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Sir John Cass art school to remain in Whitechapel in London Metropolitan University U-turn

PUBLISHED: 07:00 27 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:51 27 March 2019

Protest at threat to 'The Cass' beamed onto Met University's Holloway campus. Picture: Marcus Tylor

Protest at threat to 'The Cass' beamed onto Met University's Holloway campus. Picture: Marcus Tylor

Marcus Tylor

Students have finally won their three-year battle to stop the prestigious Sir John Cass School of Art’s Whitechapel campus closing down.

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs... Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs... "Delighted the university has reversed its position and '‘The Cass' is staying right here in the East End." Pictures: Mike Brooke (inset) and Met Uni

The school of art is to remain in its Calcutta House location near east London’s famous Petticoat Lane street market, the London Metropolitan University confirmed last night.

The plan to move ‘The Cass’ out of the East End in 2016 to the university’s central campus at Holloway in north London led to a mass occupation and angry table-thumping by the mayor of Tower Hamlets.

Now the decision to keep the art school in Whitechapel after all has been ratified by university governors and announced by vice-chancellor Prof Lynn Dobbs after talks with students, staff and Tower Hamlets Council.

Protest in Whitechapel over closure threat to campus. Picture: Steven KingProtest in Whitechapel over closure threat to campus. Picture: Steven King

“It’s in the best interests for ‘The Cass’ to remain in Whitechapel,” Prof Dobbs said in a statement last night to the East London Advertiser.

“Our students and staff are thriving at Calcutta House, which is an important institution in the community that supports regeneration in the area.”

Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs accused the university at the time of the 2016 decision to close the Whitechapel campus of a “cheap sell off” following its financial crisis having been forced to repay £35 million “overpaid” grant to the government in 2009.

Wellwisher passing food through letterbox during students' occupation in 2016. Picture: Steven KingWellwisher passing food through letterbox during students' occupation in 2016. Picture: Steven King

He told the Advertiser today: “I’m delighted that the university has reversed its position and that ‘The Cass’ is staying right here in the East End and am pleased for the students who’ve been fighting this battle for years.

“We value institutions like ‘The Cass’ that have been at the heart of our community for many years.”

‘The Cass’ is to remain at Calcutta House with its studio space, teaching rooms, workshops and exhibition areas that host regular high-profile public events.

Occupation students line windows of Whitechapel campus building at Christmas, 2016, in show of defiance. Picture: Steven KingOccupation students line windows of Whitechapel campus building at Christmas, 2016, in show of defiance. Picture: Steven King

Students have worked with the local authority for the Brick Lane facades competition, with the Corporation of London for street furniture and the casing of the Aldgate Square vent, been involved in projects with Sandys Row synagogue and Toynbee Hall Settlement. The school of art plays host this July to part of the Whitechapel Gallery’s ‘Nocturnal Creatures’ exhibition.

Andy Stone, its Head, was over the moon with the change of heart after three years. He said: “We’re delighted to be staying in this vibrant and creative part of London.”

It’s a far cry from the days when students occupied the six-story Central House campus building in Whitechapel High Street, when supporters turned up passing pizzas, fried chicken, Chinese takeaways and mince pies through the letterbox to the locked-in protesters, as well as blankets and sleeping bags through the windows.

Students came to the windows of the building in a night-time show of defiance to halt the campus sale. They also projected their message onto the university’s main Holloway campus in a bizarre protest and held rallies in Whitechapel with lecturers coming out in support.

The sale of most of the campus went ahead in 2017 including Central House, where the students’ ‘window protest’ was staged.

But a change of heart by university governors last night means ‘The Cass’ at least is to remain in the East End and keep its historic roots in Whitechapel.

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