Government's £4.75m boost to transform Barnfield College with new campus

Plans to transform Barnfield College with a state-of-the-art new campus have been boosted with a £4.75m grant from the government.

By Stewart Carr
Wednesday, 5th August 2020, 1:26 pm
Updated Thursday, 6th August 2020, 12:44 pm

The £27m revamp of the college site off New Bedford Road was approved by Luton Borough Council at the end of May.

This week, the plans were given a jump start after Barnfield was allocated £4.75m by SEMLEP (South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership), which issues government grants for projects across the region.

This is the largest grant awarded by SEMLEP across the Beds, Bucks and Northants areas and it will support the construction of a new college building, including a digital skills centre.

Barnfield College will be transformed with a new campus

Gill Worgan, chief executive of West Herts College Group, which includes Barnfield College, said: “The new campus represents a major investment in modern skills for Luton and the surrounding area.

“Employers’ priorities shape the curriculum at Barnfield and with SEMLEP’s support, we can address the urgent need to develop digital expertise in the local labour market. Technology drives productivity and with the right professional skills local people can share in the prosperity this creates.

“Training here will develop advanced skills for specific digital careers alongside programmes to raise levels of digital literacy more generally for all local people.

“Technology is a cornerstone of the modern economy and SEMLEP’s support is making a vital contribution to the future of modern further education at Barnfield College in Luton.”

West Herts College plans to demolish some buildings at the New Bedford Road site and build new college accommodation, as well as car parking.

The £27m project will be partially funded by house building, with planning permission already granted for 110 new homes on a parcel of land at the site. The college plans to sell this parcel of land to a property developer, while overseeing construction of its new campus.

Cath Gunn, Barnfield College principal, added: “Vocational training is all about giving local people the skills they need to secure good jobs.

“The new campus will offer wide-ranging courses and apprenticeships... and will be developed in partnership with local businesses and focus on the skills most needed in Luton.

“The new campus will give a massive boost to this. It will be a community asset open to people of all ages, a dynamic hub linking local employers to our communities and partners.”

Barnfield College formally merged with West Herts College in February 2019, after several troubled years which saw it finances thrown into limbo.

The college had acquired Bute Street car park from the council in July 2017, as part of a £57m planned move into the town centre, which was later scrapped.

To help finance the Bute Street venture, the college’s other land assets at New Bedford Road and Enterprise Way were put on the market, but failed to find a buyer.

In January 2018, Barnfield College was rated ‘Requires Improvement’ in its inspection by Ofsted. Three months later, the college was placed in administered status by the skills minister

Anne Milton MP, following serious concerns about its financial management.

A report by the Further Education Commissioner found finances were “a major cause for concern” with operating losses in 2015/16, 2016/17 and expected in 2017/18.

Barnfield principal Tim Eyton-Jones also stepped down in April 2018, having faced criticism in the FE Commissioner’s report.

He was later succeeded as principal at Barnfield by Cath Gunn, former vice-principal of West Herts College, shortly before the two colleges merged.