Eco-tastic Alvescot Open for Business
"I'd rather have honorary membership of the CWU than a peerage" Tony Benn told a packed room at the opening of the CWU's newly renovated education centre in Alvescot on 17th July.
The veteran campaigner and long-time supporter of the CWU was the guest of honour at the centre's long-awaited re-opening, which was officially completed with the opening of the new accommodation block named "The Levellers' Wing". Tony joined staff, students and CWU general secretary Billy Hayes, head of education Trish Lavelle and vice president Davie Bowman at the CWU's prestigious education centre on the edge of the Cotswolds.
Kit for purpose
"The centre is fantastic" enthuses Trish Lavelle, who has been tasked with overseeing the project, which at times has been all consuming. After a £1.5 million investment from the CWU and 18 months of demolition dust, draughts and construction noise, the centre is finally in sparkling condition.
Trish is clearly proud of how the centre has turned out. "Every day we go it's so much better and it's been great to finally show people around", she said. "I have to pay tribute to the staff at Alvescot for their hard work, dedication and extreme patience throughout the redevelopment work. We couldn't have got here without them or without the invaluable support of Tony Kearns (senior deputy general secretary) who has supported the project from start to finish."
Alvescot Lodge now boasts a brand new accommodation block with 24 en-suite rooms, a fully-renovated restaurant, bar and social areas and freshly decorated learning spaces kitted out with the latest technology, including a bespoke IT room.
"It's got a real trade union feel about it," Trish explained. "Many of the rooms are themed or sponsored by a branch, so for example we've got the Burslem room with memorabilia of their dispute and there's the Chainmakers room which has been sponsored and decorated by the Midlands Women's' Committee. It encourages people to learn about more than just what they're there for.
"The new centre is very much owned by the branches and membership through plaques and sponsorship. We had several weekends where activists and members came down to help decorate rooms.
"It's all modernised, but it's not corporate."
Environmentally friendly features have been central to the re-fit of the education centre which is set in several acres of part-cultivated land. The accommodation block is a state of the art environmentally friendly building bringing together rain water harvesting, underground heat sourcing technology and solar power.
The green credentials of the site are boosted by an allotment and plans to create a wildlife sanctuary pond area within the workers memorial gardens. In addition to this, food is sourced from local producers where possible - including local beers for the bar - and students are treated to a selection of Fairtrade products in their rooms.
The social areas in the old Lodge building have been made cosier with the installation of a wood-burning stove which Trish hopes can be fuelled by coppicing from wood on Alvescot's grounds. Fittingly, the first ever CWU Environment course (see more in story on left/right) was run in the centre's opening week meaning these students were treated to an extra signature on their certificates, from Tony Benn.
"Everyone who comes here will not only do the courses they've come to attend, but they will go away with an awareness of the environmental issues because they will see here what can be done", said Tony Benn commending the centre's eco-features.
Past and present
Back at the opening ceremony, Davie Bowman explained the significance that Alvescot holds in CWU history. "The Lodge was originally purchased after ten years of union branches donating a percentage of their rebate in the 1970's. There is a clear correlation to how the new improved Alvescot has benefited from contemporary branches sponsoring and donating funds to assist in getting the centre modernised."
Billy Hayes, a strong supporter of union education who also chairs the TUC's Union Learn Board, was proud to oversee the opening of the CWU's new-look centre. In his speech he noted the local connection between Burford and the new accommodation block's namesake. "The Levellers," he went on the explain, "called for "an agreement of the people" with clauses such as the creation of a secular Republic, the abolition of the House of Lords, equality before the law, freedom of speech, Religious toleration, and abolition of tithes and tolls." Billy then invited Tony Benn to unveil a commemorative plaque referring to him as "A Leveller of his time".
Education is the key
Alvescot sees 1,200 students pass through varied courses every year, mostly on a week-long residential basis. Other courses are run in regional centres by the union's network of accredited tutors who work by the department's motto: Justice is the goal, Solidarity is the Tool, Education is the key.
If you are interested in finding out more about what courses are on offer please visit the Education and Training section of the CWU website. Check this website for a virtual tour of the new-look Alvescot centre which will be appearing soon.