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16th February 2022

The man, the myth, the building: Zochonis

Emily Hayden delves into the history of a hidden gem on campus – the Zochonis Building
The man, the myth, the building: Zochonis

In the next of our series exploring the history behind buildings on campus, Emily Hayden looks at the Zochonis Building.

The Zochonis Building is a hidden treasure, with an unusual name and striking structure. Hiding away from the spotlight, you can find it tucked behind the Simon Building. Its peaceful and quiet location makes it the perfect spot for students going about their day at the University of Manchester. Located on Brunswick Street, the Zochonis Building is owned and used by the Age and Cognitive Performance Centre for multiple purposes. From sociology lectures to linguistics tutorials, the building sees many students entering its doors every week – but why is it called Zochonis?

Built in 1953, the building was designed by architect brothers J.S. and J.W. Beaumont. These brothers also designed the architecturally aesthetic building located in Manchester’s city centre which is now used as a Primark outlet. Although it is isolated in a peaceful corner of campus, the building’s long windows and columned entrance makes it particularly conspicuous.

The Zochonis family originated in Greece, and much of their business was carried out in Sierra Leone and other parts of West Africa. Incorporated as Paterson Zochonis & Co, their firm imported palm produce, groundnuts, coffee, skins and timber to Liverpool and Manchester, and exported wax-printed cotton fabrics.

The building itself is named after Sir John Zochonis, a British businessman and philanthropist. He was the director of the company, P.Z. Cussons, which now owns famous healthcare brands such as Carex and Morning Fresh.

Sir John was an avid businessman, known best for his charitability. He formed the Zochonis Charitable Trust, which has given over £26 million in grants. The Zochonis Charitable Trust also donated £2 million to a variety of worthy causes, such as local schools; cultural sites around Manchester such as The Lowry and a variety of museums; and the rebuilding of several Manchester buildings following the 1996 IRA attacks. Sir John also completed National Service in the British army during World War Two, just before he became director in his family business.

The business tycoon eventually became Chair of the University of Manchester council from 1987-1990. He created the Zochonis Special Enterprise Fund, which provided students in need of financial help with special study projects, and funding to study abroad. The Fund also helped students from disadvantaged backgrounds to attain a degree at the Russell Group university.

Despite his philanthropy, Sir John was a private man. The humanitarian preferred to stay away from the spotlight, carrying out his charity work and running his business under the radar. He was known in local communities to be passionate about creating equal opportunities for children and for bridging the gap between the middle and working class in Manchester especially.

After a varied life of business and charity work, he died in 2013 at the age of 84. The Zochonis Building was named in his honour, and serves as a reminder to students of his generosity and philanthropic mindset. At his funeral, it was requested that no flowers were given, and that all donations be sent to Chetham’s School of Music, near Cathedral Gardens, again highlighting Sir John’s appreciation of the arts.

So, next time you pass by the Zochonis Building in its serene location on Brunswick Street, perhaps to attend a lecture, remember the generous, giving man whom the building is named after and the numerous opportunities he created for so many students and people across Manchester.

You can find out more about the history of UoM buildings by reading the other articles in this series here.

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