THE WOMAN who has been at the forefront of efforts to establish Hastings as a university town over the last 10 years is retiring.
Margaret Wallis, 62, director of the University of Brighton’s campus in Hastings, was a member of the original team when the University Centre Hastings opened in September 2003. Today (Friday) is her last day in the job.
Mrs Wallis said that opening up the possibility of university to those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and giving something back to Hastings, had been her key motivations.
“Hastings is a very special place,” she said. “It winds itself around your heart.
“You can regenerate a town with buildings, but to change hearts and minds needs education.”
Mrs Wallis, who lives in Eastbourne with her maths lecturer husband and has two grown-up children, joined what was Brighton Polytechnic in 1989 as a lecturer in the Department of Library and Information Studies.
In 2003 she heard that the University of Brighton was interested in starting a widening participation project in Hastings, and joined the team.
From small beginnings - 40 students, one foundation degree and five staff - the campus has grown to include two buildings, 100 staff, more than 800 students, and nearly 40 degree programmes, from media to social sciences to nursing.
The University of Brighton in Hastings now has an annual budget of £7.5 million, and Mrs Wallis says she believes this translates to an annual value of £14 million to the town.
“What has been fantastic is to see the sense of enthusiasm and confidence that has grown in the people of Hastings,” she added.
Originally from Worthing, Mrs Wallis attended Christ’s Hospital School, which gives children from poorer backgrounds the chance of a better education. “It gave people like me the opportunity to go to university,” she said.
She went on to read English at the University of York, and has since been determined that others from similar backgrounds should have the chance to reach their full potential.
Hastings is beginning to be regarded as a university town, she added, with the University of Brighton showing its commitment itself in terms of strong partnerships with Hastings Borough Council, and others, and lead sponsorship of the Hastings and St Leonards Academies.
Mrs Wallis said: “I am going to miss it hugely. I am going to miss my team, which is committed to the students - they are at the heart of what we do.
“As a teacher, the buzz you get is to watch a youngster gain confidence and develop.”
As far as the future is concerned, she sees The University of Brighton in Hastings continue in the same vein, growing, and consolidating, for it is still relatively early days.
Replacing her as interim director on a part-time basis, will be Paul Frost, head of the School of Service Management.