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University of Suffolk ready to open ‘mothballed’ building after £5.5million state-of-the-art refurbishment

PUBLISHED: 13:00 15 September 2016 | UPDATED: 17:28 15 September 2016

The Atrium building at the University of Suffolk.

The Atrium building at the University of Suffolk.

Fresh from acquiring full independent status this summer, the University of Suffolk has unveiled its latest innovative centre dedicated to STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects.

We were given a tour of the new Atrium building, which will be home to hundreds of students studying radiotherapy and oncology, computer games design and psychology, among others.

Originally housing Suffolk College’s catering school, the building was mothballed 15 years ago and only partially used by the university under its previous name, University Campus Suffolk (UCS).

But after 12 months of hard work, the £5.5million revamp has been completed, and will be used by both new and returning students.

Richard Halsall, director of estates at the University of Suffolk, said: “I am really proud of how it’s gone and it looks like a really modern, fit for purpose higher education building for students here already. Prospective students will hopefully be really wowed by it.

“The old building let the University of Suffolk down in terms of quality, but now people are going to be impressed.

“The external appearance is instantly recognisable as a University of Suffolk building, and I think there’s no better way to 
celebrate (the university’s independence) than to launch this new building.”

The Atrium, which is next to the university’s library, houses state-of-the-art equipment allowing students to take advantage of the kind of facilities they will use when they enter the world of work.

Among the new facilities are a £3m 3D radiotherapy device, computer games design hub, 3D printers and a 120-seat lecture theatre, all surrounding an impressive cafe and social space.

Richard Halsall, Director of Estates outside the Atrium, University of Suffolk.Richard Halsall, Director of Estates outside the Atrium, University of Suffolk.

“It’s going to be so nice and bright in here, and this will be a nice space for students to congregate,” Mr Halsall confirmed.

“Per square metre the value for money was astounding.

“To keep the costs down we wanted to retain as much of the structure as we could.”

Prospective students got to see the new space for the first time last Wednesday at the university’s open day, while students both new and returning will be able to use the Atrium when their courses start later this month.

Caroline Doolan, course leader in Radiotherapy and Oncology at the Atrium, University of Suffolk with the state of the art equipment.Caroline Doolan, course leader in Radiotherapy and Oncology at the Atrium, University of Suffolk with the state of the art equipment.

To find out more about STEM courses at the University of Suffolk and the facilities available, visit

Radiotherapy and oncology

In the radiotherapy and oncology department, a new £3m machine called VERT (virtual environment radiotherapy training), uses a 3D system students can use to learn 
how to target tumours in the body, mimicking real-life situations.

Course leader Caroline Doolan said: “This is a brilliant new system and we are very fortunate to have it.

The Atrium building at the University of Suffolk.The Atrium building at the University of Suffolk.

“We use it before they get into clinical practice, and it’s really changed the way in which we educate students.

“They go into clinical practice feeling much more confident, and this is exactly the kind of equipment they will be using.”

Crucially, real patient data and scenarios can be uploaded, and the system also works as a key problem-solving tool for students in a safe environment.

Ms Doolan added: “It means we are always using up to date teaching, and really helps students understand just how critical it is to get it right.”

VERT will now complement existing teaching methods such as using mannequins and a radiotherapy couch to give the university one of the best equipped radiotherapy departments of any university in the country.

Computer games design

For the computer games design students, the Atrium offers much more space and flexibility for its students and equipment.

Robert Kurta, senior lecturer in computer games design, said: “Previously we had the equipment, but not the space to use it, so we were loaning it out on an ad-hoc basis. Now it’s all going to be available on site, and we have two other IT labs.

“It means the kind of work we have been working towards can just happen without there being any barriers. We are really, really excited about the possibilities it will open up.”

The department will have access to new 3D printers, as well as being able to push the limits of the design students can be taught, such as completing artefacts in games which are damaged in reality.

The course leaders already work alongside games companies to help design the curriculum, but with the Ipswich Waterfront Innovation Centre (IWIC) also set to be based in the Atrium from next month, games design graduates will be able to remain at the university and establish their own companies, helping create a hub of games industry talent in Suffolk.

“We can help them with their business ventures and we can keep them in house,” Mr Kurta said. “It isn’t the case that there’s a huge number of employers waiting to hoover up graduates.

“If someone goes on to get a job at EA Games or Ubisoft that’s great, but it’s a great thing if you can keep some here and developing their skills in Suffolk. Having inspirational buildings in a place where they can say they cannot do any better if they went to London is a really brilliant thing.”

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