Refurbishment of Newcastle University Union Building

Case Study: Refurbishment of Union Building Newcastle University



  • Support student advocacy, representation and welfare activity
  • Facilitate social learning and activity
  • Preserve ‘iconic’ nature of building
  • Make facilities and services more accessible and inclusive
  • Facilitate skills enhancement and participation
  • Support a complimentary events strategy
  • Facilitate viable commercial activities which support campus life
  • Support wellbeing of the University population


  • Completed in September 2011, the building won the Education Interior Design category at the National Mixology Design Awards that same year
  • Students rating of the facilities: Overall 99% satisfied, with 90% rating the facilities as “good” or “excellent”
  • 92% of students said they found the facilities welcoming and safe – it was important to create that sense of belonging
  • 86% felt the building is easily accessible
  • Overall rating of the Students’ Union: 98% satisfied (84% good/excellent) this has been constant since 2013 at 84%, which shows sustainability and lasting quality of build
  • 93% of students felt that the refurbishment project made a positive contribution to their experience in 2015
  • The Students’ Union is now ranked 8th nationally for student satisfaction in the National Student Survey, the highest that Newcastle University has ever been placed; therefore breaking into the top ten a year earlier than planned.

“John joined the Trustee Board in 2010 as we were about to embark on this major refurbishment, which was central to our strategy moving forward. We were aware of John’s considerable knowledge and expertise of the construction sector through our own contacts and of some of the successful projects he had managed and worked on in the past, and thought he would make a great addition to our team.


Notwithstanding the complex nature of refurbishing a 6-storey Grade II iconic listed building, one of our key challenges was managing a multitude of stakeholders and their differing expectations. However, more importantly our relationship with our key funder and stakeholder, Newcastle University, was paramount and John’s calm, professional and pro-active approach contributed immensely to the overall success of the project.


In terms of time, cost and quality the project was a major success and held up nationally as an example for other Students’ Unions to follow. John is an experienced all-rounder and knows exactly when to question contractors in terms of time and cost, and his interventions during key periods ensured that we came in just under our £9M budget and re-opened our facilities on time, effectively ensuring that we adhered to the 10 month timeframe for the whole project – which many said couldn’t be done.


In terms of quality, John was quick to identify areas where our contractors were looking to cut corners or not provide the quality required whether that be in terms of materials used or standards of work. Outside the project itself John also made a valuable contribution to the development of our overall organisational strategy both in the development of a sustainable workable long-term financial model, and in recognising the importance of the overall student experience and how that impacts on our reputation and relevance.


We were delighted to achieve our key strategic aim a year early in breaking into the Top 10 Students’ Unions in the UK, and John certainly helped lay the foundations of our success. We are extremely grateful for the commitment, contribution and good humour that he displayed during his time with us.”


Simon Gerry