An old building has been given a new purpose at Jesus College for the new academic year, with a professional kitchen and spacious dining rooms opening in their Forum building.

Located behind West Court and Marshall Court, the Forum was originally a large garage for the Marshalls car showroom on Jesus Lane. The building has been used in a variety of ways since it was taken over by the College, at one time housing the gardens team and most recently as a storage facility and occasional student event space.

The Forum’s makeover has been driven by the major kitchen redevelopment project in the historic heart of College. Domestic Bursar, Stuart Websdale, explains: “With the growth of the College community in recent decades, the main kitchen had become too small for purpose and was coming to the end of its working life. The design of the redevelopment focuses on sustainability, future-proofing the main building and accessibility. We’re incorporating cutting edge kitchen design, an extensive ground source heat pump system, eliminating gas cookers, and installing multiple passenger lifts to access all levels. We’re confident the end result will be worth the short-term disruption and slightly longer walk to the Forum.”

Faced with the main kitchen and dining halls being out of action for two years, an alternative space was needed to host a College community of over 1,000 people during term time. “We considered a range of solutions, including temporary kitchens and semi-permanent marquees, but the most commercially viable approach was also the best fit strategically.” Stuart explains.

Working with an eye on sustainability as well as practicality, the under-utilised Forum became the obvious choice to create an interim kitchen and dining space. “The building had evolved into a maze of informal storage space, but we soon realised that with some clever reconfiguration, we could recreate the same space as Hall and Upper Hall plus have a great sized kitchen that would meet the needs of our chefs and catering team.”

While two months of worktime were lost during the initial UK pandemic lockdown period in March and April, local firm Regent Construction resumed work with stringent social distancing to ensure the site was safe and the project completed to a high standard within a revised programme.

The new Forum was officially handed over to the College in the second week of September, just in time for the new term. “The access points and layout mean it’s been relatively easy to implement a one-way system as part of our COVID-19 safety measures.” explains Stuart, “The fact that the Forum dining hall is a larger and more flexible space than our historic Hall also means social distancing at mealtimes has been easier to implement.”

Paul Vonberg Architects has carefully incorporated design elements from the adjacent, award-winning West Court development into the revitalised Forum. Stuart continues: “The new Forum is directly accessible not just from the College grounds but also from West Court, so it flows as an obvious extension to that earlier project. The same floor tiles and wood accents bring the spaces together, while huge picture windows flood the main dining room with light, offering views of the College orchard.”

“We’ve aimed to transform the building into a long-term solution rather than simply go for a short-term quick fix.” Stuart explains. “We’ve gone for the most sustainable option we could, repurposing an existing building to meet current and future needs. While the Forum will house our principal kitchen and dining halls for the next two years, the work we’ve done will provide us with additional catering, meeting and events space for many years to come.”