On 16/03/16, a collective of students and local residents staged a day-long occupation of the FALMOUTH sign on Woodlane. Here are some reasons why:
-The plans for this concrete carbuncle were put up on the Falmouth Estates blog - a site difficult to find by googling, and one which to my knowledge very few students or local residents have ever been directed to.
-The sign was unveiled on December 16th - it seems no accident that this was a time when most students were home for the Christmas holiday, and many locals likewise would have been away visiting family. To my knowledge, very few people were invited to this 'public' unveiling
-A matter raised by many residents on Woodlane is that a fair amount of trees and plants were cut down for the building work on and around the sign. Woodlane Campus is known for its legacy via the Fox family - who emphasised the importance of the art school's symbiotic relationship with the Fox-Rosehill Gardens
-The Vice Chancellor claims that “It’s important the letters represent the whole town, not just the university, to celebrate the place we call home, which provides us with such a beautiful setting for staff and students.” Unless you agree that (expensive) grey concrete is a symbol for this town and the creativity at the uni, then it seems this aim was not achieved. Although there are patterns and words on the structure that are reasonably representative of the University (creativity, courage etc.), they are on the back where (unsurprisingly) few people see them
-The final figure for the cost of the project remains ambiguous. While some estimate the price to be around quarter of a million, a spokesperson quoted just £17000 on BBC Radio Cornwall. This is clearly a vast difference, and the lack of transparency over finance has led to some confusion for both parties. It's my guess that the higher figures take into account the net cost - of both the Woodlane and Tremough signs, the planning/admin costs, the rebranding, labour and materials - whereas the lowest quotes possibly focus on just one of these aspects
-Although the exact cost remains unknown, it's important to state that we are not against money being spent - just spent with the wider community and students in mind, not to facilitate acts of business-centric vanity projects. I acknowledge that the building of the sign was beneficial to local designers and construction companies (and that the University has costs to meet so to some extent must invest money and apply for funding), but this was not dependent on exactly what was built. I truly believe that if more input was received from all of us, a final design could've been built that far exceeded the value of the concrete sign - examples include a mural designed by local children, a sculpture park/play area, or even the same design but with colour - not the drab grey which supposedly reflects our town.
These points serve to highlight ongoing issues of transparency and communication between the University administration and the staff, students and residents their decisions affect. Without a better system in place where we can all (to some degree at least) be involved in the making of these decisions, tensions will continue to rise, facts will be misquoted and more drastic measures will be enacted. Of course, it goes both ways - as students we have a responsibility to inform ourselves, to build relationships with those around us and to act with respect. But this becomes increasingly difficult when we are not being given the respect we deserve - alienated from development processes in case "planning permission doesn't go through" or being told we just "didn't notice" the information in front of us (Ken Johnson - Estates Manager). As I said, we need to take an interest and inform ourselves, but I don't believe that around 5000 students (as well as residents of the town) would simply 'not notice' the proposals for projects such as the Woodlane sign.
This poses a problem - it takes a reasonable deal of self-control and patience to push for transparency through the official channels, as opposed to resorting to disruptive behaviour and protests at a grass roots level. It is with some regret that I left the sign yesterday covered in chalk - although i personally think that the splash of colour and pattern is an improvement, I fear that the only result is that the (already busy and hardworking) estates/caretaking team will have to wash it off. If it should come to that, i will happily put my hands up and do the job myself - it is important that we possess the transparency and ability to communicate honestly and face-to-face that some do not.
All in all, yesterday's occupation was a success. We bought colour and joy to the space, reached out to the surrounding community and showcased the talent that Falmouth and the University (NOT the business-obsessed decision-making panel in place currently) have nurtured. We spoke our mind non-aggressively but with conviction, with no hidden agenda. As i said, the sign has been slightly altered (with NO permanent damage), but if that is the result of a day spent sharing what we have with the children, parents, staff and students of Falmouth, it is a price i'm willing to pay. See below for media links + photos of the day.
BBC Radio Cornwall (@ 1:03)