Letter From Suzanna Jackson regarding the move to Stratford

Dear Student

Mary Ward moving to Stratford in 2022

I am writing to update you on progress towards our move to Stratford in 2022. I hope that early in the new year I will be able to share with you drawings and plans showing how the our new building in Stratford High Street might look and how each of the floors might be laid out. Some of you have been involved in focus groups and consultation surveys as have our staff and tutors, all of this input is being fed into the design.

I know that some of you remain unhappy that we have to move at all. I understand why many of you hold Queen Square in such great affection, with the Mary Ward Centre having now been here for over 37 years. I myself have worked here since the mid 90’s and have a great affection for both the building and the area. For this reason I want to ensure that everyone understands how we arrived at the decision to move to Stratford. To help with this I have put together some of the most frequently asked questions and tried to address some of the misperceptions we have heard expressed.

1. When are we moving?

We can’t yet be absolutely definite about the date, but do not now expect to be moving before the end of the 2021/22 academic year, so that’s two more years in Queen Square after this one.

2. Why do we need to move at all?

Our lease runs out in July 2022. Unfortunately we have never owned this building and whilst there was a reasonable likelihood of being offered another long term lease we would have faced a huge increase in rent, which would be unaffordable for us. Our landlord is a small charity and 42 Queen Square is its only asset. It is legally obliged to make the best possible use of its resources to support its beneficiaries. That means charging a market rent to whomever occupies their building. The rent fixed by our last lease 18 years ago was low, but rents in this part of London have spiralled in the last 18 years and a professional assessment of a market rent for our Queen Square building would mean an increase of be at least £500,000 a year. This is unaffordable for us.
Since we have made the decision to buy a building for the Mary Ward Settlement in order to have a secure home for the future you may well be wondering why not buy 42 Queen Square. The simple answer to this is that our Landlords do not wish to sell the building.

3. Why not move to a location closer to where we are now?

We did begin our search for a new home in our current area. The increase in rental costs described above ruled out an affordable lease. There were two significant barriers to us buying a building in this area. Firstly, the availability of properties of the right size, the kind of medium sized building we need is not plentiful in the area and they don’t become available very often. Secondly, the cost of property in the area, over the two years that we were actively searching for a building, we saw two buildings at the top end of our price range, one in Camden and one in Islington. However, both were quite a bit smaller than Queen Square with no prospect of development. These building would not have accommodated all the courses we offer now leave alone allow us to grow.

4. Will we still be Mary Ward When we move?

It seems to me that there are two issues of concern to our students within this question. One is the concern that we will move to a sterile, corporate feeling environment and lose the non-institutional, quirky friendly feel we have at Queen Square. In response to this I can ensure you that although a new building will inevitably look quite different we are working hard to ensure that our new building will embody our values and approach as effectively as Queen Square does. On your first visit I confidently expect you to be able to say, “Yes, this is Mary Ward!” The second issue of concern is that the courses we offer will be very different in the new building and we will no longer offer the courses that you want and currently enjoy. In response to this concern I can categorically assure you that this is not our intention. We will continue to offer a broad range of non-accredited courses, alongside key skills and vocational qualifications as we do now. We will remain a true adult education centre offering the opportunity for people whatever their age or background to continue to learn for pleasure or personal development or to gain skills they need to for their life or work. That is our distinctive mission and will remain so. In short although having more space and better facilities will allow us to develop new and different courses the old favourites will still be there.

5. Why did we choose Stratford?

Once we had established the need to look further afield for a secure and affordable home for the future we identified the criteria for a location that would allow us to continue to deliver our mission and offer opportunities for the future. Using these criteria we considered building in a variety of locations, below I have described the key criteria we used and why we decided that the new building in Stratford was a good fit the Mary Ward.

a) The location should have excellent transport links –

You, our students travel to Queen Square from all across London and beyond as do our staff, most of you travel for 45 mins to an hour to get here. We want to bring as many of you as possible with us when we move, so this was a major factor in our choice. The improvements in transport links to Stratford put in place for the Olympics mean in has overground , 2 underground lines (Jubilee and Central lines) and the DLR and will be further improved by the opening of the Elizabeth line. Stratford Station is now the second busiest in London. There is also a major bus station with routes reaching across London. We looked at some locations which though more central we ruled out because they had only one tube line within walking distance. The immediate environment of the building and the walk to the transport hub was also a significant factor in our choice. Our new building is on the well-lit high street less than 10 mins walk from Stratford station. There is a bus stop right outside with a choice of buses from the station. As the move draws nearer we will do all we can to support people with finding a good route to Stratford and continue to use our student bursary to help those for whom cost is an issue. We recognise that for some people the journey will still be prohibitive and we will work with those groups and individuals to explore the option of provision located at our Blackfriars Settlement centre near Waterloo or finding other suitable alternatives.

b) A location where there is a clear need for what we do -

There were a number of factors that led us to see East London and subsequently Stratford as a place that Mary Ward, if she were alive today, would have seen as a natural place for her mission to be delivered in the 21st Century. I have identified a few of these below.
The Mary Ward is one of London’s five Institutes from Adult Learning along with City Lit, Morley, Working Mens’ and Richmond Adult College (RAC Hillcroft) three are currently in Camden, Morley is in Lambeth South London and RAC Hillcroft is in West London. This leaves a clear space in the East of London, which is also the part of London where the population is growing the most rapidly.
Newham is one of the most deprived boroughs in London, meaning that it fits with Mary Ward’s mission, perfectly aligned to delivering of our services to those who have the greatest need. Stratford itself is subject to considerable change and gentrification. The London Olympic Development Corporation and Newham Council have identified the need for organisations like ours that are skilled in bringing people from different back groups together around a common interest. A concept that Mary called “equalisation”.

c) A location where we can have a bigger, greener and more accessible building -

Moving to a more affordable area of London mean we will be able to have a bigger building and the opportunity for development Stratford offers gives us the opportunity for a more significant development. We are planning to completely refurbish the building we have purchased and to add two new floors on top (6 floors in total including the lower ground and ground floors). Sustainability is being built in to the design. All fully accessible and designed for the purpose of delivering our services. The design and fit-out of the whole building will be completely new and will enable us to create a building in keeping with the ethos and mission of Mary Ward. Our building will stand out in Stratford High Street and will encourage people to look in and then come in.

d) A location that is interesting, lively and inspiring -

We attract students from all over London to take courses at Queen Square. Students tell us that the buzz and access to other places of interest to both support your course and for their own interest is part of what you enjoy about coming here. Mindful of this we did not feel that a largely residential area would be the best choice for our new home. Although not Central London Stratford is an interesting and stimulating place to visit and is becoming more so. There is, of course, the Olympic Park and the Theatre Royal Stratford East and the new Centre is close to the artist and designer studios in Bow and Fish Island. The new V&A East, Smithsonian and Sadler’s Wells East are being built close by. There is more to Stratford than Westfield’s though it does offer opportunities for retail therapy, cafés and restaurants and the other shopping Centre also has market stalls.

I hope that this letter has helped to answer some of your questions. If you have any specific concerns at this stage then please do email me, Suzanna.jackson@marywardcentre.ac.uk or our project manager Allister.duncan@marywardcentre.ac.uk.
Otherwise, look out for more information next term as our journey to Stratford in 2022 begins to unfold.

Yours

Suzanna Jackson
(Warden)

If you would like a copy of this letter, please ask reception.