A newly-renovated £8 million flagship building at the University of Huddersfield has been named in honour of a trailblazing female engineer.

Laura Annie Willson MBE, born in 1877 in Halifax, was a founding member of the Women’s Engineering Society, the first female member of the Federation of House Builders and a founding member of the Electrical Association for Women.

She was also a political and social campaigner and was one of the first two women in Yorkshire jailed for their beliefs as suffragettes.

The university’s former Technology Building has undergone an £8 million renovation to create a flagship research space for the School of Computing and Engineering. It takes spending on the university campus to £80 million since 2018.

The new building has been named the Laura Annie Willson Building and the official opening, conducted by the university’s vice-chancellor Prof Bob Cryan, was attended by Laura Annie’s granddaughter Joanna Stoddart and her husband John.

The 29,600 sq ft scheme now provides a state-of-the-art location for scientists and engineers researching topics as diverse as digital manufacturing, virtual reality, internet of things (IoT), digital forensics, fluid sciences and electric vehicles.

It also includes an innovative “Smart House” – a two-storey domestic dwelling inside a laboratory in which research and development work is already taking place on a range of 21st century topics such as smart energy technologies; domestic environmental monitoring; new interfaces for home entertainment systems; and robotics for assisted living.

Prof Cryan said: “We pride ourselves on high-impact research here at the University of Huddersfield.

“The glass wall that stretches the entire length of the building provides a perfect showcase for this and gives a clear view inside the building’s new specialised laboratories and the innovative research being carried out.”

Dean of the School of Computing and Engineering Prof Stephen Donnelly expressed his thanks to Darren Sugden who has overseen the renovation.

Prof Donnelly also honoured the memory of Paul Turner who was the estates and facilities project manager who led the refurbishment project from conception but died in April prior to the building’s completion.

“He was the driving force behind the design and construction project, and I know he was extremely proud to have spearheaded this renovation,” said Prof Donnelly.

Over the years the building has been adapted and remodelled to serve the ever-changing purposes of industry, education and latterly university research.

Prof Donnelly added: “Due to the excellent work of our architects, AHR, this building with its striking façade is a fantastic addition to the university’s campus, which I honestly believe is one of the most attractive campuses of any town-based university.”

Since 2018, £80 million has been spent on campus development, to ensure the university’s students have access to some of the best facilities in the country.

“I have absolutely no doubt that this building with its state-of-the-art facilities will provide the perfect base for expanding our programme of research and collaboration,” said Prof Donnelly. 

Following the official opening, visitors were shown around the building and the new facilities.  

An exhibition on Laura Annie Willson was also on display courtesy of Tim and Anne Kirker from the Calderdale Industrial Museum.