In conversation: business studies alumni

The University’s estate is constantly evolving to meet the needs and ambitions of both its students and staff. Its landscape has changed beyond all recognition over the past 20 years. Thanks to huge investment in capital projects and facilities – something set to continue through the new campus masterplan.

Recently, a group of alumni from the Business Studies degree marked the 40th anniversary of their graduation with a tour of the campus. Afterwards, some of them shared their memories and impressions of the campus past and present.

Andy Gower (organiser of the day) 

It was September 1975. We’d just had the first EU Referendum, and Harold Wilson was Prime Minister; ‘Sailing’ by Rod Stewart was number one in the charts and beer was around 33p a pint – the same as a packet of cigarettes.

Ian Lancaster 

My initial impressions were formed on a typical Atlantic-weather January day in 1975. A grey, wet city, with the granite darkened by the water and many houses painted in what appeared to be surplus battleship grey paint from the dockyard – fortunately I already knew that the city transformed itself outside of ‘monsoon season’.

Trish Unwin 

I came all the way from Cumbria, and when I arrived in Plymouth for the Open Day and interview, it was pretty much ‘love at first sight’. I knew instinctively it was where I wanted to study. What is quite bizarre is that some 38 years later, my daughter had exactly the same reaction and studied criminology here. She loved the city so much that she still lives here three years after graduating.

Stephen Allen 

Although originally from Cornwall, I came to Plymouth Polytechnic from a local grammar school. I thus knew the ‘Poly’ campus quite well, especially as I used to watch live bands on Friday/Saturday nights. This became a regular thing during my time at the poly as local promoters and the Students’ Union kept a thriving music scene running.

Andy Gower 

The Students’ Union was in a terraced house on North Hill! There was one hall of residence, which we called the Hoe and housed about 100 students, and there was a disco there on a Friday night, which was the sweatiest and most smoke-filled venue I have ever known.

Ian Lancaster 

When I arrived in September, accommodation was a bit of a problem. There were 1,100 students but only a few places in the Hoe Centre. So, most were farmed out into digs across the city. I stayed with friends out on Dartmoor for the first term, but realised that I was missing out on the social life, so found a large flat in Lipson Road and rounded up four other members of the course to share it. The flat was owned by a formidable, although kind, Yorkshire woman, who lived on the ground floor with her family. One of the rules was that when you came in, you had to go up the stairs without leaving dirty footprints on her polished front step and hallway or make a noise – a difficult task at times when we were supporting each other home!

Trish Unwin 

The first person I spoke to was a lad from Kendal, which was strange as that is only about 30 miles from my home town, and we were both nearly 400 miles from home. There were not many students from north of Birmingham, so our accents stuck out somewhat in the town. In fact, I once asked for ‘four curries’ in the pub under the Money Centre, and somebody had to translate my request for the waitress!

<p>Old image of campus</p>
<p>Old image of campus - Davy<br></p>

On campus life

Ian Lancaster 

Initially lectures and tutorials were scattered across the city because of a lack of facilities; apart from some in the Main Building, we also used Sherwell Church, the Hoe Centre and the lecturers’ rooms in Portland Place and Sherwell Lane, so we were regularly running across the city. In our 2nd year, the Students’ Union and Library were built, and in the 4th year, the business studies building was opened in our final two terms, so no more long walks between lectures.

Andy Gower 

I can’t remember the name of the business block – I’m not even sure it had a name – but it was the first ‘new’ building, I think, built in 1977–78. Looking at the map, the business building would become the Babbage Building, and the rest of the campus consisted of the Main Hall, Davy, where we had most of our lectures; Link, where the canteen was; Smeaton, where I think the library had been; and Fitzroy, the maritime studies block.

Andy Gower 

I still have a photo of the football team from our course, taken in December 1978 before we played the lecturers in typical Plymouth weather.

Stephen Allen 

The Main Hall building used to house the IBM mainframe computer then and a computer programming module was offered to our course during our first year. This involved writing out tasks and problem-solving routines longhand, having someone type/punch out cards, which were run and reviewed for errors (re-punched if necessary) until all was correct – whereupon miles of green computer printouts were generated! Heady, cutting-edge stuff!

Ian Lancaster 

If there was an error in your card punching, you had to repeat, submit and wait another week – some never finished the module! We were only the second year of the BA (Hons) Business Studies course being run, and the polytechnic was trying to build a reputation for its course, so we were pushed, with about three more weeks to our academic year than standard courses, and one of the highest numbers of lectures per week, in addition to our own study time. Many of the academic staff were not that much older than us, so we occasionally used to mix socially, or kick the stuffing out of each other playing football on ‘Heart Attack Hill’ at Ernesettle.

Trish Unwin 

We girls were far outnumbered by the boys – a ratio of about 1:5. But the overwhelming feeling was that they were happy to look out for us. The course was small enough to have a really good camaraderie between everybody; birthday celebrations usually saw us out en masse.

Stephen Allen 

The ‘three years in, one out’ format of our course was attractive and the multi-subject content provided valuable experience, coupled with a good general overview of business life. The law and accounts subjects were most directly of use but the range gave you the ability to apply yourself to many aspects of work life, proving useful in the various jobs undertaken and leading to the title of ‘wise owl’ from one set of staff where I seemed expert in so much!

<p>Library</p>
<p>Library 1990s</p>

On revisiting their alma mater

Trish Unwin 

I look back on my time in Plymouth as a happy one in my life, relatively carefree (our fees were paid and my maintenance grant covered everything). We worked hard at our studies but played hard too! I gained the confidence to go out into the world – I left with a 2:1 and that helped me into my first job and the start of a good career. Of course the important thing is the lasting friendships, and the memories we share, and it was so good to get together to relive some of our experiences.

Stephen Allen 

The expansion has been quite dramatic, with many new buildings, halls of residences and satellite sites. The new has built upon the foundations of the old. The Babbage Building was our general teaching block re-clad in white; the Charles Seale-Hayne Library was our Learning Resources Centre; and the Students’ Union, although much extended, still seems to be centred around the bar that we all frequented!!! The expansion of courses and the international reputation of the University is impressive, but it is good to see that life skills as well as academic qualifications are important still.

Andy Gower 

We all really enjoyed the reunion, and it was fascinating to see the growth there has been in the last 40 years. It was great to spend the weekend reminiscing and visiting the sites of old haunts.

Ian Lancaster 

The city and the University have changed beyond recognition in the last 40 years; from a polytechnic to a university: bomb sites have been filled in, terraces of houses have been knocked down and replaced, others have been refurbished, large areas have been pedestrianised, the working Barbican fish market has disappeared and there are no counter demonstrations against National Front rallies held outside the poly. The skyline has gone up and many of the buildings that dominated at the time have merged into the background. But studying; meeting people with different experiences, attitudes and values; helping and challenging each other; making friends for life, and discovering new interests: these are the things that haven’t changed for students who are following the same route to independence as their parents.