>St Matthias sports hall to be converted into a drama studio
There has been a recent dismay from certain quarters of the student body over the decision to remove the gym at St Matthias campus. This summer, the gym will be converted into a drama space, which will inconveniently displace many of the sports clubs currently operating at the campus gym.
There are at least seven clubs currently training at St Matthias, including Fencing, Jui Jitsu and Tae Kwon Do.
Members of these clubs feel that they are already at a disadvantage due to the often poor transport links getting to St Matthias and have expressed infuriation about the situation. They feel that there has been very little communication about the decision between the relocation committee and the UWESU.
Jui Jitsu instructor, Ian Purnell, commented: “It was the clubs who brought the situation to the attention of UWESU when the minutes of a meeting by St Matthias’ relocation committee were found posted on a notice board on campus. At no point was there any prior discussion, or consultation with these sports clubs.”
The notice simply stated under the heading, ‘Improvement works planned’: ‘The Gym to be converted into a new Drama space (summer 2012)’.
According Alex Isaac, the Head of Sport at UWE, he confirms that the decision to convert the gym into a drama space was one taken by a project board task with the St Matthias campus relocation and closure. He states: “Obviously the loss of any sporting space at UWE is one I would actively discourage, but as a Higher Education institution, clearly appropriate and adequate teaching and learning spaces are UWE’s number one priority.”
The consequences for these sports clubs could be less than optimistic heading into the next academic year. The gym is used every evening during the week and also at weekends – it seems unlikely that there will be any provision for the sheer amount of hours necessary at Frenchay. This has resulted in the prospect of the clubs having to find alternative venues away from the campus to ensure their survival. These alternative venues may be away from the university bus routes and therefore existing and prospective members may not be willing to travel due to the increased expense. 
This is most certainly a sad state of affairs when considering that several of these clubs are over 20-years-old, Jui Jitsu almost 30. They have represented UWE at national level many times.
UWE Tae Kwon Do instructor, Mohammed Ibrahim, states: “To stay competitive we have to keep all our sessions. It’s because of our training that we are one of the most successful sports club in UWE’s history. It’s a shame we’re not in the clear about this and not being asked what we would want.
“We have now found ourselves an appropriate venue, but as of yet [we] are unable to move forward until the Union allows it.”
In the original plans for the Centre for Sport on Frenchay, which cost over £5 million, it said that there would be a space provided for the martial arts teams as well as boxing and kickboxing. It has been revealed that the sports centre will now be providing facilities to international athletes in the run up to the 2012 Olympics, yet it cannot provide space for its own students.
Despite the desperate situation that these clubs are finding themselves in, they are willing to be pragmatic. One club member states: “We know it has to make money from outside use and have slots for intra mural and outside hires, but it is a university sport facility – surely is should be filled with student sports clubs?”
Subsequently, the Centre for Sport has reportedly been attempting to sort out new slots for the clubs but communication remains extremely poor. Contact is still yet to be made with the clubs to find out when instructors are available to teach. This means that the clubs are currently in limbo, waiting on the University to liaise with them and work out a solution or to block book alternate venues.
There is a general feeling from inside the clubs that there has been a lack of support from the University and the UWESU, and that they were not taken into consideration when the decision to renovate the sports hall was made. The clubs have only been consulted at the last minute and this has left them with very few options when looking to the future. UWESU Sports & Activities have also denied being consulted in any decision making process, although they were aware that the campus was closing and St Matthias gym would be lost as a result.
Despite Alex Isaac showing concerns about the clubs affected by the closure of the St Matthias gym, he ‘refutes’ the notion that they haven’t been aware of the closure until notices were placed on campus and suspects the cases of surprise are related to poor communication within student clubs.
Alex Isaac states: “Whilst a specific date still hasn’t been identified, UWESU Sports and Activities office have been aware of the intended September 2012 closure for almost two years now and have relayed the messages of the intended closure to all clubs affected over the course of the last 2 years.”  However, this appears to not be the case due to UWESU’s sports clubs denying any communication in regards to the closure of St Matthias’ sports hall, prior to the notice.
The WesternEye queried with Ariana Sefre, UWESU’s Sports Vice-President, about her plans to protect these sports clubs. She responded: “It is a very inconvenient problem, but I can confidently say that the Centre for Sport are under a lot of pressure to find a suitable alternative training space.”
For those clubs seeking use over the summer months, Isaac encourages the clubs to contact UWESU Sports and Activities to outline their requirements. Consequently, the Centre for Sport will then try to allocate the time accordingly. He states: “Regardless of remote possibilities of any continued St Matthias gym use, through either Centre for Sport allocations or externally hired provision, I anticipate the clubs training and competitive requirements will be accommodated for this summer and the coming academic year. We envisage being able to cater for the majority of clubs’ reasonable request.”
In regards to the University supporting clubs in finding alternative venues to train, Isaac states: “Any externally hired provision will be sourced and paid for through the CFS as it does for all UWESU sports clubs at a cost of over £100K per annum. Obviously should clubs locate suitable alternatives and should they be required, we will look into the possibility of hire.”
Whilst it is well known that the eventual plan is to move all campuses up to Frenchay, these clubs are just one area of the student body experiencing the problems that come with the uncertainty surrounding the move.
For now, the clubs based at St Matthias face a nervous wait over their futures – their survival could depend entirely on where they are based.

Sam Brayshaw