college block.
On an upper floor, paramedic science students will carried out assessments in the back of a realistic mock ambulance, while psychology students will soon be able to make use of a special sensory deprivation room.
The student village, complete with shops a launderette and a health centre, marks a major step up from the facilities at Park campus.
But the decision to place the students union-run Platform club next to All Saints church in the centre of town comes with a purpose.
“In my opinion, before with Park campus, the university culture was segregated from town centre culture,” said phd student and film abd screen studies lecturer Anthony Stepniak, 26, a lifelong Northamptonian.
“With Platform we’ve got a real presence in the town now. A lot of the student training is taking place there.
Only one gripe, parking, appeared to resurface when the Chron spoke to a hand of new students, enrolling, enjoying a coffee in one of the many new cafes or simply taking in the new Learning Hub.
Many of the concerns about the new park-and-ride scheme, which infuriatingly for those travelling over from the east of town, only operates from a car park in Sixfields - in the west.
Daniel, a 20-year-old student joining the university on a business management course from St Neott’s was one of many to test it out this week.
“It seems really good,” he said - even though he, like many others has to first drive past the campus on his commute to lectures before coming back back on a bus.
“There are 10 to 15 minute intervals between them. It’s only a pound for the bus and the parking is free. It’s working for me so far and the car park hasn’t been full yet.”
While some lectures have already begun, term will start in earnest from Monday. The full effect of Waterside’s promised economic boost will, perhaps, only be fully felt once the fervour of freshers’ week has died down and the 3,000 or so students living in the campus halls have settled into a routine.
But vice chancellor Nick Petford believes the move to the former Avon Nunn Mills site will have a profound effect on Northampton that will be felt for years.
He said: “Our civic approach to innovation, impactful research and the economic benefits this brings, will support Northampton more widely to become a more attractive place in drawing talented and skilled young people to study and, importantly, stay after they graduate.”