Leicester unveils new £24m renovated Students’ Union

The newly renovated £24m Percy Gee building – home to the University of Leicester’s Students’ Union – was officially unveiled at a ceremony on Tuesday. 

Percy Gee is the vibrant hub at the heart of the University campus, where students and staff alike can eat, work, study and relax within flexible, multi-use areas all in one space. The four-storey expansion features a new dedicated informatics lab, a high-tech media centre and a performance studio, a new integrated student and library information services hub, as well as a new food court.

The event was attended by Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and Esua Jane Goldsmith, President of the University of Leicester Students’ Union in 1975, plus other former student representatives from the past eight decades, dating back to the 1950s. Words from Caroline Wessel, a descendant of Percy Gee, were also read at the opening ceremony.

The building itself is steeped in rich history – officially opened by Her Majesty The Queen and Prince Philip in May 1958, a year after the University was granted a Royal Charter, the Percy Gee building has hosted some of the most famous names in rock music history, including Led Zeppelin (1969), Elton John (1971), Queen (1973), Iron Maiden (1979), The Cure (1982), Blur (1991), Radiohead and Pulp (1993).

It is named after Percy Gee, one of the founder members of the Leicester University College who served on the College Council from 1924 and one of the first Honorary Graduates of the University of Leicester in 1958. Gee successively served as Treasurer, Vice-Chairman and Chairman, and financed the College personally through financial crises of the 1930s. When the College received its Royal Charter Gee became the first Pro-Chancellor. 

Designed by T Shirley Worthington, the original building was described as “one of the most magnificent buildings in Leicester” by the Leicester Evening Mail. Columns were made of travertine marble and neoclassical chandeliers graced the oak-panelled Great Hall. It included “a games room, squash court, seminaries, a devotional room, common rooms and dining halls” set out across 26 different floor levels over five storeys and no lifts.

This transformation of the Percy Gee East Wing was undertaken by architects Shepheard Epstein Hunter, who also carried out the original award-winning refurbishment of the building in 2011. The work won the Procon Leicestershire Building of the Year award, the 2010 Leicester Civic Society Award for Architecture, and Project of the Year at the East Midlands Constructing Excellence Awards.

Speaking at the ceremony, President and Vice-Chancellor Professor Nishan Canagarajah said: “The transformation of Percy Gee building is something really special – we have really created a beautiful space that is the beating heart of our campus for students and staff to eat, work, study and relax. 

“We are committed to delivering the very best for our students, and the new dedicated informatics lab and media centre will ensure students have cutting edge facilities at their fingertips.

“In our Centenary year, I am delighted that we can honour the legacy of Percy Gee, who did so much for the University. It is truly wonderful that the buildings on campus are each steeped in their own rich and unique history.”

Leicester City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby said: “Leicester was not yet my home, when the Queen and the late Duke of Edinburgh opened the Percy Gee Building in 1958, but I'm delighted to be here for its reopening in the University's Centenary year.  

“Thanks to the University's investment and this extensive refurbishment, the building will continue to be an integral part of the student experience for generations to come.”

Find out more about the history of the Percy Gee building at le.ac.uk/centenary/our-100/buildings.