Published: 00:01, 08 September 2017
Students have signed up for their courses after a multi-million pound college campus opened its doors in the town centre.
Ashford College, run by the Hadlow Group, has opened its new campus in Elwick Road after selling its site in Jemmett Road in a £30 million deal.
It is set to provide courses for more than 1,000 students and will provide employment to 100 staff members from the site.
Facilities include a multimedia learning resource centre, live music production, photography and art studios, teaching kitchens, and a hair and beauty salon.
Last week Ashford MP Damian Green toured the college along with Kent Invicta Chamber of Commerce chief executive Jo James.
Mr Green said: “It’s great to look round the new building and see not only the great modern facilities that are here for the extensive range of courses, but also to see how beneficial it will be for the town and community.
“Its location ensures it will be a beacon to show the opportunities provided for the people of Ashford, improving the educational offer we can give young people in the town and in other parts of Kent.
“It also presents great opportunities for local businesses, who will find a pool of skilled people training to do the jobs of the future, people that we will need to fill vacancies as the town’s economy expands and prospers.”
The building is the first of the council’s “big eight” projects to be completed, and will offer youngsters courses in subjects including health and social care, construction, electrical engineering, early years care, music, fashion, catering and hospitality, hairdressing and more.
Mrs James said: “The courses on offer satisfy the needs of local businesses and I think the college will work closely with the business community to help with local economic growth and employment.”
Hadlow group’s deputy chief executive Mark Lumsdon-Taylor said: “We are delighted to be enrolling our first intake of students. The college is a symbol for the significant regeneration of the town.
“I’d like to praise the co-operation, help, advice and support received from the council. It has been a superb example of sectors working together effectively to fulfil a much-needed project.”
Ambitious plans took time to bear fruit
The ambition to create a new college in the town centre has been a key priority for the council for some 15 years, but it has been a difficult road with many false dawns and crises having to be overcome.
The Ashford Future Delivery Board discussed the option to sell the Elwick Road site and the Jemmett Road site to fund a new campus in November 2003.
Then in 2006 South Kent College bosses revealed the first plan to sell the buildings and construct a purpose-built £46 million site in Victoria Road.
The four-storey design was meant to resemble the high-speed trains which pass by, and there were hopes it could open by 2009.
An artist’s impression was revealed in January 2007 and education chiefs hoped building work would start in January 2008 on a building which was set to be the “first of its type” in the country, offering both vocational and academic skills under one roof.
But the plans were affected by the recession in the wake of the financial crash in 2008 and South Kent College faced budget deficits and merged with West Kent College to form the K College in February 2010.
The £46 million plan at Victoria Road was dropped, but in February 2011 bosses revealed a plan to demolish buildings in Elwick Road as the best option to create a town centre campus.
Then in May the first plans for how the college could look were revealed, and it has been from this blueprint that the current college emerged.
Yet there were more problems in the horizon. The old South Kent College buildings in Elwick Road were routinely vandalised and became run down.
The building was covered in bizarre graffiti and campaigners from the Victorian Society expressed their concern that it, along with Swanton House and Kent Care House, would be demolished to make way for the new buildings.
Education chiefs from K College hoped that building work would start in November 2011 after planning permission was granted. By the end of 2011, a demolition plan was submitted to the council, with the objective to open the new campus by September 2013.
But through the summer of 2012 K College suffered major financial trouble and principal Bill Fearon resigned with the group £16 million in the red. It meant the college plans were shelved in September 2012, while the future of K College was decided.
In February 2014, Hadlow Group emerged as the preferred bidder to take on the former colleges run by K College.
In August 2015, the dilapidated buildings in Elwick Road were flattened, and in October revised plans were granted planning permission.
Building work began in April last year and a topping out ceremony was held in September.
Campus costs funded by sale of land
The development of the new campus has been funded from the sale of the old Ashford College site in Jemmett Road, formerly the K College.
The buildings are set to be knocked down to make way for 160 homes being built by Chartway Group and Orbit Homes.
The developers have purchased the land in a £30 million deal, and the new housing estate will include a mix of two, three, and four-bedroom homes, and flats.
Planning permission was granted in December last year and was finally given full council approval in May this year, despite objections from residents.