College opens itself up for a day with the community

ANDREW PELLING has yet another good news story, as Croydon College celebrates its first community day on tomorrow

College Green, grafitti and all, will host Croydon College’s community day on Wednesday

It is time to party and to celebrate what Croydon College can offer.

With a self-confident disregard for the recent crisis in Croydon commerce, at Nestle, Bank of America and Allders, tomorrow Croydon College is to hold a community day out on College Green from 2pm to 7pm.

As I know from my time as a governor at Croydon College, its previous principal, Mariane Cavalli, did great things during her nine years in charge.

Her high-profile extended both to callers hearing her greeting on the college’s main exchange to the Bishop of Croydon Nick Baines talking of her “brave vision” in transforming the college. Her leadership was rated as “outstanding” by Ofsted. The college was able to take some students who joined without any English to being successful applicants to some of the country’s top universities.

Sadly, the Labour government later reduced the funding for English for Speakers of other Languages (ESOL). Indeed, constant chopping and changing in grants has cursed Croydon College, often leading to fractious relationships with the University and College Union (UCU) over sudden job losses.

Croydon College’s community-minded principal: Frances Wadsworth

When Cavalli left two years ago, and was replaced by Frances Wadsworth, the college had become somewhat disconnected from Croydon itself. Thus the new principal’s mission statement of “Inspiring our community through high-quality education and training” put an emphasis on reaching out more locally and serving Croydon’s needs.

Tomorrow’s Community Day seeks to underline that local link with the event open to residents, local businesses, pupils, students and parents. The college says that it is aiming through holding the day “to celebrate the effort to enhance community spirit by inviting Croydon to come together”.

It’s not as if the college always enjoys an easy relationship with the council on the other side of Croydon’s town centre motorway. The two institutions have been involved in some awkward face offs over the last 30 years. The council greatly resented losing control over the college as the government gradually took the place completely out of the ambit of local government. This loss of control has not, though, prevented the council from frustrating the college’s plans for re-development in each of the last three decades.

The latest example was the council’s refusal to allow a residential tower for students to be built on the site – despite granting planning permission for developers to build multi-million pound tower blocks elsewhere in central Croydon. The suspicion was that the planning refusal was a form of political gerrymandering, to prevent the college having hundreds of progressive young voters resident in the less-than-safe Conservative-held Fairfield ward.

The adverse impact of the stand-off between the council and the college can be seen in the venue of tomorrow’s BBQ and band performances. College Green remains a neglected, untouched, a slightly hostile space, and reminder of some of the failings of 1960s concreted public spaces.

Loose and missing paving stones on the walkways around College Green underline some of the drawbacks of its 1960s design

Fortunately the college’s new and rather expensive £35 million rotunda overlooking College Green has improved the outlook a little in its contrasting disco blue. The rotunda includes a state-of-the-art learning resource centre and a dedicated higher education library. This extension was formally opened by Mayor Boris conveniently just before the May elections.

Croydon College has an especial relevance in Croydon’s efforts to recover from its current crisis.

The college deals with 500 local employers. Ben Geeson, the college’s head of marketing and sales (yes, an educational institute in 2012 has to have a “head of marketing and sales”) reports that a lot of the training work is “bespoke” to the needs of local businesses, which is a marked improvement on some past government schemes which have often strait-jacketed training programmes into government funding stream needs, rather than the needs of business.

Organisations to be represented at the community day include the Ministry of Defence, the Metropolitan Police, Shooting Star Hospice, Croydon Voluntary Action, The Look at Me Project, Beanies, Croydon NHS, Victim Support, PHAB and Croydon Supplementary Education.

“It will be an excellent opportunity for members of the community to see what Croydon College has to offer,” Geeson said.

“Our bespoke schemes are of sufficient quality to fund themselves,” Geeson said.

The college’s marketing man also reports that the college gives advice to business on how to bid for government training monies. At the employee end, the college also helps with good life skills training and help for preparation for job applications.

Tomorrow’s community day will be about “job opportunities” said Geeson, with many private and public sector employers present who are covering the cost of the event.

Geeson played down his expectations of the number of attendees at the five-hour party. “I’d be glad with a thousand,” he said.

With the progress the college has made under its current and previous principals, the number will be much greater as Croydon College plays an important role in creating a skills base that will assist in the re-building of Croydon’s economy.

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