Published: 17:00, 01 June 2021
| Updated: 10:51, 03 June 2021
A petition to save a university campus from closure has been launched with almost 2,000 people signing within days.
Plans put forward by the University for the Creative Arts (UCA) would see its Rochester site shut down in 2023 with courses moved and jobs lost.
Now the fight has stepped up, with the petition urging university chiefs to reverse their decision which was revealed last month.
The closure is expected to result in the loss of 150 jobs along with many creative and artistic opportunities from the Medway Towns, which is bidding to become UK City of Culture 2025 and has UCA as a key partner.
Former students including Karen Millen and Zandra Rhodes have spoken exclusively to KentOnline sharing their disbelief and sadness at the prospect of Medway losing a huge part of its arts and cultural assets.
The petition, launched by Charles Lambert of the University and College Union (UCU), calls on the institution to keep the arts and design centre in Rochester.
It reads: "There has been an art school in the Medway Towns for 130 years, offering life-changing opportunities to young people in a part of the country with one of the lowest take-up rates of post-16 education.
"Over the years, Rochester School of Art became Medway College of Art and then the Kent Institute of Art and Design before joining the University for the Creative Arts (UCA). Now UCA is proposing to close the Rochester campus saying it is too expensive to maintain. It also wants to withdraw from further (16-18) education.
"We are calling on UCA to maintain its art and design provision in the Medway Towns, either at the existing Rochester campus or another site and to continue to provide further education."
The petition says Medway needs a provider of "good quality creative education" to offer young people in the Towns which has some of the most deprived council wards in England.
Campaigners say the economy needs graduates trained in skills in areas such as computer animation, games and digital fashion.
UCA, which also had a campus in Maidstone until 2014, says it will merge courses at its three other establishments – at Epsom and Farnham in Surrey and in Canterbury.
Medway Council leader Alan Jarrett (Con) says talks are being held to discuss "alternatives to closure" and opposition councillors from Labour are also fighting to keep the university.
"We are calling on UCA to maintain its art and design provision in the Medway Towns, either at the existing Rochester campus or another site..."
Meanwhile, representatives from 21 community arts groups in Medway have written to UCA vice chancellor Professor Bashir Makhoul setting out why the university must remain.
The letter, signed by 14 leaders of the arts sector in the Towns and five trustees from the City of Culture bid board, said there is "deep concern about the impact of the proposed closure" and have called to meet with the vice chancellor.
Fiona Watt, chairman of Creative Medway, said: "Medway has recently launched its most ambitious Cultural Strategy to date co-created with the creative and voluntary sector to boldly vision Medway’s potential to be nationally and internationally recognised for its creative and cultural provision.
"At the point when we have launched our City of Culture bid placing young people at the core of our thinking and development, embracing talents and skills of UCA alumni, students and staff at its heart, this announcement appears to be a particularly ill-timed body blow."
Mandy Gage, director of education at the Thinking Schools Academy Trust (TSAT) which runs several schools in Medway, added: "Having these facilities and artistic expertise on our doorstep has been incredibly beneficial, giving so many young people the opportunity to be inspired, learn, and create in their local community.
"This announcement appears to be a particularly ill-timed body blow..."
"Without this, I fear there will be a gaping hole that we will need to fill, as we strive to enrich our collective creative capacity, to continue this legacy."
The three Medway MPs – Tracey Crouch, Kelly Tolhurst and Rehman Chishti – also penned a letter to Prof Makhoul urging him to reconsider and offered to help provide financial support from the government.
The university says it is closing the site because it could not afford to spend £17 million to renovate the campus on Fort Pitt Hill overlooking Rochester, Chatham and the River Medway amid government cutting funding for higher education arts teaching by up to 50%.
By Tuesday afternoon 1,832 people had signed the petition on Change.org