With a number of delays and a lack of action, the University’s priorities have been put under some scrutiny as a long term redevelopment plan for the Chaplaincy Centre still remains to be seen.
Both members of religious groups and LUSU officers have criticised its absence on the campus’s architectural masterplan for building projects. The centre, the hub of multi-faith and religious activity on campus, is considered by all far too small to accommodate the growing cosmopolitan student population.
A Portakabin outside Fylde College is currently used as a place of worship for campus’s Islamic community, whilst other faith groups have temporary buildings which are geographically separated from the larger Chaplaincy building.
“It’s absolutely appalling that religious groups should have to be celebrating their own traditions in a Portakabin outside of campus,” said LUSU President Michael Payne. “We’ve seen a lot of buildings that were not on the campus masterplan that have been brought in because they have been a priority to capital investment.”
LUSU Vice President (Equality, Welfare and Diversity) Torri Crapper expressed the same contempt towards the lack of redevelopment.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” she said. “We are an internationalised institution, the University want 50% more international students in the next five years with a variety of cultures and religious outlooks; however, we are putting a curb on people practising their faith while studying. It’s ridiculous.”
The masterplan has presented a potentially worrying image for the University as the plan for project designs, for some, has marked a solid reflection on the priorities for campus.
“For me, why is the Chaplaincy redevelopment not a priority over and above spending some Â£10 million on a building for the Lancaster Institution of Contemporary Arts?” said Payne.
A long term solution to establish permanent space for faith worship has also proved challenging because of the fundamental issue of space. This was the major cause of failure for options which hoped to move the Islamic prayer room to two possible alternative locations as they would have resulted in clashes with other departments.
A third option, which would involve expanding the Chaplaincy centre itself, was seen by the Anglican Chaplain Kevin Hugget as the most preferable solution as it would unite the faith groups closer together. However, this option also proved to be a victim of the dilemma of insufficient space.
“We’ve thought about being integrated to the Chaplaincy Centre itself, but considering the numbers we have, it just isn’t feasible – it would cost too much disturbance,” said Bandar Al-Hejin, a member of the Muslim community on campus.
Unlike LUSU, Al-Hejin, who is also a member of the Islamic Society Committee, expressed sincere appreciation towards the University for having “been very forthcoming about trying to establish a space” despite it not being on the masterplan.
Furthermore, Al-Hejin stressed that most members of the Muslim community on campus are pleased with the current space, and any statements of how inconvenient the current location is would be an ‘exaggeration’.
When asked whether he felt the Muslim community were being properly represented he said that “location is important; however, space is of more value and the brothers and sisters are quite pleased with the size. I do appreciate the good amount of space we have here.”
Nevertheless, Bandar admitted that the University needed to be “pushed occasionally to make clear of their needs.”
Methodist Chaplain Steve Charman expatiated not only on how the centre has shown “no corresponding expansion” to the effect of globalisation on University population but also towards representation for the disabled students.
“Personally my concerns are that despite the Disability Act, the building has very, very limited disability access – extremely heavy doors to enter the building and no lift access to the first floor where activities take place, from art exhibitions to venues for parties,” he said.
Charman also pointed out the outdated design of the building: ‘Despite the woodwork of the windows and doors being partially rotten when I arrived six years ago, we are saddened by Facilities delaying the work time and again.”
When asked how he felt about the general relationship between religious communities on campus, Al-Hejin said that “the Catholic and Church of England Chaplains have been nothing less than supportive and enthusiastic in getting the Muslim community located next to them, showing excellent cooperation.”
Payne also echoed the positive relationship, saying “I am very proud of the fact that we have a very cohesive community at Lancaster University. Our faith groups work very close together on a whole range of issues and I think that’s something we should be absolutely proud of as a university.”
In the meantime, a short term resolution to expand the Muslim prayer rooms in the Portakabin is currently pending University approval. However, any long term redevelopment will take at least two years. Hugget expressed his respect for those religious groups for their “remarkable patience.”
Facilities are looking at a range of options for the location of the Islamic Society in the redevelopment, with one possible location being Ash House.
Over this summer there will be a basic refurbishment to the Chaplaincy Centre, which will include the replacement of external doors and windows, a repair to the roof, and the refitting of two kitchens.