Somerville has been in the grip of Opening fever. Last Friday we hosted a good share of Oxford Open Day visitors, as prospective students and their parents and teachers streamed into the College to hear about Somerville’s special qualities and get a taste of what to expect from an Oxford education, how to navigate the Admissions process and how to think about selecting a college to apply to. (We hope we made that choice easy for them.)
But the Celebrations began on Saturday: for a great landmark in Somerville’s history, when we opened our new accommodation buildings. The first to open on Oxford’s Radcliffe Observatory Quarter site, these beautifully designed and high quality student rooms, each with its own bathroom, will enhance life in the College for all our students. They contribute to making Somerville more affordable for all the sixty-eight students to whom we are now able to give college rooms when otherwise they would have had to pay almost a year’s worth of commercial rents. And the buildings themselves, presiding over the southern edge of the greatest expansion at the University of Oxford for many decades, position Somerville truly at the heart of Oxford’s academic and student life. I tried to convey in my opening speech what this signifies in Somerville’s history, and the Chancellor Lord Patten in his remarks affirmed just what a landmark the opening of our lovely new West and East buildings is, for us and for the university as a whole.
A few photographs will give a sense of the jubilation on Saturday and Sunday, when several hundred guests joined in the celebrations. Our guests included the contractors and architects, who are justly proud of completing this high-quality project on time, and under budget. Most of those present were donors, without whom the building project would have been impossible. I relished the chance to thank them and meet them. Everyone I met seemed to be bowled over by the high quality of the rooms and the lovely views towards the eighteenth-century Observatory and the hills and Whytam woods in the distance. Not a few Somervillians compared the luxury of these buildings ruefully with their own experience (as indeed did the Chancellor, recalling the patchy availability of cold running water at the foot of his staircase in Balliol when he was a student).
Individual letters of thanks have gone to our munificent benefactors, and more will follow. Meanwhile, Somerville’s amazing staff barely draw breath after all the hard work and excellent organisation that prepared for these celebrations, for in just about ten days our students will return for the start of the new academic year. Between now and then we have a Golden Reunion of alumnae who arrived in Somerville in 1961 (more admiring and ruefully envious tours to come). With each successive event in College I find myself in awe of the staff, who work so hard and put in so much skill and creativity, to ensure that the College’s fabric is in good shape and our hospitality is always at its highest pitch. It is heartening to know that the College has such strong and able support as we move forward: always raising our standards and constantly expecting more of ourselves.