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City Residents Give Students a Lesson in History

Published: 17th March 2014 13:48

 Civil engineering and surveying students have been shown a completely different city to the one they thought they knew by people who have lived in Portsmouth for generations.

University of Portsmouth students studying a variety of courses spent several sessions with residents sharing their ideas for making Portsea a better place to live and work and hearing stories from residents about what living there is like now as well as how it used to be.

This is the second year the University has staged Portsea Heritage Project Open Day, which draws all these experiences together. It also includes a Question Time hour with residents and students quizzing a panel of city leaders on their vision for the area. The event was held in the John Pounds Centre and was open to all local residents.

In the morning students talked to residents about their vision for the city. Their ideas included:

  • re-routing the railway underground to remove the barrier between housing and The Hard;
  • building a leisure centre next to a school and allowing children free access to encourage healthy living;
  • developing an open air shopping centre similar to Brighton's Lanes;
  • incorporating a monorail and trams throughout Portsea, reducing the need for cars.

One of the organisers, Dr Ann Coats, lecturer in Heritage Property in the School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, said the residents enjoyed hearing and discussing the students' ideas and the students "benefited enormously" from discussing and defending their suggestions for development in front of the community.

She said: "This event is really valuable for our students and you see them change posture and grow in confidence."

"The students are skilled academically but employers and the communities in which they will one day work also need them to develop soft skills - the ability to talk, to listen, to present plans and defend them. This event helps them do that. Students behave differently from in class; they stand and speak in a different way."

The students asked residents about their memories and how they wanted the area developed and they were "surprised and engaged by some of the residents' memories, including a history the students had never guessed at", Dr Coats said.

Older residents talked about growing up in Portsea during and after the war when families were close-knit and nobody had money to spare, but that was alright because everyone they knew was in the same situation. The community was and still is exceptionally friendly, though a social life that once revolved entirely around the pub has changed considerably and very few original pubs remain.

As children, many of the older residents recalled spending hours mudlarking - scavenging in the mud near The Hard for coins and other things of value - which earned them extra money for their families, and once  a year, on Benny Bun Day, the Beneficial School gave local children buns for free.

Residents were also resoundingly positive about their present-day lives with the majority saying community spirit was still alive and well, Gunwharf was good for the city and those living close to it, local transport was efficient and the quality of life was good.

Panellists for the Question Time event included chief operating officer at the University, Bernie Topham; leader of Portsmouth City Council, Gerald Vernon-Jackson; chief executive of the Naval Base Property Trust, Peter Goodship; the City Council's housing, participation and policy manager, Bill Moody; the director of Groundlings Theatre, Richard Stride; and the associate head of the University's School of Civil Engineering and Surveying, Andy Packer.

They answered questions about shipbuilding, social housing, 24-hour licensing, Gunwharf, the relationship between the city and students, Portsea Heritage Trail, and what should Michael Fallon, the Minister for Portsmouth, be doing to improve the city's future.

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