- Tower Hamlets
Hordes of student protesters disrupted the official opening of multi-million pound state-of-the-art media facility at Goldsmiths, in New Cross on Tuesday evening.
The protest was sparked by the choice of Archie Norman, chairman of ITV and former Conservative MP, as the event’s guest of honour and the decision to make the event invite-only.
Demonstrators gathered outside the building’s entrance an hour before the event was set to begin, before around 100 of them entered the building with musical instruments, party hats and banners.
Organisers moved the officially invited guests to another building on the Goldsmiths campus, but protesters followed en masse chanting “Norman out!”
The college authorities attempted to go ahead with speeches in the staff dining room, but scores of protestors burst in as Norman began to speak, blowing horns and chanting. A small group of protesters threw eggs and water at Norman as he attempted to make his way through the crowd, and most of the dozens of bottles of the wine put out for guests instantly disappeared as the event ended in chaos.
The disruption cast a shadow over the opening of the New Academic Building (NAB), the biggest investment on the Goldsmiths campus for many years and which houses the university’s Media and Communications department.
One of the protest organizers, who would only give his name as Ron, said: “It’s our building – management didn’t mention anything about this event to students. So we thought we’d come along and make sure we were here for the opening of our building. It’s a protest against the marketisation and privatization of education.”
Goldsmiths management were at pains to point out that a large number of the student body had been invited.
Vicky Annand, Goldsmiths Head of Communications and Publicity, said. “Media & Communications and ICCE (Institute for Creative and Cultural Entrepreneurship) students were invited and some were invited to do tours and showcase their work.”
“The building isn’t just for students, it’s for the community too. We host lectures and film shows here that all are invited to, and offer space that community groups can book during the summer months.”
A Goldsmiths spokesperson added: “The New Academic Building provides excellent facilities for two world-leading Goldsmiths departments and all of the students in the College. We had hoped to celebrate the building and we are saddened we could not do so as we had hoped.”
Archie Norman was seen as a controversial choice to open the new building by a number of students due to the fact that he was a former Conservative MP.
Norman said: “I’m surprised they think I’m worth the attention. I am no longer in politics and have no say in public sector cuts.” He emphasized that the NAB represents that there is continuing investment in media subjects, and that he is happy to see and speak to students. “I’ll come back in peacetime” he added.
Jim Rowland, the department’s administrative coordinator, said he had been involved with the development of the new building for 20 years and was “too upset and angry” to comment further.
A TUC rally held at the same time in a nearby building on the Goldsmiths campus also became a target for protesters, and the TUC’s General Secretary, Brendan Barber, was confronted by a group of demonstrators with banners.
Goldsmiths students have been involved in a number of protests in recent months, including the occupation of the university’s library and Deptford Town Hall buildings. Goldsmiths Students’ Union also played an active role in the nationwide student protests at the end of last year.
Hugh Jones, Goldsmiths registrar and secretary, said “you’ve got to keep it in perspective. It’s very Goldsmiths”
Reporting by Germaine Arnold, Chris Stevenson and Charlie Cooper
Video: Chris Stevenson, edited by Germaine Arnold
Video of the NAB from September 2010 by Emily Jupp