• George Stamets

Exploring a Deserted University of Leeds Campus During the COVID-19 Lockdown, April-May 2020

Updated: May 5

Leeds city centre – workplace of around 100,000 – has of course seen a greatly diminished level of activity during the lockdown. This has been true for nearly six weeks, and was especially so at the end of March and beginning of April (see my blog post here). But because the city centre is also the home of several tens of thousands and the site of Leeds General Infirmary, there is always a fairly significant minimum presence during the daytime even with most residents staying indoors.


By contrast, the campus of the University of Leeds, adjacent to the northwestern part of the city centre near LGI, has been largely deserted from late March into early May. The university is the fifth-largest in the UK with around 38,000 total students (undergraduate plus postgraduate) – some 25% of which are international students – plus 8,700 staff. (Third-largest, in fact, if you set aside the University of London system and the primarily-online Open University.) But even with the end of Easter break on 27 April, the move to online teaching and working from home means that the only bodies around are a skeleton crew, including some number of essential staff and researchers, and the occasional jogger (or photo-seeker bringing a camera along on his state-sanctioned walk).


The university’s Wikipedia page describes the campus as being comprised of “a mixture of Gothic revival, art deco, brutalist, and postmodern buildings” – an impressive diversity that can be seen in the photos that follow, taken during a handful of walks in April and May.


The main entrance to the university is on Woodhouse Lane, with the front steps of the Parkinson Building on one side and a row of shops and cafes opposite. During normal times, students commonly grab a meal across the road, sprint across the busy lanes of traffic, then sit to eat and chat on the Parkinson steps.


Entering campus under a wing of the Michael Sadler Building takes you past Sadler and then Botany House on one side, and the Baines Wing and Great Hall on the other. The School of Philosophy, Religion, and History of Science, where I'm doing my PhD, is housed in Sadler and Botany House – between which buildings lies a circular courtyard called Beech Grove Plaza. This is the site of an uber-Instagrammable sculpture installed in 2014 and known to many as the 'Squiggly Bacon' or sometimes the 'Wobbly Bacon' – though officially called Sign for Art (Stelae 2014), apparently a reference to its derivation from a sign used in British Sign Language.


Perhaps even stranger than seeing the Woodhouse Lane entrance so barren is seeing no one around the Leeds University Union building in the heart of the campus. In addition to the many offices and retailers inside the union (and two beloved pubs, Old Bar and Terrace), the courtyard in front features a farmers' market every Monday during term time. At the moment its population is a handful of pigeons and the odd squirrel.


My usual path home from Sadler and Botany House takes me underneath the Social Sciences Building (first photo below) and down past Eddy B – i.e., the Edward Boyle Library, one of the largest on campus. The small courtyard in front is typically packed with students taking a break from study sessions inside the library, including a few cheeky smokers often found seated on the wall just outside the entrance to the Edit Room cafe.


Just beyond Eddy B lies a larger staircase – perhaps my least favorite part of campus as I'm usually nursing some lower-body sport injury – which leads down to the Roger Stevens building, a gorgeous piece of brutalist architecture lying between the Cooling Pond on one side and Sustainable Garden on the other. (Others may disagree, but consider me a big fan of the style, likely owing to undying love for my undergraduate alma mater and some of its architecture.) Facing east from Roger Stevens leads toward a corridor running past the enormous EC Stoner Building, the windows of which give off a range of spectacular blueish-green hues under the right light, and down toward the Nexus building and then an entrance to the university directly over the Ring Road on the edge of the city centre.


In my next blog post, I’ll be concentrating on a relatively little-known part of campus: St. George’s Field, known to others – perhaps more properly so – as Woodhouse Cemetery. Subscribe above to receive the post directly or follow my Facebook page.


All of these and many more photos of campus can be seen in high-resolution in an album on Flickr.

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© 2020 George Stamets

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