Nicola Elson reports on the protest organised by Maddie Broad and Tom Stockley at the Falmouth sign on Wednesday.
You may have noticed the newest addition to Woodlane campus – or rather, all eight of them. The large concrete letters have cause a considerable stir among students and residents of Falmouth, and on Wednesday a group of Falmouth University students came together to put on a day of fun around the sign to reclaim the space used.
Third year Fine Art students Maddie Broad and Tom Stockley created the event ‘Follywood’, which happened on the sign’s location this Wednesday, beginning at nine and continuing through to the evening. They were unhappy with the university’s decision to create the large and, presumably expensive, sign and decided to have a peaceful protest which would include both students and the local community. This was not the first event that the two had organised in protest to the sign, as they were responsible for covering the sign in sofas and creating an ‘employability portal’ in the letter ‘O’.
‘Follywood’ began with a free breakfast, with the sign brightly decorated in blankets, banners, paintings, and balloons, and at lunchtime they had a shared picnic. There were games and painting activities happening all around the sign, with some live music and a dance performance by some choreography students that visited from the Tremough campus. At around half past three, as the primary school children were walking past on their way home, a story teller took to the stage and enchanted the children with some Cornish folk tales.
The day was full of fun and excitement for the students who were running it, the community and the children who got involved, and the onlookers that could witness the spectacle. However, there was a serious note to the playful event. At the FXU AGM, Falmouth University stated that their future was ‘financially unsustainable’. This was why they are planning on increasing the number of students that study with them, and why some popular courses have been cut over the last few years. The expense of the sign has been seen by some as needless and, in the words of one local resident, ‘pathetically short-sighted’.
Alex Day, third year Creative Writing student, stated: ‘they can put the sign up, that’s fine, they can do as many signs as they like. The problem here is what does the sign come in expense of, what else suffers because of this. I know that the craft course was cut last year, and there are people who would love to do that and instead they get to see a sign. So if something comes at a cost instead of something else, that’s when it’s a shame.’
The purpose of ‘Follywood’ was to reclaim the space that the university has used for its sign in a way that was beneficial to both the students and the community. Maddie Broad, founder of the event, told us that ‘we feel like spending so much money on this was a waste without asking or including the students in the decision making process. We feel like it could’ve been a much more useful space, more positive, more representative of the art school, and of the university as a whole. This is a very historical location, art school’s been here for a very long time, it moved to this location in 1950, and doing things like this seems to step away from that heritage. It was never about promoting itself like this before, and education is now becoming a business and in our opinion it shouldn’t be that way. Education should be about simply education. This is a fixation on profit, and getting new students in rather than looking after the ones that are here. This space could’ve been used to nurture the crossover point between the community and the students but instead it’s just stirred up a lot of debate, where they could’ve made it into a nice usable space – that’s what we’re doing today.’
I spoke to some local residents who were getting involved with the event, and asked their opinions on the sign, and on what the students were doing with it. One woman criticised the ‘cold branding’ of the sign, and said ‘I was horrified when I saw it, and when I found out how much it cost, I was shocked and appalled. It is patronising in the extreme.’ However, she praised what the students were doing, stating ‘I know things change, and they have changed a lot. I do love what’s happening here, because I think it’s rekindling the old cultural elements that make Falmouth what it was, what it should still be and what we don’t want to lose. It’s lovely to see students and community coming together.’
One member of the community said that it was not so much the price of the sign, but the values that it represents. He said: ‘I don’t mind it that much as a piece of concrete poetry, even if it is an odd place for it, but it’s the difference in values here of what they think is important and what we, and the students, think is important. My wife used to work here as a senior academic teacher, course program leader etc. and we know so many people who were either students, staff that she worked with, or that they’d brought in, that were being so shafted. There’s so much frustration and discontent right through the whole of the staff body. I’m sure there are some who are absolutely fine with all of it, but they have wasted and worn down so much talent and squandered so much commitment that it amazes me that the students still have that spark left. Good on you all.’
The event was a success in drawing attention to the issues that the new sign has caused, and in bringing together the students and the local community. Maddie was happy that she had achieved her goal, and whilst she knows that the sign is here to stay, she stated that ‘it would be a waste just to impose the name of the university there, why not actually use the space and have some fun, and show what we’re actually about in Falmouth – ideas, and people doing stuff to help other people.’
Falmouth University issued a statement clarifying the price of the sign and the university’s intentions. “The Falmouth sign cost £17,000. Falmouth University worked with three local businesses who manufactured, designed and installed the sign. Representatives from Falmouth Council and the Town team, including the Mayor were present at the unveiling as well as members of the public. We have transformed a dilapidated and overgrown piece of land into an iconic landmark for the whole of Falmouth including planting 1500 bluebells and wild flowers.”
It is clear that the Falmouth sign was built with good intentions, but it has led to a considerable debate over the values of the university. Some students, like Maddie, have no problem with the sign itself, but are angry over the lack of consultation with the current students on which direction they wanted the university to go in. Others are unhappy with seemingly needless expense of the sign. What this protest does show us, however, is that there is currently a lot of unease surrounding the decisions that Falmouth University are making – the issues that the sign has raised was one outlet for this displeasure that is rife among the students. But it seems that the new sign will remain, so for the people who never really knew where the Woodlane Campus was, at least now you can’t miss it.