50 objects for 50 years. No 14. Milton Keynes

Although the Open University is situated wherever they study their materials, on the bus, online, in the living room, it is also in a number of specific locations, in Wales, Scotland, Ireland and England. At the centre is the Milton Keynes site. Milton Keynes, a town founded in 1967 following the New Town Act of 1965, was itself new on the map when the OU opened. The new university had few facilities and had to use several former RAF huts and a former stud farm. Some OU activities were based in nearby villages and it was only in 1971 that a warehouse was acquired, at Wellingborough. Some staff found it difficult to find accommodation in the rural area where the new town was being built. An important role of Milton Keynes was expressed by the first Chancellor, Geoffrey Crowther. He opened the OU with the words:

This University has no cloisters – a word meaning closed. Hardly even shall we have a campus. By a very happy chance, our only local habitation will be in the new city that is to bear two of the widest ranging names in the history of English thought, Milton Keynes. But this is only where the tip of our toe touches ground; the rest of the University will be disembodied and airborne. From the start it will flow all over the United Kingdom.

The new university was welcomed by the Milton Keynes Development Corporation but Milton Keynes was never intended to be the only site for the OU which appointed a Director of Regional and Tutorial Services, Robert Beevers, in February 1969.

Milton Keynes has benefitted socially and economically from the OU. The 70-acre site was to be the hub. The spokes of the university would be the regional centres. As the Panning Committee noted: ‘it will be upon the success of the Regional Directors that the corporate spirit of the University will largely depend’. Staff sit on governing bodies, run charities, have been elected to a variety of civic posts and have spent their earnings in the town.

An acknowledgement of the university is that it features among the 106 granite pillars of the Milton Keynes Rose located in Campbell Park. Created by Gordon Young in 2014, the Milton Keynes Rose is an open-air circle with the blocks in it. This picture features an OU student leaning on the OU pillar. This object reminds us that the OU is in Milton Keynes, but is only one aspect of the town and that the university exists far beyond Milton Keynes.

Leave a Reply