Sir David and Michael Attenborough officially open Centenary Square

Sir David and Michael Attenborough join the Vice-Chancellor, guests and public to dedicate Centenary Square on 11 November 2018.

On Sunday 11 November 2018, hundreds of students, staff, alumni and members of the community joined Sir David Attenborough and his nephew Michael Attenborough on campus to pay their respects to those from Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland who made sacrifices during the Great War and start the formal celebrations of the centenary of our University.

As well as commemorating 100 years since the end of the First World War, the day also marked 100 years since prominent local physician Dr Astley Clarke founded the ‘Leicester University Fund’ in celebration of peace. Dr Clarke made the first contribution of one hundred pounds.

Poppy Wreath

The Attenboroughs, as patrons of the University’s centenary campaign unveiled a plaque to officially name Centenary Square, the communal square in the heart of the University’s campus. The name was chosen in honour of the University’s forthcoming centenary – its predecessor the Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland University College officially opened its doors to students in 1921.

In his opening address, President and Vice-Chancellor, Professor Paul Boyle CBE said: “Leicester is a remarkable place because it is the only city in the world to create a university as a living memorial to the First World War thanks to donations, large and small, made by the local community.

“It is a legacy we do not take lightly and I am immensely proud of this connection.  This university was created by, and belongs to, the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland.”

The President and Vice-Chancellor also revealed during the event that the University has been recognised as a University of Sanctuary  – one of only eight in the country and the only one in the region.

Colleen Molloy, National Development Officer for City of Sanctuary UK and a graduate of the University who presented the University of Sanctuary certificate to the President and Vice-Chancellor said: “Being a University of Sanctuary is more than a case of being welcoming – it is about embedding in every layer of the University a deep understanding of the needs of refugees in order to ensure that lives and talents are not wasted and to harness the fantastic contribution that refugees and asylum seekers can make to our society.”

The Attenborough family has a long association with the University, with Sir David’s father, Frederick Attenborough, appointed as Principal of the University College 1932-1951. His sons – Richard, David and John grew up on campus.
Sir David and Michael Attenborough open Centenary Square

In his speech, Sir David said: “It is a proud boast that I have that I was reared on this campus. It is a wonderful University. I feel it in my blood, and I am truly privileged to be here at this epoch making event launching yet a new enterprise of generosity for new citizens of this city.

“This University has a wonderful reputation for humanity, for culture, for generosity as do the citizens of this ancient noble city. I believe it will continue because you have now become a University of Sanctuary offering scholarships to people who come here for many reasons to seek safety, sanctuary and learning. And you, the citizens of this city, will be supporting them and I hope will continue to support them.”

Dr Clarke’s great-great-great niece, Lily McCurdy, who graduated with a PGCE from the University this summer read a letter her ancestor wrote to the Leicester Daily Post in 1917, calling for the creation of a University College as a fitting war memorial. Lily also appears in our new centenary film which was shown in cinema's across  Leicester and Leicestershire over Armistice weekend.

City Mayor and University graduate, Sir Peter Soulsby also took to the stage during the event. He said: “When we look back, we do so from a position where we are very proud of our University. It has a richly deserved national and international reputation for its teaching and its research and that is something that is of great pride not just for the University, but the city and counties that gave it birth. 

Sir Peter Soulsby at the University of Leicester “As we look back over those 100 years with considerable pride and considerable gratitude for those who established it, to also look forward to the next 100 years and to wish that over those 100 years it might also continue to give them life.”

The event concluded with 11 current students contributing to a three-year poppy pilgrimage on behalf of the University. The selected students were Centenary Scholars who are receiving financial support for their studies as part of the University’s Centenary Scholarship programme. Eleven students were selected to represent the University’s first ever student intake of 11.