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From department store to City Campus: students to tell story of Debenhams building at History Festival

University of Gloucestershire students will present their research into key areas of the city’s rich and complex past at the 2022 Gloucester History Festival, including the story of the former Debenhams building, which will soon embrace a new chapter as City Campus.

History students from the University – a proud sponsor of the Gloucester History Festival – have created three exhibitions for this year’s event (3-18 September) featuring a varied programme of live talks by international historians, tours and open days.

From Department Store to City Campus: the Story of the Debenham’s Building’ (5-16 September) will trace the evolution of the iconic building in Kings Square from the Bon Marche department store, through to the takeover by Debenhams in the 1970s, and the acquisition by the University as home to its new City Campus.

The students’ research will highlight the building’s ties to the history of Gloucester as a key centre of trade and commerce, as well as its relationship with the local community.

‘Gloucester Kindertransport’ exhibition (2-18 September) will explore the experiences of 10 Jewish refugee boys who were housed in a hostel in Gloucester during the early stages of the Second World War.

The exhibition draws links to the long history of Britain serving as a place of refuge and to the assistance currently being provided to refugees in Gloucestershire.

The exhibit will also be on display alongside a short film – ‘The Boys at Number 18’ – about the residents of Gloucester’s Kindertransport Hostel on 12 September at Sherborne Cinema for which tickets are now available to book.

Running from 5 September to 16 September, ‘Slavery and Abolitionism in Gloucestershire’ focuses on legacies of the transatlantic slave trade – the life of a Cheltenham resident who was the largest slave-owner in Barbados, and a prominent local activist who campaigned for the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire.

Dr Christian O’Connell, Academic Course Leader in History, History and Philosophy within the School of Natural and Social Sciences at the University, said: “The research provided students on our History degree programme with an opportunity to explore, question and interpret some diverse stories from Gloucestershire’s rich history.

“Over the course of six months, they gained some fascinating insights into the stories behind some of Gloucestershire’s most influential people and buildings that over many decades have helped to shape how it looks and feels today.

“The students are excited to be part of this year’s Gloucester History Festival and looking forward to sharing the findings of their research with visitors.

“After the Festival, the work will be available virtually on the Cotswold Centre for History and Heritage website, where the research of past history students for the Festival is also available.”