Jock's Backroom Blog

Views from the Backroom, and the Classroom, at Oxford Brookes University

A Staff Common Room Association for Brookes?

Posted by Jock Coats on December 14th, 2009

Image "fair use claimed" original at

The soon to be demolished Lloyd Building at the Gipsy Lane campus - image "fair use claimed": original at

So, to get going with something that has proven somewhat controversial recently: with the development of the new library and teaching building at Gipsy Lane campus (about which I will blog more in later posts) we are going to lose the Lloyd Building, and with it the Staff Common Room facility. Indeed, we have already more or less been evicted and this seems likely to become more firmly entrenched/enforced as the university wants to moth-ball most of the building until such time as it can be demolished.

Whilst they have carved out a new staff dining area adjacent to the JB’s Coffee Shop, it is, certainly in my opinion and looking at the faces of other regulars who use it I am not alone, a pretty desultory space. You certainly wouldn’t want to use it for any events I don’t think. The university has made it clear that there will be no provision for an SCR facility in the new building, which will also house the main catering areas on campus. And in the longer term, once the kitchens are moved to the new building, this will be just as inconvenient for food service as Lloyd ever was, never mind that the university has indicated as part of the Masterplan that much of that space towards the Gipsy Lane front of the campus will likely go the same way as Lloyd in a later phase of development.

Now, there can be little doubt that the Lloyd Common Room had problems of its own. Being the other side of the campus from the kitchens meant that lunch had to be brought a long way to be served in Lloyd for example. And it is true to say that lunch-time was its main focus, and that very little use of it was made outside the hours of about midday to 3 p.m. And it would be quite in order to say, I think, that if we are to get such a facility anywhere on site again, we need to look at how we would justify the allocation of precious space by making better use of it.

But I have searched the interwebs for evidence of what other universities provide by way of staff dedicated facilities and can find only a few places, such as controversially recently at Bath University, where they have removed all such staff facilities (or in their case opened it up to students in the name of “inclusion”). Personally, I believe that such facilities have an essential role in university life. Not all staff, particularly those in the “front line” student facing roles and departments are going to feel that they are getting a real break if they have to mix in with students. The SCR has provided in the past a space in which staff and researchers in all disciplines and directorates can mingle together, an information sharing point, and, in theory at least, pretty important to the development of inter-disciplinary working. We need a space in which we can meet and discuss things, informally and socially, that it would not be appropriate for students to overhear (not so much “hold meetings” since there are any number of spaces that can be booked for that more confidential use).

And so, one idea I’ve been mulling over these past few months is the possibility of getting a “Staff Common Room Association” going at Brookes. This seems to be a key feature of other universities where the SCR is more valued and better used. While we don’t have a dedicated space it could lobby for one, primarily by demonstrating through the events that it might organise how much better use we would make of it than Lloyd ever was. But also while we don’t have a dedicated space it could be a “virtual” facility, organising things that bring us together informally and socially. For example, if we have visiting academics from elsewhere staying over night in Oxford having done some work with an academic school it might be interesting for others to hear more about his or her work and so we could perhaps organise a staff talk and discussion with them. We might use it to promote sporting and cultural events.

The irony is, of course, that the university wants to foster a spirit of collegiality and of interdisciplinarity, yet at the same time reduce or remove the very spaces in which such things are likely to happen. Many schools on the Headington sites have already got staff bolt-holes, but these help to isolate them one from the other rather than foster co-operation and wider knowledge of the things that are going on in the university. There is also some evidence that a lack of quality staff spaces makes for greater feelings of isolation on the part of individual staff and an increased stress level as a result (with counter-productive implications for the quality of work).

So, what do colleagues think? Could we try and get an SCR Association off the ground? Do we need one? What would you envisage such a body actually doing? Would you get involved if we did have one? Would you pay, say a small annual subscription, to support it?


4 Responses to “A Staff Common Room Association for Brookes?”

  1. Twitter Trackbacks for Jock’s Backroom Blog » Blog Archive » A Staff Common Room Association for Brookes? [] on Says:

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  2. George Roberts Says:

    I like the idea of a virtual staff commonroom; this combined with a social-media approach to staff news: that is an autonomously authored “On Stream” as you suggested elsewhere, might chime with developments like eL@B.
    Staff commonroom as a network of networks at Brookes?

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