A milestone in the construction of the Catherine Hughes building was marked this week with a topping out ceremony – the builders’ rite marking the placing of the last beam at the top of the structure.

A spruce tree was lifted to the top of the £11.5m building to signal the completion of its basic structure, as a crowd including students, College staff, local councillors, and members of the construction team looked on. 

photo (c) John Cairns

Undergraduates Jonathan Stark and Denise Wong (left) and Dr Trevor Hughes (middle) watch on as the spruce tree is secured.

The practice of topping out has its origins in pagan rituals. The tree is offered to appease the tree spirits displaced by the construction of the building.

Jan Royall, the Principal, said: “This building will allow us to house all of our undergraduate students here within the College.

“It plays an important part in bringing our community even closer together.

“The interior of this building is still taking shape, but I am delighted to see that the rooms will be so spacious and characterful, and that the spaces inside will be filled with natural light. I am confident that generations of students will be happy to live and study here.”

Applicants to Somerville appear to have responded to the promise of on-site college accommodation throughout their course with enthusiasm: direct applications to Somerville rose from 336 for the 2018-19 academic year to 513 in 2019-20.

Jan thanked her predecessor Dr Alice Prochaska and Catherine’s widower Trevor Hughes, both of whom attended the ceremony, for their roles in the conception of the project, along with the project team.

The tree was sent on its way to the top of the building by Dr Hughes and two Somerville undergraduates, Denise Wong and Jonathan Stark, to conclude the ceremony, before construction managers led guided tours of the site.

The next milestones will include the completion of the roof, brick cladding and weatherproofing, before the focus turns towards the interior fit. The building will house 68 students in en-suite study bedrooms, and will be completed in time for the 2019 academic year.

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