I went to the consultation event at Old Trafford.
Gary Neville was there alongside Prof Sharon Huttly from Lancaster Uni and Theresa Grant from Trafford.
In terms of what I learned; I learned Gary Neville has a genuine belief that there's space in the market for a different ethos of higher education. He's sincere. I don't think I'd appreciated how sincere. Doesn't mean he's not going to make some money, but his drive seems to me to be coming from a place that plenty of kids miss out on higher education because conventionally, the emphasis has been on a different approach. I think I actually share that belief and possibly for a long time; perhaps it's because I wasn't attracted to go to university myself.
Gary Neville's belief seems to stem both from his time in the united youth set-up and equally from being with the academy players at Salford City. There's an emphasis on hard work, not necessarily on prior qualifications. Lancaster seem fully on board, but will want to ensure that the degrees offer a genuinely marketable asset for their graduates. UA92 is going to be marketed globally but with an expectation of 2/3 UK based 1/3 students.
The Salford City side of this is more than I'd appreciated, with them having use of academy pitches down on Turn Moss between Stretford and Chorlton as well as part of the educational throughput.
I genuinely want this project to do well. I really hope he's right that there is a place in the market. It does feel at this stage that the narrative is too blokey, but they've got time to sort that.
He is going to face some cynicism from vested interests in academia, but it's a credit to Lancaster that they've got on board. Especially given that they've just been awarded 'University of the Year' (and could have just basked in the glow from that), their presence gives this project real credibility. Bottom line is if it means that more northern working class kids get a chance of better life chances then as a Labour man I've got to support this.
Gary and Sharon gave the appearance that they were ready for some community negativity and some forensic questioning. Nevertheless, it was disheartening that the very first intervention was in fact "Do you know how much Stretford is against this project?". There's definitely opposition to some aspects of the town centre masterplan, I totally object myself to any loss of trees or greenspace close to St Ann's church. We'll have to work through those details and others, but I need to be clear; I welcome UA92 to our area.
I believe it is an incredibly exciting project and I genuinely want it to be a success.
We'll learn more in the new year when they'll be closer to releasing their prospectus, but there's a real opportunity for Trafford schools, Colleges and businesses to part of something truly remarkable.