The power of property

You can influence the student experience by optimising your property portfolio, says Bidwells’ Matt Bigam

As the student experience moves even higher up the agenda in terms of influencing university rankings, it is more important than ever to optimise the effect that buildings and facilities can have on overall ratings. So whether it’s a new build, or a refurbishment, or re-engineering of space, working in partnership with a specialist property consultancy which understands the pressures and the problems can pay dividends, says Bidwells’ higher education spokesperson Matt Bigam 

Building or refurbishing facilities in the higher education sector brings its own challenges, both in terms of scheduling the projects around term-time use and vacations and also the age and complexity of the buildings involved, which are often historical or listed or just plain awkwardly laid out. 


Innovative design can play a key part in marrying the old and the new. St Antony’s College in Oxford opened its new £11m state-of-the-art Investcorp Building to provide much-needed space for the College’s Middle East Centre.

Designed by the late world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid, the three-storey Investcorp Building forms a suspended bridge between two Victorian buildings on Woodstock Road in the grounds of the College and connects and incorporates the existing protected buildings and trees. Its stainless steel cladding reflects natural light to give the building an ephemeral quality that mirrors its context.

Derek Farrow, Partner, Project Manager at Bidwells said: “This was a very complex project to deliver as it had a number of challenges such as the site constraints, significant excavations in very close proximity to both existing buildings and a very large Sequoia tree which meant we had to build over the root protection zone. The result is a bold and stunning building which will provide a great learning space for so many students and visitors for generations to come.”

Energy efficiency

The creation of the UK’s largest non-residential Passivhaus building with record levels of energy efficiency, entailed solving more than the usual challenges, when the University of Leicester’s new £42 million Centre for Medicine Teaching and Research facility was created.

Passivhaus is the fastest-growing energy performance standard in the world and is set to reduce the University’s energy bill for its new teaching and research facility by six times, due to the excellent thermal performance of the building and advanced environmental control systems. The Centre for Medicine will record a ‘-2’ energy performance asset rating, placing it in the ‘A+’ category and even has its own green wall and roof, visually representing the University’s commitment to the environment.

Bidwells’ Partner, Project Manager Ian Wakeling, said: “This exceptionally challenging project was due to the complexities of the Passivhaus requirements and their integration into the building’s design, construction and operational control systems. 

“The success has been down to the collaboration between the client, consultants and the contractor and his supply chain and the result is this new impressive building for learning.”

Student accommodation

The pressure for establishments to provide first-class student accommodation has never been greater, whether it’s new build or refurbishing existing buildings. Recently Bidwells completed the project management of a £3.4 million 63-bedroom facility at Corpus Christi College, Oxford ready for students to move into at the start of term.

The Jackson Building and The Hugh Oldham Building have been refurbished to ensure they are sympathetic to the original architects’ designs whilst still providing a modern and energy efficient building. Peter Moore, Project Manager for Bidwells, said: “The project had a number of significant challenges, including working with a very poor original build quality and unforeseen structural issues. But despite the setbacks, the scheme was completed on time, to a high standard of finish and the final result is some of the finest accommodation available for students, set within a much-improved sustainable building.”


Mike Queally, Assistant Director, Head of Estates Development at the University of Leicester said: “Managing a major building project is a challenging task at the best of times, but even more so when you are trying to create a truly exceptional learning environment and one which is of the highest environmental standards. However working with property specialists, like Bidwells, means that you have a wealth of expertise to call on which is very reassuring if you are suddenly faced with an unexpected challenge.

“Their skillset means that they have the ability to deal with the unpredictable and they also have the knowledge to foresee difficulties, usually before they happen, and resolve them quickly. And one of the most important benefits is that they can also help to relieve you of the management burden of running a scheme which in turn allows you to focus on your day job.”

So tapping in the expertise of a property consultancy with the experience and skills to handle a range of challenges – from the initial need assessment or business case to the management of the occupation period – can save both time and money, resulting in a stunning new build or refurbishment project, delivered on-time and on-budget. And, very importantly it can play a key role in enhancing the Student Experience.


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