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Plan to retain University for the Creative Arts (UCA) campus in Rochester

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A bid to keep hold of the creative centre of the Medway Towns has entered a new stage.

The University for the Creative Arts (UCA) wants to close its Fort Pitt Hill campus in Rochester by September 2023.

University for the Creative Arts, Rochester
University for the Creative Arts, Rochester

But the local arts community has begun a campaign for the site to be officially recognised.

The Halpern Charitable Foundation has petitioned Medway Council to list the campus as an Asset of Community Value (ACV).

This is where groups of people can nominate land or buildings they believe further social wellbeing or interests of the community.

Foundation chief executive Dr David Stokes said: "The intention was 'what can be done about replacing the loss of UCA?'

"There aren't any firm plans in place, but we thought if we could get a community asset order put on that site as a first instance, that gives us some opportunity to develop a plan."

The designation – as given under the Localism Act 2011 – means the site gets registered with the local authority and if it comes up for sale, the interested party will be given a fair chance to bid for it.

"It's a real blow for the area. I mean, some incredible people have come from UCA from the local arts community..."

If they use the Community Right to Bid, this gives them six months to see if they can raise enough funds to make the purchase.

Creative Medway – a partnership of artists based in the area which was set up to deliver Medway's cultural strategy for 2020 to 2030 – is leading on any future plans, which may include exploring the option of buying the site.

The plans could also include retaining the educational offering if external funds are made available or working with colleges and universities in the area to help with this.

Dr Stokes said the Halpern Foundation and the Chatham-based Nucleus Arts organisation which it runs, would not be heading up proposals to buy the buildings.

UCA's vice chancellor and president, Professor Bashir Makhoul, revealed last year the reason for its decision to leave is because an estimated £18 million is needed to repair the facilities.

Professor Bashir Makhoul
Professor Bashir Makhoul

Dr Stokes added: "It's such a thing for Medway to lose. The university had a high proportion of young people that came to it from the local area – people who can't afford to go away and learn separately, or who need support getting into higher education – and a lot of that will go with the loss of UCA.

"It's a real blow for the area. I mean, some incredible people have come from UCA from the local arts community.

"We've got our own arts movement in Medway that's known around the world, but isn't celebrated very much here in Medway.

"The idea is that we are writing the strategy so that we can all work together in concert and do amazing things."

An e-petition to retain the campus, which opened in 1970 and has boasted students such as Dame Zandra Rhodes, currently has more than 2,700 signatures.

A decision on whether to grant the status is due at the end of this month.

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