Brian Richardson, the University’s Director of Public Relations and Communications, shares some random reminiscences about the University and the City.
We send the Dalek to answer any awkward questions. Brian and friend at the National Eisteddfod
Looking back doesn’t come naturally to us forward-focused Cardiff people, but once every 125 years or so is probably acceptable. I’ve been here almost twenty years, so I’m still just a newcomer really. In that time I’ve had three offices, several titles, quite a few cups of coffee, but only one, increasingly worn, chair.
When I think of my Cardiff I think of the University and the City. I’m Cardiff born and Cardiff bred and, in the words of the local musician and broadcaster Frank Hennessy, when I die I’ll be Cardiff dead. Regarding city memories I remember the distinctive electric trolley buses and how they sparked as they rattled me to “town” for a succession of Saturday jobs. I stacked shelves in Liptons supermarket on the Hayes (the uniform was a white coat, I’m expecting to see more of them in the future); I sold “clothing for gentlemen” in the bespoke section of Jackson the Tailors in Queen Street (the uniform was a suit, little did I know I was later to become one); and I sold hotdogs from the back of a van (no uniform and the best paid, but it took three days to stop smelling of onions).
In that un-pedestrianised, pre-decimal, un-pretentious city I learned to swim in Guildford “bars” (baths) and progressed to the (literally) dizzy heights of the diving boards and the sixteen foot deep end of the Wales Empire Pool. The pool was opened for the Empire Games in Cardiff and, I like to think, to coincide with my birth up the road at St David’s Hospital. I took my young sons for a final swim in the Empire prior to its demolition - I was sad to see the sun set on it, it was a shadow of its former self but still maintained a certain sense of grandeur. Into the TARDIS (Time and Relative Dimension in Space machine – Dr Who is produced in Cardiff, and sometimes filmed at the University), time to move forward.
I joined the University on the same day as Eirwen Williams, deputy director of human resources. We tell each other it was a good day for the University and reassure ourselves that others will say the same thing one day, probably. From the start I was fortunate in having the guidance and support of very able and generous colleagues. These included: Vanessa Cunningham, then head of planning and later to be Senior Executive, Dr Ray Hine, former Dean of Science who served as Information Officer; and Alan Cain, a former Major in the Army who became head of the International Office. All three, and many others, led by example and were great ambassadors for the University.
At that time Dr Aubrey Trotman-Dickenson – now Sir Aubrey – was Principal. There are many tales of the direct, no-nonsense, value-for- money approach by which he, the Registrar (Professor Mick Bruton) and the Chair of Council (Sir Donald Walters), assisted by many able senior academic and administrative colleagues, transformed the finances of the newly merged “college”. I recall the seemingly non-stop academic relocations and constant building programmes - including student residences which were way ahead of their time in terms of quality and value – and of course I recall “TD’s” preference for green ink.
Since then there has been a constant stream of University successes and milestones, under the subsequent leadership of Vice-Chancellors Sir Brian Smith and Dr David Grant. These include: rising through the rankings in successive Research Assessment Exercises; joining the Russell Group of the UK’s research intensive universities; breaking through £100M research awards in one year; gaining recognition as one of the world’s top 100 universities; numerous national and international awards and distinctions, including of course the award of the Nobel Prize for Medicine to Sir Martin Evans – who became the second Nobel Laureate on our academic staff. These at least are some of the “corporate” headlines, but most important has been the continuous developments in our teaching and research which have brought benefits to individuals and societies throughout the world.
The University has transformed itself in dramatic manner in recent decades and is now widely acknowledged as a dynamic and successful institution capable of meeting and setting world class standards. Equally dramatic has been the transformation of the city, into a cosmopolitan and attractive capital which provides a good quality of life. The University and city developments have gone hand in hand and what’s good for the University generally proves to be good for the city and vice versa.
I take pride in being a graduate and member of staff of the University and I support the values that it stands for and upholds. Cardiff University isn’t just a powerhouse of research and teaching and source of the associated benefits - it’s a force for good in the world and has been for 125 years. Long may it continue.