Percy Gee extension

Transforming the iconic Students’ Union Building. WORDS BY AMY CORY

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Whether you graduated last year, or 40 years ago, the campus probably looks a little different since you were last here. “That’s because we are continuing to invest in our infrastructure to ensure that our estate and facilities are at the cutting-edge and can provide the best, the most comfortable, and the most state-of-the-art experience for all of our students,” said President and Vice- Chancellor, Professor Paul Boyle CBE.

Recent developments have included the completion of the £42 million Centre for Medicine; the replacement of the roof and glazed facades of the iconic Grade II* listed Engineering Building; and the conversion of the former Fielding Johnson Building car park into a vibrant new open space at the heart of the campus. And, says Paul, “Our plans aren’t stopping there. Next on our list is a further extension to the Percy Gee Students’ Union Building.” The SU, as it is affectionately known, remains central to the student experience as a place to relax in between lectures, grab a bite to eat, or to try something new. It is also home to more than 150 different student societies.

Designed by T. Shirley Worthington to be the central social facility for the University, the Building was one of the first of several mid-20th century buildings on campus. Built in 1957 and opened by Her Majesty The Queen the following year, the five storey building once had 26 different floor levels. Described in the Leicester Evening Mail as ‘one of the most magnificent buildings in Leicester’, it was named after local benefactor Henry Percy Gee CBE (Percy), as a tribute to his tireless work and support in the establishment of a university in Leicester.

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Henry Percy Gee
Born in Leicester in 1874, Percy was a popular figure. He joined the family shoe business, Stead and Simpson Ltd aged 20 and remained there until his death in 1962. He served the University in one capacity or another for more than 40 years, as benefactor, Chairman of the University Council until 1959, and as the University’s first Pro-Chancellor. He also joined the alumni community as one of our first honorary graduates in 1958. The staff and student experience can only be as good as the buildings we work, socialise and learn in.
In the words of his colleagues, Professors Hunter and Simmons, “Mr Gee personifies the spirit of local patriotism that lay behind the foundation of the College. During the whole of its development, he has worked for it with tireless energy and the utmost liberality.” He also held a unique position in the affections and respect of the people of Leicester, where he did much to involve the city in the plans for a university. He was awarded the Freedom of the City in 1950.

In years gone by, Percy’s building has hosted countless music legends including The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and The Who. Originally built to accommodate some 800 students, the SU is now central to the ‘University experience’ of more than 20,000 students. Six years have passed since the last refurbishment. Now home to a vibrant central atria and an O2 Academy, plans are in place to expand the award winning building even further. This time, with attention focused on the east wing. “I think it’s really important for students to feel welcome on campus,” explained Leicester Students’ Union President Amy Moran. “The redevelopment will bring more central seating and social space to campus so students can relax, study or eat between lectures and seminars at their leisure.

There will also be a greater diversity of food to reflect the growing dietary needs of our students. “The facilities will be far more suited to our diverse range of student groups, with a multi-purpose studio for performance societies, a state-of-the-art media suite, and a central location for support services. “The Students’ Union is the place where the University experience really comes to life. When prospective students walk through Percy Gee, we want them to envision themselves joining a student group, grabbing a coffee, making new friends and going on a night out. The SU is a major part of attracting students to our campus and so it’s important that it has a modern and vibrant atmosphere.”

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Proposed front elevation connecting to the Fielding Johnson Square
Subject to planning permission, there will be an extension to provide more multi-use space for study and social learning, as well as extensive catering facilities in the form of a new food court. The impressive new eastern facade will also establish a direct link between the vibrant atria space already within the Students’ Union, and the newly completed public square (the former Fielding Johnson Building car park).

These plans will complete the modernisation of the Percy Gee Building and deliver an extension to match the quality of the rest of the SU. This is just one of a number of capital projects planned over the next 10 years which also include an expansion of student accommodation, redevelopments of existing teaching and learning spaces, and the creation of a multidisciplinary lab. “The staff and student experience can only be as good as the buildings we work, socialise and learn in,” said Brita Sread, Director of Estates and Campus Services. “We need to ensure that our investment in academic and student facilities is aimed at helping deliver the discovery-enabling environment envisioned in our Strategic Plan.

“Our Strategic Plan made it clear that large investment in our facilities was needed in order to deliver a 21st century urban campus as part of Leicester’s Educational Quarter.” We can’t wait to welcome you back to campus the next time you’re in the city to see the latest developments.

LEARN MORE:
To see the latest plans for campus, visit: le.ac.uk/about/development-change

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