Keele village and the university are two of the jewels in Newcastle’s crown. Paul has known both well since growing up locally – including weekend work at Keele motorway service station - and keeps in close contact with students through his long opposition to variable top-up fees and any market system in higher education.
Originally a 12th century settlement founded by the crusading Knights Templar, the manor of Keele was bought in 1544 by William Sneyd, the latest scion of a family who had resided locally since at least 1400 in Bradwell and Wolstanton who gained influence through connections with the Earls of Chester and Lords of Audley.
The family became one of the county’s largest landowners, hence the ubiquity of the name around north Staffordshire and dominated Keele for 400 years. The current Keele Hall and village date from the 1850s, when they were built as a rural estate by the Sneyds, who by this time controlled the whole local parish.
The present, attractive church of St John the Baptist was built in 1870 and is visible from its lofty perch as a landmark for miles around.
Keele Hall was occupied by the army during the Second World War and 1949 was sold to the new University College of North Staffordshire, to pay death duties following the death of Colonel Ralph Sneyd. The Hawthorns, site of the off-campus student blocks in the village itself, was subsequently bought in 1957.
Upgraded to full university status in 1962, Keele was one of the prototype ‘greenfield campuses’ and a radical educational experiment. Its original, multi-disciplinary foundation year and dual honours system were intended to provide a more broadly-based undergraduate education than available elsewhere.
From originally planned student population of 600 - 150 annually on four year courses – numbers have grown to around 7,000 now. One of the most exciting recent developments has been the new medical school, in partnership with the University Hospital of North Staffordshire, which teaches around 750 medical students.
Keele’s traditional campus includes a stunning, Grade II listed chapel, constructed from Staffordshire blue brick, and over 600 acres of parks, woodland and lake, which are being restored to their former landscaped glory under the Sneyds.
Keele Science Park, with which Paul has been closely involved, has also developed around the university, attracting medical technology and other valuable employers, backed by the Regional Development Agency and local regeneration bodies.
The Park is now embarking on the next exciting phase of development, with Keele aiming to be ‘the ultimate campus university for the 21st century’. Teaching and employment will mix together, with hotel and conference facilities, and advanced environmental technology, sustainable energy and a ‘green agenda’ as key features.
As part of this, ‘Project Keele’ - which Paul helped launch in 2008 - is also aiming to attract agencies and departments of national and local government, as part of the drive to bring in a mix of new skills to Newcastle and North Staffordshire.
Keele’s success, indeed, has been a beacon for the area and, with the ambition of 10,000 students in the future, it underlines Newcastle’s wish to be known these days as a ‘market and university town’.