The remarkable transformation of Oxford University’s last all male institution into a fully co-educational modern centre of teaching and research has taken a crucial step forward thanks to the generosity of a donor to St Benet’s Hall.
The benefaction—from Lord Bamford, the chairman of the construction equipment manufacturer, JCB—has paved the way for St Benet’s to purchase a former convent in North Oxford. The building is vital to the future of the Hall, which began admitting women students in 2015.
The building, which provides essential space for accommodation, teaching and research, was being used by the Hall on a short-term lease. The gift from Lord Bamford made it possible for St Benet’s to press ahead with purchasing the building which is now fully secured through a mortgage for the remainder of the purchase price.
Lord Bamford said: “I am delighted to be able to make a contribution to the continuing transformation of St Benet’s Hall. It is a really unique community which plays a highly distinctive role in the wider University.”
The acting Master of St Benet’s at the time of the gift, Professor Sue Doran, said:
“We are extremely grateful to Lord Bamford for this generous gift, which means that St Benet’s can move forward with real optimism into an exciting new era.
“This is a highly important moment for the Hall, for its students—particularly its female students—and staff, and for the unique contribution St Benet’s makes to the world-leading teaching and research of the University of Oxford.”
St Benet’s historic roots lie in the Roman Catholic Benedictine tradition, and for more than a century it educated male students only. That changed in 2015 when the first female students were admitted. This academic year the Hall admitted equal numbers of male and female students.
The St Benet’s community continues to include a small number of Benedictine monks, and the significance of religious belief in the twenty-first century remains an important part of the Hall’s academic work and focus. However, no religious affiliation of any kind is required or expected of its academic staff and students.
Although St Benet’s is now in a position to secure the property in Norham Gardens, Professor Doran stresses that there is still a great deal of work to be done.
“We still need to find several million pounds to complete the project and to realise in full the vision we have for St Benet’s. But this is a truly exciting and important step forward and it gives real hope for the future to everyone who values St Benet’s and what it stands for.”