Cambridge Union Society to open ‘boutique hotel’

23 June 2012

As part of their 200th Anniversary Campaign, the Cambridge Union Society have announced plans to redevelop a current premises, possibly the current Union building, into a hotel with the aim to provide themselves with a permanent endowment.

Following financial concerns resulting from increased costs and growing numbers of members joining on reduced-price bursary schemes, the Union have announced plans which they hope will secure the financial future of the society.

The Society, which will reach its 200th anniversary in 2015, has declared a three-point scheme, focussing on repairing the currently-used Waterhouse building, which is in an ‘objectively poor state of repair’; reclaiming the Union’s other, currently leased, premises by providing that income elsewhere, thus allowing the society to reoccupy those buildings; and providing new means of financial support for its member programmes, including a new bursary system to widen participation to students from all backgrounds.

In order to complete this programme, the society has announced they will be redeveloping their other main premises, excluding the currently used Waterhouse building on Bridge Street, into a commercial ‘boutique hotel’. However, a statement from current President Michael Black said: “The land we are discussing surrounds the building and no plans have been suggested that will effect our debating chamber.”

Declared an “ambitious scheme”, the venture will be carried out in partnership with an “established hotel chain”. The Society will either redevelop the premises independently for subsequent leasing to this company, or enter more immediately into a joint building project. The Society’s share of the proceeds produced from the venture will be “applied to its general purposes”.

In order to carry out this “wholly synergetic venture” the Union have estimated they will need around £8 million. This is being sought through charitable donations as well as commercial approaches including a debenture (loan) scheme.

This project holds the majority of the Union’s financial plans for the future as they have declared their entire 200th Anniversary project will require £10 million to be raised.

The Union announced the hotel will become the Union’s “permanent endowment”, and is the only way in which the Society’s long-term future can be secured.

Michael Black, current President of the Union, made the following statement to TCS: “We are currently in the process of exploring various potential uses for the Union site. We aim to use our land to generate long term income for the society that will allow for financial security, supporting the Union’s activities for many years and giving us the opportunity to reinvigorate our facilities.”

Current Union members have expressed concern that the current £175 price tag for full membership is still leaving the society in financial trouble. A PPS student said: “To open a hotel seems an unusual break from tradition for the Union. I just hope it doesn’t impact on how students use the facilities, if it is going to be on the current site.”

Connie Fisher – Deputy News Editor

Photo – Rob Palmer