“It’s rather amazing” – the Sir Kenneth Wheare Hall

Earlier this year the children of Sir Kenneth Wheare were given an early glimpse of the new University hall named in honour of their father. They tell Observe the story of how crucial he was to Oxford Brookes’ history and their pride that his legacy will live on in the University’s future.

Back when Oxford Brookes’ predecessor institutions taught in scattered rooms across the city, the dream had always been to have a permanent campus based in Headington – or the “promised land” as it became known.

A man more synonymous with the University of Oxford – he was even their Vice-Chancellor back in the 1960s – was crucial in achieving this aim. It was therefore entirely fitting to name a crucial new building on the Headington Campus the Sir Kenneth Wheare Hall.

“It’s a very great honour that his memory should be so valued,” says Patrick Wheare. Patrick was joined by his brother Tom and sisters Philippa and Katie at a special event in June 2017 to mark the naming of the building.

Tom explains that his father served on the City Council as a University of Oxford member and was Chairman of the Education Committee. “That meant he really oversaw all of the education taking place in the city.”

Sir Kenneth Wheare was also close to our modern founder, with Tom noting that “he admired and liked John Henry Brookes very much and they worked together”.

When planning was originally refused for the move to Headingon, Tom explains how his father “organised a public meeting when his committee had been turned down”. The commitment of Sir Kenneth Wheare led to a protest at Oxford’s Town Hall which saw supporters fill the building and spill out into St Aldate’s. The campaign was ultimately successful and the decision was overturned in 1952.

“He felt it was important that the people of Oxford should have opportunities for education”, Patrick notes. “When it was turned down by the City Council, he felt that was a terrible disgrace and an indictment on a university town to stifle that opportunity.”

The Sir Kenneth Wheare Hall is now a key, public-facing space for the University. It can be used for multiple purposes for students and will welcome over 600 guests for graduation ceremonies and other large events.

Tom believes it is “a very, very striking building – wonderful. I think this will increase the University’s identity. It’s very exciting.”

There is also unanimous agreement on the quality of the redeveloped Clerici building which the Wheare family also had the opportunity to tour before it officially opened. It is now the new home for the Oxford Brookes Business School, previously based at Wheatley.

The development of Clerici and former library spaces provides a new gateway into the Headington Campus and includes 30 teaching rooms and a collaborative lecture theatre for use across all subjects, a series of social learning spaces and a cafe.

“I can see that the buildings are increasingly designed in a way which brings people together with lots of social spaces,” says Philippa. “To bring the Business School in from Wheatley is another good move as people can swap ideas and mix better.”

This is something Tom agrees with, stating that “the campus connects. It’s obviously going to draw you in… and there are all sorts of spaces to mix and mingle and share ideas.”

“I think there will be a lovely buzz and feel which will encourage a lot of people to come here,” Philippa adds.

In recent years, the University has transformed its campuses with the award-winning Abercrombie and John Henry Brookes buildings. This has continued with an ambitious ten-year estate investment plan, first announced in 2015, costing more than £220m.

The Joel Joffe building officially opened this year and is the new home for the University’s Swindon campus while work continues to take place on
Sinclair at Headington Campus, with cutting-edge lab spaces for teaching and research.

All campuses are benefitting from redevelopment and the University recently announced exciting future plans for Harcourt Hill. The Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences will be based at Harcourt Hill as the University establishes an increasingly vibrant and collaborative on-campus experience.

As well as the naming of the new hall after her father, Philippa has a further personal connection to the University as her son is a recent graduate. “He thinks the link with Oxford Brookes is wonderful and comes back to help in the architecture department with first and second years. He likes the idea of practising architecture but also the teaching of it and he has benefited so much from six years here.

“He graduated in the old hall so he will be delighted to see the Sir Kenneth Wheare Hall named after his grandfather.”

Oxford Brookes is proud of its history and all who have played a part in its development from its roots in 1865 up to the present day. As Katie concludes, “It’s rather amazing to think our dad’s name will be on the building and remembered in the future. I think it’s great to have a connection which will live on with the building.”

Photograph by Mark Bassett

Also coming soon to the Headington Campus is Assembly – an installation by artist Saad Qureshi ’07.
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