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This month with Martin Horwood MP

Can Uni find its creative soul again?
There have been a few bumps and controversies at the University of Gloucestershire in recent years. Constant financial worries landed them with some stark choices and I have to confess that I bitterly disagreed with some of the decisions that were taken. The loss of the creative foundation course that was a gateway into higher degree courses and careers for generations of budding artists and designers and the closure of the arts and media campus at Pittville, which traced its history back to the original Cheltenham School of Art in 1852, were hard pills to swallow.

Students too, loved Pittville and the mix of media and arts courses gave it a unique creative flavour. After attending one event to promote local music there, I saw students standing on the tables and singing ’Pittville ‘til I die!’ I don’t know what it did to the furniture but it had soul. More recently I’ve been invited to visit the spanking new facilities at the Park and Hardwick campuses that have
replaced Pittville. I have to tell you they are stunning. At the Park’s media centre, state of the art studios, workspaces and multimedia editing facilities frankly put the facilities at real local media stations to shame. At Hardwick, the bright open environment is already nurturing striking art, design and photography. Has the soul of Pittville entered these shiny new premises? Perhaps that will take time.

But in the meantime, the University has undoubtedly delivered some very special places in which future generations will be able to explore and develop their creative skills.

Family Elgar takes on the world.
The University also has an unusual centre for family business in its business school. I’ve found them a cracking case study. Edward and Sandy Elgar founded Edward Elgar Publishing in 1986 as an academic publishing house and they’re now based in a rather grand headquarters on
Lansdown Road. If you like trashy novels, this is not the place for you. But if you want to pick up some bedtime reading on Chinese intellectual property and technology laws or a primer on green national accounting and sustainability, you’ve hit the jackpot.

It may all sound uncompromisingly intellectual (and it is) but it’s selling like hot cakes. Elgar have kept on growing through the recession, not least by focusing on exports around the world. And they seem to be taking the electronic publishing revolution in their stride too. It’s an amazing local success story. But it’s still a friendly family firm.

Edward and Sandy are planning to put their feet up a bit more in the not too distant future and, in a twist that wouldn’t be out of place in a trashy novel, they’re handing on the management to their sons in law, TimWilliams and Alex Pettifer. I sense a successful sequel coming.

I was swearing at the satnav that took me off into the wilds of Gloucestershire recently but what I eventually found at the end of my journey was pretty wild too. Local office supply company Commercial already have a reputation for green initiatives and are on a mission to reduce the carbon emissions from their fleet of delivery vehicles in particular.

What I’d been invited to see the new Hydrogen-powered vans which they’re testing. I won’t bore you with the physics (mainly because it’s a bit like black magic to me) but essentially water and electricity go into a shed-sized converter and hydrogen fuel comes out the other end and you fill up the tank in the normal way. The van’s engine is only adapted not replaced and all that comes of the exhaust is water vapour.

It’s all much cleaner and more energy-efficient than petrol or diesel and, if you use renewable electricity, the carbon emissions are very low
indeed. There aren’t many fuel stops yet though and if you use my satnav, you’d never find them. Watch this space though. It could be the fuel technology of the future.