Celebrating the completion of the Central Spaces project

Thursday 6 October 2022


St Catharine’s is delighted to celebrate the completion of the Central Spaces major building project, and officially open its elegant and accessible suite of new facilities that will enhance life in College for the benefit of students, staff, Fellows, alumni and visitors. A special event was held yesterday for representatives of the College’s student body, staff departments and Fellowship as well as donors who have given generously to fund this important project.

A special ceremony was presided over by alumnus Sir Ian McKellen (1958, English; Honorary Fellow 1982) who used some pyrotechnic wizardry to conjure a blazing doorway, which he then walked through – once the flames subsided – to mark the opening of these new spaces. In his remarks, he admired how the new spaces blend traditional and modern elements, shared his fond memories from his undergraduate years at St Catharine’s and praised the College's support for its students today.

Sir Ian McKellen and attendees at the St Catharine's College Central Spaces opening event
Sir Ian McKellen with attendees at the opening ceremony (credit: Martin Bond, A Cambridge Diary)

Sir Ian McKellen conjures a pyrotechnic doorway
Sir Ian McKellen conjures a pyrotechnic doorway to celebrate the opening (credit: Martin Bond, A Cambridge Diary)

The Central Spaces building project was an extensive renovation that has revitalised the facilities at the heart of the College’s Island site on Trumpington Street. The centrepiece is undoubtedly the new dining hall, kitchens and surrounding areas, which have been completely renovated to an extraordinary standard. The hall has been designed to host up to 190 diners for College activities or external events – enough space for a full year-group with Fellows and other guests.

For the first time, the College has direct, step-free access between its 17th-century buildings and more recent additions: a new central lift and atrium connect the purpose-built gym and music room in the basement to the Hall, Chapel and function rooms on the ground floor, and the Sherlock Library and student accommodation on higher levels. A new Garden Room offers an informal space to meet and work that also serves to link the Hall to the McGrath Centre, Bar and other facilities in Chapel Court.

Costing in the region of £16 million, this transformative project has been entirely supported through fundraising. It is a source of great pride for St Catharine’s that it is the second of our recent projects to be wholly funded by alumni, following the example set by the construction of the McGrath Centre almost a decade ago.

Professor Sir Mark Welland, Master of St Catharine’s, commented:

“Having regularly inspected the construction site as building progressed, I cannot overemphasise how incredibly difficult it has been to realise the College’s vision of connecting and modernising such a complex set of rooms, structures and walls. I am enormously grateful to every part of our community for supporting each phase of the Central Spaces project: through generous donations, working alongside our partners to design and deliver the project, and helping us navigate the disruption associated with living and working alongside a construction site.

“As I watched everyone at the opening ceremony enjoying our beautiful new spaces, the St Catharine’s spirit of togetherness was plain to see. I am confident these outstanding facilities will serve the College community well for generations to come.”

Artist's impression of the new Hall at St Catharine's College
Artist's impression of the new Hall
The new Hall at St Catharine's College
The new Hall
Artist's impression of the new atrium at St Catharine's College
Artist's impression of the new atrium that connects the College's modern and historical buildings
The new atrium at St Catharine's College
The new atrium on completion

Yesterday’s ceremony represents the culmination of over 18 months of construction and an even longer period of planning:

  • 2017–2019: The project was originally conceived
  • 2019–2022: Consultation with St Catharine’s students, staff and Fellows to ensure the project focused on what was needed most and to minimise disruption to College life as much as possible
  • July 2020: The College announced that it had received planning permission and listed building consent from Cambridge City Council
  • September 2020–February 2021: Demolition and the initial phase of construction began on schedule, including moving the staircase in the McGrath Centre to improve access to the new facilities
  • 15 August 2022: Construction was completed and the site was handed back to the College
  • 15 August–5 October 2022: The final phase of work by the College’s various departments to get the new spaces fully ready for the start of the new academic year: from hanging artwork, to installing new gym equipment.

St Catharine’s has relied on a number of partners in the design and execution of the Central Spaces project (in order of appointment): Henry Riley (our project managers), Gort Scott (our pre-construction architect), SDC Builders (our main contractor), AMA (our executive architect) and Ralph & Smith (our interior design consultants).

St Catharine's students looking up
Undergraduates on a tour of the Central Spaces (credit: Martin Bond, A Cambridge Diary)
Fellows and guests in the new Gallery at St Catharine's College
Fellows and guests in the new Gallery (credit: Martin Bond, A Cambridge Diary)