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Fears for future of Mandela Hall amid plans for new student hub

By Michael McHugh

Published 21/01/2016

The Queen's Students' Union
The Queen's Students' Union

Mandela Hall could be demolished, campaigners fear, after Queen's University Belfast (QUB) announced plans to build a new students' centre.

Nearly 3,000 people have signed a petition opposing the redevelopment of one of Northern Ireland's best-known live music venues. Radiohead played one of their biggest secret shows there in the 1990s while Shine nightclub has attracted many of dance music's best acts.

Michael McFerran, a music lover from Ballymena, Co Antrim, said: "Mandela Hall isn't just a venue in the students' union.

"It's one of the best live music venues in all of Northern Ireland. Along with the Speakeasy and Bar Sub they have nurtured musical talent in Belfast and beyond for the last few decades and a new students' union building without these venues would be utterly tragic for the musical landscape of the north."

Queen's University has placed a tender for an architect-led design team for an integrated student centre.

It said: "The project will redevelop the existing Students' Union site to provide a new purpose-built integrated student centre which addresses the identified accommodation needs, providing a stimulating and engaging environment for the undergraduate and postgraduate student population." The brief for the new building envisages a total area of approximately 11,000 sq m over a number of floors and the total cost will exceed £24m.

Shine nightclub has hosted scores of famous names. Future Radio 1 presenter Annie Mac attended while she was a student. At one time it was home to one of Belfast's biggest techno nights.

A Change.org petition said: "Please support us to prevent the possible closure of a venue that has hosted massive student club nights, comedy shows, DJ sets, live concerts and everything in between."

Caoimhe McNeill, students' union president, said the conversation about the need for redevelopment started five years ago after students said they wanted to see improvements to the building.

"It's a project very much in the early stages but my priority is, of course, to ensure that if the redevelopment goes ahead that it serves the needs of Queen's students and provides them with a full range of support, advice, representational, developmental and commercial services that will significantly enhance their experience at Queen's."

A spokesman for Queen's said: "The University has initiated a project involving all the relevant stakeholders, including the Students' Union, to explore the potential development of an integrated student centre.

"The project, which is aligned to both the Students' Union Strategic Plan 2015-20 and Vision 2020, has the potential to deliver an integrated hub for student services - this project remains very much at the pre-feasibility and concept stage."

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