Current student Courteney guides you through our campus, pointing out all the facilities and features that will make your time at Birmingham so memorable.
Title: Campus audio tour 2020
Duration: 27 minutes 53 seconds
Hello and welcome to the University of Birmingham! My name’s Courteney, and I’m a student here at the University. I study English Literature and I’m going to guide you around our campus today.
Now, we need to make sure you’re in the right place to start the tour. Our tour starts at our famous clock tower, Old Joe. If you’re now on campus, then head for the clock tower in the centre of campus and we’ll start there.
02 Old Joe and Chancellor’s Court
Right, now you’re at the clock tower we are ready to start! If you stand underneath the arch of the tower and look towards the curved building with domes on the roof, then I can tell you all about this part of campus.
The domed building is called the Aston Webb building, and this was one of the first buildings built on this site when the University was founded in 1900. It’s built from Accrington Red Brick, which led to the term ‘red brick university’. Birmingham was the first red brick university, and it was also the first campus-based university.
The building is named after the man who designed it, architect Sir Aston Webb. He also redesigned the façade of Buckingham Palace, and the approach to Buckingham Palace down the Mall including Admiralty Arch. Robert Anning Bell who created the mosaics in the Houses of Parliament also created the ceramic frieze on the Aston Webb building
The building officially opened in 1909 and was opened King Edward the seventh, Queen Alexandra and Princess Victoria.
The building was used as a hospital in World War One and treated 125,000 injured servicemen during the war – there are plaques in the foyer that record the University staff and students who lost their lives during the war.
If you step forward into the courtyard which we call ‘Chancellor’s Court’ and look above the main entrance to the Aston Webb building, you’ll notice that there are nine life sized figures over the entrance doors. These figures represent great thinkers through the ages – Beethoven, Virgil, Michaelangelo, Plato, Shakespeare, Newton, Watt, Faraday and Darwin. They reflect the subjects taught at the University, and Shakespeare and Watt in particular, have links to the Midlands region.
These days, the Aston Webb building is home to some of the most important services for students. The Student Hub is located here, which is home to a wide range of student support services. The Hub reception acts as a one stop shop for all of your support needs, as well as information zones and one-to-one consultation rooms. Teams based here include the Mental Health and Wellbeing service and the Student Disability Service; the Funding team help with questions related to fees, scholarships and bursaries; and the Student Information Team deal with general student enquiries such as replacing ID cards, creating student documents and thesis submissions.
Elsewhere in the Aston Webb building, you’ll also find the careers team, called Careers Network. Birmingham is one of the most targeted universities by graduate level employers. Careers advice and guidance is tailored to each of our subjects, and the team can support you with job applications, CV advice, practice interviews, and they can help you to find work placements and internship opportunities in the UK and abroad. They also organise regular graduate careers fairs and employer presentations, and we run an alumni mentoring programme where you can be paired up with a past Birmingham students. Many students also choose to complete the Personal Skills Award, which allows you to develop employability skills – things like leadership and teamwork, presentation skills, media and communication skills and much more.
The centrepiece of the Aston Webb building is our Great Hall – many people think it looks like something from Harry Potter! Students use the Great Hall to sit exams, and it’s where some of our graduate recruitment fairs take place too as well as a range of other large-scale events. It’s been used to film TV programmes like Question Time and the Antiques Roadshow! But most importantly, it’s where you’ll have your graduation ceremony at the end of your Birmingham degree.
If you’re still standing looking at the Aston Webb main entrance, turn slightly to your left to see the Bramall Music Building. This is a relatively new addition to the Aston Webb semi-circle and was built in 2012. Inside is a 450-seat music auditorium, named after Edward Elgar- the University’s first Professor of Music.
Now, if you walk forward a bit more and turn around to look at the clock tower I can tell you all about it! The clock tower is called the Joseph Chamberlain Memorial Clocktower, but that’s a bit of a mouthful so everybody calls it Old Joe! It’s named after Joseph Chamberlain. He established the University of Birmingham in 1900 when it was also granted Royal Charter. Chamberlain was the first Chancellor of the University. He was also the Lord Mayor of Birmingham and was responsible for improving the city’s living conditions. His vision was to provide the region with a skilled, professional workforce, and to deliver ground-breaking research that benefits regional industries.
Old Joe is the tallest freestanding clock tower in the world! It stands at 100 metres tall, so it’s slightly taller than Big Ben and the same height as the Saturn 5 Rocket which first took man to the moon. The clock face itself is 17 feet 3 inches across, which makes it big enough to drive a double decker bus through. Old Joe is also said to be the inspiration for Tolkien’s Eye of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings series. Tolkien grew up nearby and is believed to have taken inspiration from a number of local spots to help develop the landscape of Middle Earth.took inspiration from a number of local spots to help develop the landscape of Middle Earth.. The top of Old Joe is also home to a pair of nesting peregrine falcons, who you often see flying across the sky above the University.
We started our tour underneath the clock tower. Most students avoid walking underneath the clock tower as it’s rumoured that if you walk under the tower when it chimes, you’ll fail your degree! I don’t think that’s true, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
We’ll now move on to the next part of our tour, so you can either walk underneath the clock tower, or walk around it if you’re feeling superstitious already! If you walk past the clock and keep going in a straight line under the arches of our Law building, you’ll see three crests at the centre of campus. I’ll meet you there for the next part of the tour.
03 Green Heart, Main Library, Teaching and Learning Building, and Muirhead
You should now be stood by the crests at the centre of campus. Looking all around you, you can see lots of different features of campus from here.
Looking away from the clock tower and towards the North Gate you’ll be looking across the Green Heart. This is a fantastic space with 12 acres of parkland. It’s used by students for socialising and studying throughout the year, and provides a great space for performances, events and markets too. To your right buried into the hillside is a restaurant, and around the Green Heart there are over 160 trees, as well as water features, wildflowers and native plants. On the bridge to your right, there is built-in energy generating paving, and there are other energy-saving technologies throughout this area – you can even charge your phone from the ports in the benches.
Looking to your immediate left now, you’ll see our Main Library – it’s the building on the corner with gold panels. There are a number of libraries across campus too including the Barnes Library at the Medical School, as well as other libraries off-campus such as at the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-Upon-Avon. In this direction you’ll also be able to spot the Queen Elizabeth Hospital.
The Library holds 2.1 million books and journals – that’s a lot of books! There is also access to over 50,000 electronic journals and 700,000 electronic books, all of which are accessible off-campus too. As well as study desks (with plenty of all-important plug sockets), there are two silent study rooms if you ever need a totally silent environment. There are also group study rooms which can be booked online, as well as assistive technology booths for those who require specialist software or equipment. There are lots of computers that can be reserved online, as well as printers and copiers. Staff are available throughout the building to help with any questions, or you can visit the Help Desk on the ground floor. There’s also an online instant messaging service if you need help online.
On the first floor of the Library, the Academic Skills Centre provides support with general academic skills including academic writing and mathematical skills. Students can drop in for one-to-one appointments with advisors or join group workshops on skills such as note taking and delivering presentations.
The three crests that you’re stood next to were taken from the last Library, which itself stood on the spot where you are now. The original University coat of arms was designed in 1900 and its symbols, a double headed lion and a mermaid holding a mirror and comb, are an echo of the institution’s predecessor coat of arms, Mason College. The shields at the top of the former library were chiselled directly into the stone on the building during its construction in 1958, and they were carefully extracted and restored before being placed back into the heart of the campus.
Between the Library and the North Gate, you’ll see our Teaching and Learning Building. This is one of the newest buildings on campus and is a hub for education on campus. It has two big lecture theatres, a café and loads of social study spaces. Throughout the year, and especially around exam time campus can get really busy with students studying, so it’s great to have loads of study spaces to suit your study style – and plenty of cafes too!
If you now look to the other side of the Green Heart, there’s another tall tower. This one’s called Muirhead Tower, and it’s named after the University’s first Professor of Philosophy, John Henry Muirhead. These days it’s home to many of our social sciences subjects, and it has an all-important Starbucks on the ground floor. It also houses the University’s renowned Special Collections, in a place called the Cadbury Research Library. This contains over 200,000 books, the earliest dating from 1471, as well as 4 million manuscripts. There are papers from the Cadbury company relating to chocolate making and the cocoa trade in West Africa from 1900-1960 – Bournville, the home of the Cadbury’s factory, is just a couple of miles from the campus and it’s a rite of passage for students to visit Cadbury World during their time here! The Research Library also contains papers belonging to Anthony Eden who was UK Prime Minister in the 1950’s, relating to his life and the Suez Crisis; and there’s also a collection of scripts, diaries, short stories, songs, music and photographs from Noel Coward.
The brick building next to Muirhead Tower is the Arts Building, where most of our subjects within the College of Arts and Law are taught. Mason Lounge is a student favourite and is a great place to read, unwind, chat, and relax.
That’s it for this part of the tour. We’re now going to head to the Guild of Students, which is our students’ union here at Birmingham. To get there from the crests, you’ll need to walk back towards the clocktower, and then before you reach it, turn left. Walk in a straight line under the bridge and keep going until you reach a four-way road junction. I’ll meet you on the corner, there!
04 Guild of Students, the Barber Institute of Fine Arts
Now that you’ve reached your next destination, I’m going to tell you all about the Guild of Students and what they do.
If you’re stood on the corner of the road, then diagonally across to your right you should see the Guild of Students. Directly in front of you, over the main road, is our Business School. The clock tower should now be behind you!
The Guild of Students is the students’ union for every student at the University of Birmingham. All students are automatically members of the Guild when they start here. The Guild is a registered charity and exists to bridge the gap between the university and students, and to ensure that students are represented and supported independent of their degree.
It also exists to help students have fun, meet new people and make new friends, and to make sure that your time here is memorable. It’s here to help you make the most of university life. Student societies and groups are one of the great ways to meet new people and try new things. There are over 500 clubs and societies here, so whether you’re into baking, skydiving, bhangra, dodgeball, Harry Potter, debating, or something completely different, there will be something here for you. If you can’t find one you like, then the Guild will support you to set up your own!
I am a member of Cool Runnings running club. It's a noncompetetive athletics society, and it's great to have someone to run with and motivate you, expecially in the dark and rainy winter months.
Inside the building, there’s a Debating Hall which is used for student musical and theatrical productions, as well as a dance studio. Rooms inside the Guild can be booked out by any society.
There’s much more to the Guild too. Students can get involved in a wide range of volunteering opportunities through the Job Skills and Volunteering department. There are opportunities to work with people of all ages and backgrounds – you may want to get involved in running an activity club, teaching, sports coaching, giving advice and mentoring, conserving the environment, fundraising, campaigning, or you may even want to volunteer abroad.
Another great thing about the Guild is the advice service. They offer free, impartial and confidential advice and information, to make sure that students are aware of their rights and are supported throughout their time at university. So, if you’re looking for budgeting advice, housing advice, mental health support, or need help understanding University regulations and procedures, they’re here to help you.
The Guild do lots of great work with the local community, and have pioneered a Community Warden Scheme where the University and students work together with local organisations such as the local council, police and fire service to create a cleaner, greener, safer and more pleasant environment for students and those living locally.
As well as the main Guild building and its range of services for students, there’s also the social side of the building. There are shops such as Spar and Subway, and there’s Joe’s bar and the Underground club venue. The Guild organises a range of social events such as Fab ‘n’ Fresh, Sports Nights, and annual Freshers and Graduation Balls. Other major events on the Guild calendar include the Vale Fireworks, and the Winter Festival at Christmas time. During Welcome week, the Guild organise hundreds of events to help everyone settle into university life here.
At the back of the Guild building, on the left-hand side as you look at it, you can also see St Francis Hall. That’s where the University’s Chaplaincy is based. This is an inclusive space for prayer, meditation, relaxation and worship, among many other activities. All students are welcome to visit – whether you are religious or not.
On to the next building on our tour. Diagonally opposite the Guild on the other side of the road is the Barber Institute of Fine Arts, one of Europe’s finest small art galleries – and admission is free! You’ll see when you look at the building that it’s one of the purest examples of art deco in the city of Birmingham, and it’s a grade one listed building too, the highest heritage honour from Historic England. They recognise the building as one of, if not the first integrated facilities of its type for the teaching of music and the arts.
The galleries contain around 150 paintings from artists such as Monet, Van Gogh, Picasso, Turner, Gainsborough, Degas, Botticelli, Van Dyke, Rosetti and Matisse, and host a varied exhibition cycle with loans from across the world. It also houses sculptures, as well as a rare collection of coins, seal and weights, mainly from Rome, Byzantium and the Middle East. There’s a concert hall inside, which is mainly used for classical concerts, as well as a programme of free concerts for everyone on Friday lunchtimes.
We’re now moving on to the next part of the tour, which will take in the Sport and Fitness Centre. To get there, you should cross the road and walk down the hill, keeping the Guild of Students on your left-hand side. As you head under the foot bridge, you’ll see a path on your left leading down between the Sports Centre and the sports pitches. If you wait at the top of this path, close to the campus ring road, then I can tell you all about it!
05 Sport and Fitness
Right, here we are at the next stop on our tour. If you’re looking down the hill with the Sports Centre on your left and the pitches on your right, then you’re in the right place!
University of Birmingham Sport and Fitness has something for everyone at all levels and of all abilities. Whether you’re interested in fitness classes, trying a new sport, want to play with friends, want to join a club and play for the University; whether you’re a complete beginner or on the road to becoming a professional athlete – we have what you need here at Birmingham. We’re one of the leading sports universities in the UK and we have around 55 sports clubs that represent the University in the BUCS league.
We have a history of attracting international athletes to the University, both as students and for training camps around major games. The Jamaican track and field team have used the University as their base twice, ahead of the London 2012 Olympics and for the summer World Championships in 2017. The University was also used as a team base for the South African and Australian teams for the Rugby World Cup in 2015, and the Jamaican netball team trained here before the 2019 World Cup too. Many of our past students are Olympics medallists, and Lily Owsley was the first current student to win an Olympic medal in 2016 in Rio, as part of the hockey team.
The Sport and Fitness Centre itself is home to Birmingham’s first 50 metre length swimming pool, as well as a large sports centre with 970 spectator seats. There are five activity and fitness studios, a Dojo, a spin studio and ergo studio, a 200-station gym, 6 glass-backed squash courts, a 10 metre climbing wall and a performance centre! There are up to 180 fitness classes during term time, and the centre caters for students, sports clubs, staff, alumni and the local community. We also have a world-class applied sports science and sports medicine unit in our Performance Centre, which provides specific support for elite athletes and scholars.
We’re really excited to be playing a major part in the Commonwealth Games in 2022, which will take place here in Birmingham. At the University we’ll be hosting hockey and squash as part of the Games, and we will also be home to the largest of the athlete villages at our Vale Village. Bringing international athletics into the city and the University will put Birmingham on the map and shows that our facilities are ready to host world-class events.
On the other side of the road, you’ll see some of our outdoor sports facilities. These include two international-standard water-based hockey pitches, and 10 tennis and netball courts. Beyond those pitches there is also a 3G synthetic all-weather floodlit pitch, with another of these pitches available elsewhere on our campus. Elsewhere on campus we have an 8-lane athletics track, a gymnastics centre, and there’s also a smaller gym facility available in Selly Oak which you can also see from here – we’ll come back to Selly Oak shortly!
These pitches are used by our teams and are also used for our campus league, which offers a relaxed way to play with teams representing halls of residence, their subject group, or just playing with a group of friends.
Even further afield, the University also owns an outdoor pursuit centre in the Lake District, which enables students to participate in activities such as mountain biking, canoeing, sailing, windsurfing, walking and much more. We also use other local facilities such as Edgbaston Reservoir for club training.
On the other side of the sports pitches, you can see a residential area called Selly Oak. This is where most students move out to live after their first year, and has a range of shops, bars and restaurants. It’s a mini student village all of itself, and it’s also where Tiverton Gym is located.
For the next part of the tour, we’re going to head to University Centre. To get there, walk along the path above the sports pitches, cross safely over the road back towards the red brick dome buildings, and follow the ring road around until you reach University Square. When you see Wokfresh and Costa, you’re in the right place. On the way you can look out for the Lapworth Museum of Geology, which will be on the right-hand side – it’s part of the red brick building. The museum dates back to 1880, and is one of the oldest specialist geological museums in the UK, with over 250,000 specimens including rocks, fossils, minerals, maps and more!
06 University Square
Now we’re here in University Square, for a quick stop on our tour before we head up to the train station. The building up the steps next to Wokfresh is called University Centre, and it’s one of the main central hubs for students on campus. There are lots of places to eat here, including Go Central which offers a range of hot food including breakfasts and lunch. There is also a burrito bar, a salad bar, a Costa Coffee shop, and a Spar supermarket to grab your everyday essentials. Wokfresh serves authentic noodles and stir fry. Many other buildings across campus have their own cafes and outlets too. University Centre is also home to the Accommodation Services office, who allocate residences to students and support students with their accommodation, as well as a hairdresser’s, a bank, and plenty of study space in the top floor Avon Room.
We’re now heading left up the hill, towards University train station, past the Biosciences building on your right. It’s a straight road uphill and on the way you’ll see some of our science buildings, our new School of Engineering on the left followed by our Collaborative Teaching Laboratory on your right. Once you see a metal statue, stop and we’ll talk through the next part of our tour there.
07 University station, the Medical School and the Learning Centre
Now for the next part of our tour! You should now be stood by a large metal statue and looking down the hill towards the clocktower of the University. There are lots of things that we can see from this location.
On your left-hand side is our Learning Centre, one of several study spaces on campus with PC clusters, and seminar and lecture rooms. Also on the left, just past the Learning Centre, is our Collaborative Teaching Laboratory. This opened in 2018 and brings together practical teaching activities across a broad range of science and engineering disciplines. It incorporates a wet lab, dry lab and an e-lab, and is used by both undergraduate and postgraduate students. Its name is a giveaway, but it was designed to encourage and facilitate collaborative working across different disciplines of the sciences, and helps to prepare students for future professions, reflecting the multifaceted nature of the working world.
If you turn around 180 degrees then you’ll see the University train station on the right-hand side, and in the distance, you’ll see the University’s Medical School.
Birmingham is the only university in mainland Britain to have its own train station on campus. A journey from this station into Birmingham New Street takes around 7 to 8 minutes, and trains depart every 10 minutes. The train station is about to undergo an extensive transformation ahead of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, which will leave us with a great new facility connecting the campus and the city.
As well as train travel, there are buses that travel regularly between the University and the city centre throughout the day. Some students also choose to walk into the city centre along the canal. If you cross over the cobbled ring road then you can get down to the canal path from the bridge.
The University’s Medical School is a major international centre for research and education in medicine and medical sciences. It’s the building over the main road with a clock at the top. Birmingham was the first university to establish a medical school way back in 1828. Many of our health sciences subjects are based here, with the School of Dentistry and dental hospital on the other side of campus housed in a brand-new building. We are lucky that our medical school is on the doorstep of one of the largest teaching hospitals in the UK, Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham. You may be able to see that in the distance beyond the Medical School.
If you have time, you can hop on the train into the city centre. The train will take you from University station to Grand Central where you can explore the city for yourself. But if you don’t have time to pop into the city centre or aren’t ready to leave campus yet, I can tell you a bit about our city from here.
08 The City
One of the things our students say they like the most about studying at Birmingham is that you really do get the best of both worlds. You get to study on a beautiful campus with lovely redbrick buildings and great facilities, but you also get the experience of being a student in a major city, the campus isn’t in the middle of nowhere, you’re only ever a short taxi or train ride into the city centre. You could even walk in along the canals from campus if you wanted to.
There’s so much to do in Birmingham and the surrounding area. With thousands of students living in and around the city, Birmingham has everything you could need, no matter what your interests.
When you get off the train you’ll arrive at New Street Station and Grand Central, where you’ll find a range of premium stores. Next door, you’ll find the Bullring, one of the UK’s top shopping centres, along with New Street and the surrounding lanes you have a huge variety of high street stores, restaurants and cafes. It’s perfect for a day of shopping, with plenty of places to choose from if you get hungry.
Speaking of food, Birmingham has a huge food scene! Along with all the popular chains like Wagamamas and Nandos there is a huge independent range of restaurants and cafes which are worth exploring. Every week in Digbeth, a short walk from New Street you’ll find Digbeth Dining Club, where you can try independent street food from across the city. Birmingham also has a long history of excellent Indian food, you can put your taste buds to the test and try one of our amazing curry houses, or nip to the Chinese quarter for some excellent Chinese food.
After dinner, the city is buzzing with bars and clubs for those who want to continue with their night, from huge multi-storey clubs, huge music venues and popular bars to intimate gigs, cocktail bars and even secret speakeasy’s, there’s so much to choose from in the city.
No matter what your taste, there’s loads to do, check out Ghetto golf’s crazy course, Digbeth Dining Club, street food or book a seat at Birmingham’s world famous symphony orchestra, or check out one of our many museums- the IKON gallery often has amazing contemporary exhibitions while Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery has an incredible range of art and historical artefacts. If you head towards our famous Jewellery Quarter you can find out more about our history, and of course all students have to visit Cadbury World!
Nearby there are also plenty of places to explore, it’s not just the city centre, neighbouring areas of Moseley and Harborne each have a range of bars and cafes and hidden gems to discover and Moseley has farmers markets throughout the year, and folk and jazz festivals in the summer. Cannon Hill park, just a short walk from the University campus is great for a breath of fresh air, there’s tonnes of green space and even swan shaped pedalos!
And if you want a fix for country life, if you take the train south of campus, in about twenty minutes you’ll reach the Lickey Hills, for a nice country walk and a breath of fresh air. You can also catch a train from campus to Malvern, which is an area of outstanding natural beauty and a great day out.
I hope you enjoyed your tour of campus today! You can find out loads more about campus, student life and our courses on our website www.birmingham.ac.uk – we hope to see you again soon!