Multi-million pound revamp for world's oldest debating society

  • Watch a video report by Matthew Hudson

It's hosted some of the biggest names in business, the brightest stars in the world of sport and entertainment, but the Cambridge Union is hoping its newly revamped building will be a major draw in its own right.

Pamela Anderson spoke at the Union about Animal Rights

A major £4.5m project to refit the historic building has been completed, transforming the world's oldest debating club into something suited for the 21st century.

Jungmin Seo, Vice-President of the society said the group is delighted the reopening coincides with the relaxation of Covid-19 restrictions:

The new look Union officially opens today.

Upstairs there's a beautiful new library and reading room just awaiting their finishing touches.

The Reading Room at Cambridge Union Society Credit: ITV News Anglia

In amongst the historic pieces, these books that were damaged by shrapnel when the Union was bombed in World War Two.

The Union took a punt on inviting Miss World contestants

A bar has been replaced with two rather more upmarket brasseries, one of which is permanently open to the public.

Over its 200 years the society has attracted dozens of famous faces - from the popular like Iron Man star Robert Downey Jr who spoke at the venue in 2014.

To the more controversial - dozens of protesters greeted the arrival of right wing French politician Jean Marie Le Pen in 2003.

Next term's speakers will include former prime minister Theresa May and ex opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, Princess Diana's brother Earl Spencer...and rock star and widow of Kurt Cobain Courtney Love.

But it is sometimes less well known people who take part in the most compelling debates, as Joel Rosen, President of the Cambridge Union explains.

"I think there are people that are very used to speaking you know, your popstars, your politicians, your business Titans, but very often the harder people to actually secure who are a bit more low profile but have interesting lives.

"We are hosting sex workers, Victims of the Windrush scandal, we are hosting refugee poets. Sometimes those stories are actually harder to platform because they don’t have the infrastructure, they don’t have agents, they don’t have press staff.

Nearly two hundred years after its foundation and at a time when the limits of free speech are themselves being hotly debated, the new look Union Society feels as relevant as ever.