Please be assured that, despite some reports, there is no intention to close permanently the prayer rooms and every effort is being made to ensure they re-open in time for the new academic year.
The primary decision behind the proposal is to ensure prayer space on campus is a multi-faith space to avoid discrimination against any group of students or staff at Newcastle University. The University is a secular organisation where we celebrate and value the diversity of our student groups and our intention is to create a more inclusive environment for students and staff of all faiths on campus.
Until 2016 the University provided two prayer spaces on campus – the Prayer Room in the King George VI Building and the Chaplaincy in Windsor Terrace. Regrettably, we had to close the prayer space in Windsor Terrace because the building where it was housed was structurally unsuitable. This has left us with a pressing shortage of prayer space to cater for all of our many student societies of various faiths and also for our staff.
We now have building issues in the King George VI building. Asbestos is in the ducts below the prayer space and this needs to be safely removed to allow the rest of the building to be refurbished to accommodate our new School of Pharmacy. This means that we have to close it temporarily to allow these building works to take place safely.
This temporary closure and renovation has given us the opportunity to look at the wider requirements of all student and staff groups, in particular, those who had been impacted by the earlier closure of our Windsor Terrace space a year ago.
To cater for the very diverse needs of our staff and students, and to ensure that all faith groups have equitable provision, we will be opening the prayer rooms as a multi-faith space in the Autumn. We will also be appointing a dedicated multi-faith coordinator to manage the facility. Many other universities operate successful multi-faith facilities and our lead Chaplain has recently visited two universities to review how these spaces are run.
We are aware of the practical considerations that will need to be taken into account in running the space. We recognise that various groups will need specific times to pray and there will need to be flexibility during certain religious periods and festivals. This is why we are committed to working closely with ISoc, the Jewish Society, Catholic Society and numerous others to ensure we understand and manage their needs and expectations.
We are making every effort to ensure the multi-faith space is re-opened in time for the new academic year. We have chosen the summer holidays to do this work as many of our staff and students are away and we were also keen to avoid key religious dates. During the closure, we are signposting our staff and students to other faith spaces across the city.
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