Celebrating 75 years of Hartpury

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Hartpury is marking its 75th anniversary this summer, having first opened its doors as the Gloucestershire Farm Institute shortly after World War II.

Today, Hartpury University and Hartpury College has 4,600 students from more than 60 countries studying PhDs, postgraduate and undergraduate degrees, and diplomas in our specialist subjects, including agriculture, animal, equine, sport, and veterinary nursing, as well as A-levels.

The Gloucestershire institution is also celebrating 30 years of university-level education. Hartpury College launched its first degree in Equine Studies in partnership with the University of the West of England (UWE), and quickly expanded to offer a comprehensive suite of more than 40 undergraduate qualifications today.

In 2017, Hartpury was granted ‘Taught Degree Awarding Powers’ (TDAP) followed by full university status in 2018. In September 2022, Hartpury University was ranked 1st in the South West and 6th in the UK for Teaching Quality, according to The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide 2023 – a remarkable achievement for a young institution.

Hartpury's journey began as the country emerged from the second world war, at a time when food rationing was prevalent. The government of the day were investing in home food production measures, funding those counties without ‘farm institutes’ to buy suitable estates to drive education and awareness.

The government and local council purchased Hartpury House and Home Farm for £47,000, before converting the stately home into classrooms, learning and dining facilities. A small cohort of male students studied, dined and even slept in Hartpury House during those early years. The first Principal was Jack Griffiths, followed by David Henderson.

The Gloucestershire Farm Institute later became the Gloucestershire College of Agriculture and Horticulture, before later changing its name to Hartpury College.

In the early days, a poultry unit was established at Hartpury House and the farm was reorganised to include a new piggery and milking parlour. In addition to Home Farm, Hartpury purchased Laughtons Farm in the 1960s, a site that housed a herd of Ayrshire cows. Two separate dairy herds operated across the two sites until all cows were transferred to Home Farm during the late 1980s. 

At around the same time, multiple factors meant that Hartpury College found itself on the verge of closure or merger. Gloucestershire County Council had little faith that Hartpury would survive a further three years, but were convinced to give the institution one last chance to turn things around. This was in no small part due to the valiant lobbying of Martin Baber, a local farmer, former student and governor who was convinced that with the right team of individuals, Hartpury could once again prosper.

Malcolm Wharton became Principal of Hartpury College during this time, taking on the most daunting challenge of navigating Hartpury out of its troubles. But this is exactly what he did. 

Supported by an ever-growing team of passionate governors, staff and board members, he got to work making small positive changes that fuelled a tsunami-like evolution in the years that followed.

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that without this team of resilient, passionate and hard working individuals, Hartpury may well not have reached its 50th anniversary, let alone its 75th.

Student numbers increased significantly during Malcolm’s tenure as equine and agriculture courses including a National Certificate in the Management of Horses and the BTEC First Diploma in Agriculture were introduced. Horticulture was also added to the growing subject offering, as well as animal care, sport, countryside management and gamekeeping, outdoor recreation, farm mechanisation and A-levels.

During the 1990s, Hartpury’s first higher education course also welcomed its first cohort of students under Malcolm’s watch, a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Horse Studies followed by a BSc (Hons) in Equine Science. The farm continued to grow and to embrace change, becoming one of the first to use technology to track milk yields in 1992.

Hartpury wasn’t just surviving, it was thriving.

The venue was increasingly seen as a place to hold major sporting events, with the 1994 World Championships for Disabled Riders and 1997 European Pony Championships all hosted here.

The summer equestrian events have now become important dates in the calendar and the NAF Five Star International Hartpury Horse Trials is now regarded as a pre-Burghley spectacle. The first British Eventing horse trials took place in the spring of 1992, a grassroots level competition at the time. It would be another ten years before the first annual international FEI horse trials would take place.

The nineties saw the emergence of the acorn within the Hartpury brand, a symbol now synonymous with the institution and reflecting not only the beautiful surroundings, but also the growth and potential that lies within staff and students alike. Fast forward to today, and sports students past and present are proud to sport their Hartpury kit, even after their study years are over. Elite Pro Sports is now the official kit supplier for Hartpury, with the acorn taking front and centre on the modern and stylish collection of sportswear, teamwear, staff clothing and accessories. 

In 1999, the University of the West of England (UWE) validated a new degree programme in Veterinary Nursing Science to coincide with Hartpury launching a new Animal Science Centre complete with a veterinary centre. 

Growth was rapid and by the 2000s, Hartpury had more higher education students than any college in the country, laying the foundation for what we see today. 

At the turn of the millennium, Hartpury hosted the European Young Rider Championships and this remains the only time that all three disciplines (showjumping, dressage and eventing) have been awarded to one venue at this level. A strong partnership with Gloucester Rugby began in 2000 too, allowing talented athletes the opportunity to continue with their education whilst developing their abilities and potential to become elite players on the pitch. Today, this partnership is stronger than ever.

Hartpury branched into other sports too, opening doors for students in football, modern pentathlon, netball, golf and rowing.

In 2007, Hartpury welcomed the Chairman of the London Organising Committee of the London 2012 Olympic Games, Lord Sebastian Coe, to open the £4.6million Hartpury Arena. The inaugural competition held in this arena was the FEI World Para Dressage Championships – the first to be held in Britain for more than 20 years. As Britain’s Olympic team prepared to jet off to the Beijing Games in 2008, HRH The Queen Consort (then in her role as Duchess of Cornwall) visited Hartpury for an official send-off. Hartpury had been used as an official pre-Games training camp.

Later that year, Hartpury College was awarded the British Equestrian Federation Medal of Honour for outstanding service to the equestrian industry.

HRH The Princess Royal has visited Hartpury on numerous occasions including to mark the opening of the Limbury student accommodation blocks and to unveil a new dairy unit in 2002. She has also attended multiple equestrian events and competitions at Hartpury Equine.

Russell Marchant took over the role of Principal in 2012 and continued with a strong programme of growth that saw landmark improvements to the campus, as well as further development of the subject areas and educational offering. During his tenure, Hartpury student numbers would exceed 4,000 for the first time and he’d go on to become Hartpury University’s first Vice-Chancellor!

During his first year at the helm, Hartpury Equine was selected as one of the South West region’s training facilities ahead of the London 2012 Olympic Games.

Despite the institution being steeped in agriculture, Hartpury would go on to forge one of the most enviable reputations for developing student athletes across a plethora of sports. Success in both men’s and women’s rugby saw numerous Hartpury players excel on the professional and international stage, many selected for Olympic and Commonwealth Games as well as for the Six Nations. The sports academies continued to grow and develop across men’s and women’s sports, too. By this time, Hartpury had become a centre of excellence in rugby.

In 2014, Gloucester Rugby and Hartpury came together to found a women's team (Gloucester-Hartpury), capitalising upon the popularity of the women’s game in the area. This has boosted the women’s game and both the university and college teams now frequently enjoy success in their respective competitions and leagues.

2017 saw the introduction of a work-based learning course for student veterinary nurses, opening the door to those trainee veterinary nurses who wanted to combine attending college with working in practice. 

2018 was a truly historic year with Hartpury officially becoming a university, following the Privy Council’s stringent and rigorous assessment process and years of hard work by Hartpury staff and governors.

Hartpury has invested over £10 million in its Sports Academy facilities. It was officially launched by Katherine Grainger DBE in 2019 and provides an outstanding training facility that rivals the likes of Premier League and NFL clubs. These facilities have helped to attract leading academic minds from areas including nutrition, strength and conditioning, coaching, sports therapy and sports psychology. This has no doubt helped Hartpury to produce qualified students that are ready to pursue multiple career paths and play an important role within the sports industry. Sports management and business is another strong area for the institution these days, and recent years have seen the development of the Hartpury Sports Business Hub, which enables student-business partnerships in the form of work placements or real-world consultancy projects.

Hartpury’s equestrian credentials remained strong during this period. The institution built its network of partners including the British Horseracing Authority, British Equestrian Federation, The Worshipful Company of Saddlers, The International Federation for Equestrian Sports and the Hong Kong Jockey Club, carrying out research projects and working with them to shape the future of the industry. 

As well as international arenas and extensive competition facilities, a Rider Performance Centre and commercial Equine Therapy Centre has become a hub for not only treating and rehabilitating horses at all levels, but also as a research and learning hub. Dressage legend Valegro has even made use of the facilities ahead of Olympic medal-winning performances in London and Rio. From here, the international guidelines for water treadmill use were developed – endorsed by the British Equestrian Federation. Other research geared around welfare, biomechanics, rider performance and saddlery fit have all been driven from this well-regarded facility. A new £500,000 hydrotherapy centre for equine excellence will launch officially later this year (2023).

The £2 million Agri-Tech Centre was officially opened in 2020 by NFU President Minette Batters, an important step in the wider Digital Innovation Farm strategy. This was an important part of Hartpury’s evolution as agricultural technology attempts to solve the global challenges in food and farming. Later, the £2 million Tech Box Park was unveiled - an innovation hub that provides innovation spaces for agri-businesses, dedicated to finding solutions in agriculture and its allied industries.

Hartpury’s animal collection grew to include more than 70 domestic and non-domestic species, allowing students on a variety of animal diplomas and degrees to better understand the natural world and drive efforts to protect, care and conserve. Animal welfare is at the core of education and research projects to understand human-animal interactions and their impact in shaping practice in pet care, zoos, wildlife centres and beyond. Hartpury has developed courses that produce world-ready graduates, prepared to lead on issues around welfare, behaviour, legislation and scientific topics.

Dr Lucy Bearman-Brown, a Senior Lecturer in Animal Science at Hartpury University, appeared on The One Show in 2021 to show how she helped to train dogs to sniff out hedgehogs for conservation purposes. In 2022, Helen Tedds, a Lecturer in Animal Welfare at Hartpury University produced research that showed how education could reduce the number of reptiles being rehomed by almost half. These are just two examples of how research is making a difference to the lives of animals.

Equine veterinary nursing is a key specialism for the institution, an area that has gained great traction since the creation of the Equine Therapy Centre. In 2022, Hartpury University announced a new online Postgraduate Certificate in Advanced Veterinary Nursing, confirming that it would be the only institution to offer an equine stream.

Research outputs have increased notably following the appointment of the first professors at Hartpury University in 2019. 

In 2022, research submitted as part of the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2021 process was recognised as ‘world-leading’ and ‘internationally excellent’. During the same year, a new £730,000 Equine and Animal Assisted Activity Area for training and research into the human-animal bond reached completion, highlighting the collaboration between the Equine and Animal departments.

Impressively, Hartpury University ranked 1st in the South West and 6th in the UK for Teaching Quality, according to The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide for 2023.

Russell Marchant retired during the summer of 2022 and Professor Andy Collop was appointed as the new Vice-Chancellor, Principal and CEO of Hartpury at the start of a new academic year.

Graze opened its doors shortly after his appointment,  introducing a modern learning and social space that’s also home to an extensive catering facility for students.

Fresh from its hosting of the FEI Dressage and Eventing European Championships for Young Riders and Juniors in the summer, the equestrian centre welcomed HRH The Princess Royal to celebrate Maisemore Riding for the Disabled Association’s (RDA) 50th anniversary, 15 of which have been spent at Hartpury.

Today, Home Farm is almost unrecognisable, operating as a commercial farm with more than 220 Holstein-Friesian cattle – an increase from the 120 Friesian cows that grazed the site in 1992. Four further farms are under Hartpury stewardship these days, totalling 380-hectares and incorporating arable and sheep, giving students a chance to gain first-hand experience. The farm is also central to research projects designed to address challenges such as climate change and sustainability. The most recent research project saw the creation of a special breeding index designed to highlight the most sustainable dairy cows based on key traits.

Staff and students are as enthusiastic as ever about their subject areas and are widely respected by industry. Catherine Phillips, Head of Veterinary Nursing at Hartpury University, was named alongside Deputy Vice-Chancellor Rosie Scott-Ward to lead the review of Subject Benchmark Statements for the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA). Catherine was appointed as Chair of the Veterinary Nursing review while Rosie was selected as Chair of the Agriculture, Horticulture, Forestry, Food and Consumer Science review.

In the spring of 2023, a new Agri-Tech Digital Studio was launched to inspire the next generation of farmers. In partnership with industry and education providers, the new Digital Studio will enable students to safely participate in agricultural tasks and experiences from the comfort of their classrooms using virtual and augmented realities.

The Digital Studio was officially opened by Prof Andy Collop in front of over 40 invited guests that included Landex, project partners, supporters, and friends. The event took place just weeks after the Hartpury Agri-Tech Centre officially became a LEAF Innovation Centre.

Looking ahead to 2023/24, Hartpury’s new £12.75 million University Learning Hub will reach completion, opening up a vibrant academic community for undergraduate and postgraduate students. On the ground floor, students will benefit from an open-plan social area and café with relaxed seating, ideal for group study, meetings, or catching up with friends. Upstairs on the first floor, quiet zones, group-work pods, and contemporary classrooms cater for all learners. A well-stocked library provides access to academic resources including textbooks, e-journals, and research.

The hub will also be home to a range of support services. Students will be able to access academic, learning, and wellness support from the Achievement and Success Centre (ASC), course-related advice through the Student Advisors, and career planning and guidance from the Innovation, Careers and Enterprise (ICE) team.

Speaking about the historic milestone, Andy said: “75 years of Hartpury and 30 years of university education are significant, and I very much look forward to leading the next chapter in the continuing development of the University and College with students at the heart of everything we do as we look towards 2030 and beyond.  We hope that you’ll be able to join us at one of our events throughout the year to help us celebrate these achievements and our rich heritage.”

Join the celebrations

In addition to looking back over the last 75 years, the institution remains firmly focused on the future with plans to grow and evolve across all subject areas, as well as developing on-site facilities and enhancing the student experience wherever possible.

Throughout the year, Hartpury will incorporate its celebrations whilst exhibiting at events including the Royal Three Counties Show (16-18 June).

Celebrations will also be woven into on-site events including Open Farm Sunday (11 June), NAF Five Star Hartpury Festival of Dressage(4-9 July), NAF Five Star International Hartpury Horse Trials (9-13 August) and the second running of the institution’s Annual Christmas Lecture (Date tbc).

We hope you can join us to celebrate Hartpury’s remarkable history and be a part of the next chapter in our story.

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