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Mapping UCL’s involvement in London

By Rebecca Payne, on 20 March 2017

As a university in London, UCL is located in a huge, diverse city with many different communities. A key part of the student experience is the ability of students to get involved in these communities, and visit parts of London that are different from Bloomsbury and the university atmosphere, hopefully leading to them having a sense not just of studying at UCL, but of living in London. So, how does UCL perform in this aspect of student life?

UCL has various different types of involvement in many parts of London, including placements for students from the Volunteering Services Unit (VSU) as well as other organisations. However, it seems that knowing about and accessing these opportunities is not so simple for students. The student experience coordinator of UCL’s School of Management in Canary Wharf told us how she was approached by a student who wanted to get involved in the local community, but was unsure how to do this or even what the local community was. The VSU told us that, although it’s possible that volunteering activities in East London have increased since the announcement of UCL East, they don’t have any way to confirm this. When we met with staff from the Centre for Access to Justice, who have a legal advice clinic in Stratford that provides pro bono legal services, they talked about how they were never sure what other community outreach projects UCL was doing in the area, as there is often no communication between departments about these projects.

We think we’ve found a gap in resources that we may be able to help provide: a map that locates all of UCL’s volunteering placements, community outreach programmes, and general activities throughout London. This map would provide students and staff with information about what is happening where. To start with, we have a list of addresses where the VSU and the Centre for Access to Justice have involvements. We’re hoping that after the conclusion of the Students in the East project, the map could be continued, with each department and project adding their own inputs until we have a comprehensive map that students and staff can use to see the spread of UCL’s outreach in London.

By Azra Gordy

Walking tour of the Olympic Park

By Rebecca Payne, on 23 February 2017

hackney wickThis week, a few of us were taken by Bill Hodgson, Senior Teaching Fellow of the UCL Bartlett school of Architecture, around Stratford to visit Here East and the Olympic Park, future site of UCL east.
Bill We set off from Euston to complete the route that future route that students may take towards Hackney Wick Station. Upon arriving at the station and departing the overground train, we were greeted by Bill and his remarkably well-behaved companion…. dog, Peggy. Bill gave us a solid run down of the history of the borough, describing in detail the industrial roots and manufacturing base that once flourished in the stoic brick buildings that surrounded us.s we began our walk, it became apparent that the area is undergoing rapid changes. Clever and cheeky street art now adorns building facades left and right, but there are still signs of the old ways that bleed into the streets. As we rounded the bridge, which Bill told us had been created to connect the sides of the river, we found ourselves walking through an interesting contrast of old and new.
GroupThe first stop on our visit was to check out the Here East building, a huge and colorful warehouse that will one day house a UCL space for creative design-type projects. At the moment, things were eerily quiet, it is difficult to imagine how even with students present it will bring the site to life.

Still, we took a look inside and saw some interesting art installations as well as one stern security guard. Towards the river bank, the edge of the Here East complex is already home to a few cafés and restaurants, and Bill mentioned that he hoped the area would come to be a resource for UCL East students looking to take a break from campus. Without a doubt, there is great potential to be found in the Here East warehouse! As researchers, we hope to see further developments that help extend links between future UCL East students, Here East and the Bloomsbury community.

group2From Here East, Bill took us along to the Olympic Park, and we quickly noticed a shift towards wide open space, broad walkways and, incredibly, nature. There is a river running through here, and Theo, our lead student, helped us to identify several species of birds that one would be hard pressed to find in central London. In the distance, we could still see the Olympic Rings next to the velodrome, and on the far side we could just glimpse the aquatic center, which would shortly be our destination.

bridgeAs we continued walking between the towering Olympic relics, we struggled with a sense of placelessness. The horizon was absolutely bristling with cranes, surrounding skeletal high rise projects and signaling the dynamic of change which permeates this space. However, there were definitely a few existing options for students to take a break and have a meal that we passed, such as the Timber Lodge near the old Olympic village. How could we preserve the UCL community feeling in this land of construction, temporary bridges, and shopping centers?

When we reached the aquatic center, much closer to the future site of UCL East, things certainly became more lively and populated. It may be that these changes take time to realise their potential, and in the years before UCL East opens, perhaps the use of these public spaces will swell, and future UCL East and Bloomsbury community members alike will be able to join a burgeoning and well-developed area. We made our way to Stratford station as the sun cast brilliant light across the metallic structure of Boris Johnston’s infamous Orbit slide.sunset        view

We bring with us some valuable lessons from our experience with Bill in Stratford. The area is certainly a work in progress, but good inroads are being made to add a sense of community and homeliness to the post-Olympic neighborhood. As far as our research is concerned, we can rethink the way we relate as students and community members to the space around us. Now, more than ever, it is important that we take into account issues of inclusivity, and of accessibility. For new students, especially international students, moving to a new location in a large city can be nerve-wracking, and it is imperative that UCL East strive to minimize the hardship that students undergo as they adjust to their new university. Concerns need to be heard from students with families, or differently abled people. With this awareness, we believe that UCL East can be a valuable presence in the local community.

In terms of our mapping exercise, some students used their phones to track their movement throughout the area as we walked, which we plan to feed into our mapping output.

By Chris Adan.

Off the map: alternative cartographies of UCL’s Bloomsbury campus

By Rebecca Payne, on 21 February 2017

We are all accustomed to looking at maps. In a city like London, consulting a map can often form part of the daily routine (normally on your phone, when you’re overly flustered and blocking a flow of enraged pedestrians). Multiple maps depict UCL’s Bloomsbury campus. From them you can learn the location of different buildings, the distances to nearby travel hubs, and perhaps begin to plan particular routes around the area. However, there are many important aspects of UCL these maps do not show.

What if we could create a map which captured students’ experiences of Bloomsbury and UCL: places with particular meanings, memories or frustrations; connections with local community groups; events and gatherings? What new information about UCL could be produced? What would visualising information in this way mean, and what could it achieve?

Maps enable people to generate new kinds of knowledge about a space. Maps can act as a catalyst for change, by creating shared portals of information that can demonstrate problems or issues. Maps encourage different people to come together and collect information around a shared topic of interest. Maps help us to see what’s around us differently.

SITE are in the process of building an online map of Bloomsbury. We want this map to be used by students, for students. Once up and running, this map will permit people to share photos, comments, current events and activities, and projects with links to the local community. We plan to connect with different social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, to encourage the sharing of photos and other media.

Our hope is that by collecting previously unexamined information about UCL’s Bloomsbury campus, we can spot patterns in how the area is used, identify places that are problematic, and uncover new ways of thinking about the space.

Watch this space! Our map is coming soon.

 

 

 

Walking through lessons from the Bloomsbury Campus – Oscar Wong

By Rebecca Payne, on 8 February 2017

The SITE (Student in the East) team has now been formed! Last week, we had a meeting with the UCL East Academic Directors and the Dean of the Bartlett Faculty where we discussed objectives of the SITE project. One of the objectives was to improve on the student experiences in the UCL East new campus by taking lessons from the Bloomsbury Campus. As identified in our earlier post, the use of public and private campus spaces would be one of the key focuses in our project, including the walkability in the campus. UCL Bloomsbury has been a walking-friendly and accessible campus – all parts of the main campus were within walking distance; campus facilities were gradually improved to be fully accessible.

Map of UCL Bloomsbury campus

Map of UCL Bloomsbury campus

In spite of the walkability, a lesson can be drawn from my daily walking experience in the Bloomsbury campus. Initially, I had

confusion getting around places within the campus using the map: I was not able to get to the Main Quad from Gordon Street because there was no access on the East wing of the main campus. Therefore, I had to divert via Malet Place or the main gate, which took me another 5 minutes to detour. After spending two months in the campus, I have learnt a new ‘shortcut’ – one could go through buildings on Gordon Square. In principle, there is no access from Gordon Square/ Gordon Street for anybody outside the history department. However, as the doors are not locked from Monday to Friday, one can technically leave the Main Quad via the history department. As such, some might wait outside the history department for someone to open the door while exiting in an attempt to take the shortcut.

I am interested in understanding how students and staff behave in their daily campus life, and therefore I spent a minute (12:53, 7th Feb 17) to see whether they would use the ‘secret shortcut’. The result of the observation was surprising – more than 20 people took the shortcut in one minute, suggesting that many have already discovered this informal route which did not seem like a secret path anymore.  It has never been a recommended route, especially from UCL maintenance’s point of view, considering meetings/ classes in the building may be disturbed. A warning sign on the door suggested no access to the Main Quad in attempt to stop people from exploiting the access. However, many ignored the sign!

 

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Three lessons could be drawn:

  • If the walkable/ accessible route is not optimal, users will find their ways and adopt more convenient alternatives. In this example, individuals responded to the sub-optimal walkable access by using a more convenient route. However, they may cause disturbances to other users in the building. A bad design may lead to user-adopted alternatives, which may affect other users. A better design is needed!
  • Ground floor access is particular important in terms of walkability. Ideally, routes across the campus from various directions should be provided in order to improve the walking environment and pedestrians’ walking experiences.
  • It is understood that the public access is blocked because of the construction works. Thus, optimal mitigation measures are required to minimise disruptions to the members of the community.

The above example is only the tip of the iceberg, illustrating the need for optimal designs. Our project aims to learn from the Bloomsbury campus experiences and provide recommendations for the UCL East campus to optimise the designs and managements of the new campus.

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We would like to hear any interesting observations and experiences you have had in the Bloomsbury Campus. You are encouraged to participate in our coming events including Bloomsbury SOUP and Campus Walk  – details to follow. Your contributions can help improve the overall campus experience. Let’s make UCL East campus a better place for all!

 

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Head in the Clouds: SITE students visit UCL School of Management at Canary Wharf

By Rebecca Payne, on 8 February 2017

Despite the exciting move of UCL to Stratford, it is not the first expansion of the campus, with UCL School of Management making their move last year to Canary Wharf. Therefore, we felt they were uniquely placed to offer us some insight into the challenges and exciting opportunities with having a split campus.

On Tuesday 31st we met with Jackie Loveland, the School Manager, and Zaiba Badrudin, the student experience co-ordinator to pick their brains on the last year. As we exited Canary Wharf station to approach the Central Tower where the school was based, what struck me was how unlike a university campus the area felt… is this the new, dynamic future of education in London?

It turns out this concern, or perhaps observation was noted by the SoM students prior to their move East, however these initial worries have apparently paled away once the students have come to realise the unique opportunities that being among businesses can offer them. Just above on Level 39 is Europe’s largest technology accelerator which they have been able to collaborate with as part of their Entrepreneurs course. Such connections are invaluable, and as part of this project we are hoping to establish workshops with fellow tenants in the UCL Here East site to understand how we can build similar relationships across the education, cultural and technology establishments.

As part of our visit we toured around the site; designed by Levitt Bernstein architects it is a case study of modernity, collaborative learning, and breath-taking views (although I’d avoid visiting on a winter’s foggy day if you can). Now it has come into use though, students have pointed out that the quiet study spaces are limited. Alternatives have been offered such as local library membership, but remaining close to one site is a priority for students. With the inside spaces still not designed for UCL East this is definitely a recommendation we could give the management team. To take this further, we’re hoping to take a tour with the Library service at Bloomsbury to learn about the existing services, and survey you to find out what is in demand and where we can improve the experience for the new campus.

Being separated from the main campus and its services, one of the areas we were surprised to learn that has not been developed is the community links; it relied on a student approaching the staff to request that this be looked into or established. UCL Bloomsbury does not stand alone but exists within the wider community of Camden, London, and the UK; with over 36,000 hours volunteered per year it forms a vital part of students’ UCL experience.

If you have had a volunteering experience that you want to tell us about or see established at the UCL East campus reach out to us now!

SITE team members at the UCL School of Management

SITE team members at the UCL School of Management

 

By Esme Stallard.

SITE: Students in the East

By Rebecca Payne, on 30 January 2017

If you’re anything like me, you probably rush around UCL’s campus in a caffeinated blur of activity, rarely stopping to contemplate your surroundings. You might occasionally feel infuriated by the swing doors underneath the Wilkins Building, sniff longingly at the doughy aromas emitting from Pizza Neo, or enjoy basking on the grass during sunny lunchtimes in the quad. You probably haven’t thought at length about how the campus is set out, how you move around it, or how it influences you and your studies.

Study in the East (SITE) is a staff-student collaborative Changemakers project which aims to produce recommendations for UCL East and Here East by investigating the strengths and weaknesses of UCL’s Bloomsbury campus. Led by the Bartlett, UCL Urban Laboratory, and 14 students from across the university, we are biologists, urbanists, economists and social scientists: more importantly, we are a group of people who use the campus every day, and want to think about it in more detail.

For those of you not aware, UCL East and Here East are imminent developments to UCL’s estate, situated in the Olympic Park, Stratford. Here East will open in summer 2017 and house new courses in the Bartlett and department of Engineering, with a focus on cross-disciplinary research. UCL East is expected to open during 2020, launching diverse new programmes in subjects including Heritage and Material Culture. Both sites are billed as opportunities for experimentation beyond the scope of Bloomsbury, whether this be through academic ingenuity, new ways of collaborating with external partners, or imaginative uses of space. Although aspects of these developments are finalised, there is scope for a group of enthusiastic students and staff to influence many decisions: that’s where we come in.

Since kicking off on January 19th we’ve had two lively project meetings, met with key academic staff involved in UCL East and Here East, and heard from experts on university-led regeneration. Next, we’re off to Canary Wharf to hear from UCL School of Management about their experiences of moving to a new campus in the middle of a business district. Then we’ll be donning warm layers for a bracing walk around the Olympic Park, where we will meet representatives from the local community and learn about their memories of and hopes for the site.

As we come from diverse disciplines and backgrounds, our research interests are broad to say the least. However, several key themes have emerged from our discussions so far. These include: public versus private space and UCL’s relationship with the Olympic Park, community engagement in and around the Olympic Park, and building a sense of identity and coherence between UCL’s Bloomsbury and Stratford sites. We also want to evaluate the strengths and challenges of working as a pan-disciplinary team of staff and students from across the university: so far, the logistical issue of finding overlapping free slots has been fairly time-consuming.

Over the next three months we’ll be conducting further site visits and research activities to investigate topics in relation to these themes. Some of our ideas so far include a Bloomsbury SOUP, drawing from the tradition of Detroit SOUPS, where people from the local community all pay a small fee to attend, projects are pitched, and several are chosen to be funded from the fees paid for entry. Oh, and everyone enjoys some soup. Our Bloomsbury SOUP would involve people pitching ideas for UCL East and Here East such as events or activities to enhance the sense of community.

Ultimately, we will apply what we learn about the Bloomsbury campus and initial plans for UCL/Here East, and produce a series of recommendations for those leading the developments. We will also produce an output, in the form of a report, film, or possibly even interpretive dance. More importantly, we want SITE to be the beginnings of stronger staff-student collaborative research into issues affecting everyone at UCL, as well as our neighbours in surrounding communities.

The SITE team

The SITE team

Curious? Contact studentsintheeast@live.ucl.ac.uk

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