One of Northumberland’s most prominent businessmen has welcomed the news that Northumberland College is relocating its award-winning provision into the heart of Ashington.
Jeff Hope heads up the £100m AkzoNobel paint plant in the town – the world’s most advanced and sustainable paint manufacturing plant of its kind– and for the last two years has been Chair of Governors at Northumberland College.
“As someone who was born in the town this is transformational news. Relocating the college into the town centre will be a huge boost to the local economy, while delivering a new, state-of-the-art learning environment to students and staff that will take our provision to the next level and serve the employers in the local area,” he said.
Jeff, from a Northumberland farming family, studied a national diploma in civil engineering, architecture and surveying at Northumberland College’s Ashington site, and then completed a degree in surveying and mapping science at Newcastle University. He was a navigator on a marine exploration ship for six years before going to work at Alcan’s Lynemouth aluminium smelter. There he progressed and developed through the organisation, becoming Plant Manager. He was then approached by AkzoNobel to realise their flagship site at Ashington.
“One of the problems we faced on opening the plant was finding people with the right skills and attitude. We found the skills we wanted often didn’t exist in the local workforce – and the culture we wanted to introduce at the plant required a certain mindset that was proving hard to find,” said Jeff.
He and his team wanted to introduce a culture at the new AkzoNobel plant that was inspired by the Pitmen Painters.
“The Pitmen Painters were also known as The Ashington Group and were based in the town. They worked long, hard days down the mines, but still maintained a real desire to learn, and that’s what we wanted here – as well as their philosophy of ‘opinion without penalty’ that encouraged them to challenge each other about their work,” said Jeff, a member of the Ashington Town Board.
“But we were baffled there were so few applicants for these great jobs. We’d researched the area and the average salary was £20,000 and we were paying an average of £40,000 but we just couldn’t fill all of the available jobs.
“We were looking for partners to help us with this, but the college at that time, weren’t structured to effectively support our needs.”
Jeff persevered and the college started a fledgling apprentice programme with AkzoNobel.
He was then asked to join the board at Northumberland College, just as it was completing a merger with Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form to create Education Partnership North East (EPNE).
“The merger saw a transformation and we now get exactly what we want from the college, great people with the right skills and the right attitude – and that’s something I’m hearing from other manufacturers and other companies across the county.
“We’ve helped shaped the relevant curriculum and what we’re getting ready now is work-ready candidates.
“Our preferred learning style is for students to be shown how to do things, rather than them sitting behind a desk being told how to do something. The new campus will have better facilities and spaces to make this more of a priority. Teaching, equipment and the surroundings will be more aligned to the modern workplace. It will be a place of which the students, staff and town will be proud.”
The new campus, developed by the Department of Education (DfE) on behalf of the college, will be built on a 5.7 acre site at Wansbeck Business Park. The purchased land is an hour-glass shape and the college’s plans for the site include three buildings housing classrooms, technical industry workshops, specialist facilities, immersion and simulated learning environments and offices; a car park and sports facilities incorporating a football pitch and a multi-use games area.
“As a proud Northumbrian and as someone who went to the college, it is a huge privilege and an honour to now Chair Northumberland College. The changes have been remarkable and have been brilliant for the county, its students and its future workforce.
“The current Ashington site is in a residential area and isn’t anywhere near as accessible as the new site will be – it’ll be a few hundred yards from the new train station and an easy walk from anywhere in the town centre.
“I would imagine retailers throughout the town centre will be pleased to hear the news, the footfall on the High Street will definitely increase. The new campus will be an important boost to the local economy.
“It’s going to be a special place and will help provide present and future employers – the likes of Britishvolt – with the talent pipeline they need.”
A planning application for the new campus will be submitted to Northumberland County Council over the coming months.