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14th December 2022

Ghosts of Fallowfield past: Why is the Owen’s Park Tower still standing?

The Mancunion has discovered there are currently no plans for Owens Park accommodation despite having stood empty since 2019
Ghosts of Fallowfield past: Why is the Owen’s Park Tower still standing?
Photo: Erin Botten @ The Mancunion

Despite being unmissable even from afar, casting its empty ominous presence over Fallowfield, Owens Park Tower is a largely forgotten relic of University of Manchester halls-past.

The Tower last permanently housed students in June 2019 and has now stood empty for more than three years. Since then there has been little indication of what would happen to the Tower next and it looks as though this will continue. A Freedom of Information Request sent by The Mancunion has revealed that there are no current plans in place by the University to do anything with the Tower.

When it was first announced that the Tower would close back in 2014 The Manchester Tab published, with confirmation from the University, that it was set to be demolished the following year (June 2015). Seven years later, the Tower still remains standing, as does the possibility it could be demolished, but only as an idea as there are no official plans currently in place to demolish the building. The response to the Freedom of Information Act request stated that: “The ongoing Residential Strategy implementation includes consideration of the demolition of the Tower, however there is no set time frame in place at this time.”

Part of the reason for such a delay is due to a focus on developing other accommodations and setbacks due to the pandemic. The response from the request gave several reasons as to why no action towards the Tower had taken place, stating that, “Through the preceding 7 years this has been impacted by a combination of construction industry matters, financial considerations, and the global coronavirus pandemic.” Therefore, it seems that at least for now it is not clear what will happen to Owens Park Tower and the surrounding accommodation, despite it standing empty for more than three years.

Alongside the Tower, the other four blocks of Owens Park are empty. Tree Court, Green Court, Little Court, and the Mall have all been unoccupied since the academic year 2021/22. While these are unoccupied now, at its height of housing, Owens Park housed at maximum capacity 1,056-students.

Construction of the Tower was completed in 1966 and it is made up of 19 floors standing at an impressive 61 metres tall. It was once home to some famous alumni, including comedian Jack Whitehall, actor and writer Rik Mayall, and Radiohead guitarist Ed O’Brien.

Photo: Cjc13 @ Wikimedia Commons

The residence was renowned as the most lively student accommodation at the University; it was the centre of typical student antics essentially being the ‘original’ Oak House. Various drinking games were enjoyed by students, most famously a challenge which involved finishing a drink on each of the Tower’s floors until the top was reached. Participants would then have two drinks to finish off the game.

It was also home to the famous BOP, standing for Big Old Party, which was held every Friday in the common area for the halls. Although the last BOP took place in 2013 it had been a tradition for over 25 years.

Infestation issues, broken lifts, and water pumps continually breaking. It was joke worthy by the end

When it was first announced that the Tower would close, students jokingly pushed back. A student writing for The Manchester Tab wrote an article titled ‘Every reason not to knock down Owens Park’, detailing the buzzing social scene surrounding it, and its importance to student life on Fallowfield Campus. The Mancunion also reported on its closure looking back on the Tower as a symbol of returning home from a day on campus.

While it was remembered by some nostalgically as the heyday of their University lives, it was clear that at nearly 60 years old the Tower was well overdue a change or at least refurbishment. The Mancunion spoke to James, a former University of Manchester student who lived on the second floor of the Tower during his first year. James lived there from September 2017 until the end of the academic year in July 2018, which was just one year before it shut.

James told The Mancunion that while he lived there it had already been “earmarked for demolition”, which, consequently, meant that by then it was mainly being used as “a kind of overflow accommodation”. James said that this also meant that most of the floors were half empty and the “top few floors were completely unoccupied”. He described this as “sad” because it felt as though he was living in accommodation that had been left behind, and the inviting social aspect of the Tower, which often compensated for the drab exterior, was missing.

When asked how he found living there James expressed that “honestly [he] hated it”. It was clear that by the time James moved in it was well overdue some changes. Part of the problem was the consistent fire alarms that went off, “most nights”. Given the number of floors and the large volume of people that lived there, residents would have to wait a long time “freezing in the cold” , in the middle of the night to get back into the Tower.

Another former UoM Student, Georgina experienced similar trying issues when living in the Tower in 2016, “[There were] 3am fire alarms and one upsetting instance, when a bin was set alight and put into a lift almost burning the place to the ground”. 

Georgina expressed mixed feelings about her time at Owens Park “[I feel] grateful for the friends I made there and the onsite staff, particularly the cleaners with messy first year students.” But Georgina was faced with a number of problems: “infestation issues, broken lifts, and water pumps continually breaking. It was joke worthy by the end.”

James also found the Tower to be lacking basic facilities. He told The Mancunion that “the carpets were vile [and] the furniture was gross and broken”. He also complained that because the accommodation was catered, the kitchens were far too small as “there were only two hobs for about 10-12 people.”  Around 20 people usually lived on each floor , which were split by the lift shaft through the middle, one side for boys and the other for girls.

When asked what he thought should happen to the Tower next, he joked at first that they “should knock it down!” But he also went on to say that while he did not enjoy it for himself, he could see it had a lot of potential to be great, and that as long as they “redesigned it”, it could be “nice to keep, especially as the common rooms were huge”. “If it was just done up a bit it would be a really unique halls experience”.

However, James said that by the time he was living there it felt like it “was on life support, and you were standing in the ashes of something that used to have something very special about it”.

Georgina also echoed this sentiment, “in its last year, it was truly falling apart.” But, similarly to James she’s not sure if demolition is the best outcome “It’s a cracking view of Manchester which would be a shame to lose but it should perhaps house something other than accommodation for students”. 

The Tower and Owens park complex originally closed for redevelopment, pending demolition. In the Freedom of Information request sent by The Mancunion, however, it was confirmed that under the Homes (Fitness for Habitation) Act 2018 it was still legally deemed habitable.

After University of Manchester’s halls oversubscription led to a £250,000 payout to students, and some first-years being offered accommodation in Liverpool, it could be questioned whether refurbishing the Tower could become an option.

Whether the infamous Tower stands as an eyesore that needs to be knocked down, some kind of strange homecoming at the end of a long (or short day) at University, or a building that has a rich student history behind it. Its presence has been a hallmark for Fallowfield Campus for almost 60 years. It seems at least for now its lonely presence will remain standing tall over the area. One thing is clear though, if walls could talk this building would certainly have some stories to tell.

When contacted for comment, a University spokesperson said: “The Board received an outline business case for investment in the University’s residential portfolio as part of the wider residential strategy, aimed at improving students’ experience. The case to act and the demand for residential accommodation has been well-established. The outline business case covers investment in new developments at the Fallowfield and Whitworth Park campus sites as well as increased long term maintenance provision. As well as residences, the plans include amenity and social space and integrated pastoral support with gateway hubs facilitating interaction with key services.  Amongst a range of issues, the meeting discussed rent affordability and the importance of ensuring a range of price points. No timescales for the plans have yet been agreed.”

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