The Cheshire and Warrington LEP have announced the creation of a National Centre of Excellence for agri-tech, following its award of £5.58 million to Reaseheath College. The centre, which will be based at the college’s site near Nantwich, will combine all aspects of agricultural innovation, mechanisation and advanced engineering, as well as an accommodation block to house 200 students.
The Centre will provide general teaching areas, workshop space, specialised facilities for robotics, tractor simulation, GPS and the most advanced agricultural engineering machines associated with precision farming, meeting current and future skills needs in line with local, regional and national priorities.
The accommodation provision for the National Centre will involve replacing the existing temporary residential units (180 beds) with a 200 bed purpose-built facility to accommodate 320 students each year, with a total bed space for over 800 students on campus.
This money was awarded to Reaseheath in the first round of allocations of skills capital funding, from an overall funding pot of £12.1 million, as part of the £158million Local Growth Deal originally agreed for Cheshire and Warrington in July. The funding is for 2015-16 and 2016-17 and requires Reaseheath College to match the allocation with over £11m of their own funds at a rate of 2:1 (i.e. the college will put in £2 for every £1 of funding).
LEP Chair, Christine Gaskell MBE, said:
“We are delighted to be able to make this award to Reaseheath College to deliver a National Centre of Excellence within Cheshire and Warrington. Reaseheath is already an outstanding asset for the sub-region and this development will only increase its profile nationally. Skills Capital Funding is an important part of our £158million Local Growth Fund award and we are now working with a number of other colleges across Cheshire & Warrington to develop final applications for future projects. The LEP works closely with colleges and universities in the sub-region to develop the right provision of high level skills ensuring the needs of employers are met, both locally and nationally.”
Reaseheath’s specialist provision attracts employers and students UK wide and this funding will enable the College to meet the increased demand in advanced engineering, agricultural engineering, horticulture, food manufacturing and block release apprenticeships. This development will also address significant condition issues in the central scientific laboratory Hub supporting all science-based programmes.
Around 7,000 students are enrolled at the college on educational programmes each year with over 3000 on full time specialist technical courses, 800 students studying Foundation Degrees and Honours Degrees, with MSC’s and an MBA being developed for 2016.
Principal at Reaseheath College, Meredydd David OBE added:
“This funding announcement is exciting news for Reaseheath College, we are already recognised as one of the top national specialist land-based colleges in England but by creating a National Centre of Excellence with a supporting accommodation facility, it will mean that specialist provision can be delivered to a national market. This critical investment could not have progressed without the support of the LEP capital.”
DEFRA has recently recognised the regional and national impact of the work of Reaseheath College through funding Cheshire East Council to designate the college as one of eleven Food and Agriculture Enterprise Zones, a government scheme aimed at generating new business and enterprise in the countryside agreed in conjunction with Cheshire East Council and the Local Enterprise Partnership. Reaseheath College, with the University of Chester, is also included in the N8 (Northern Universities Partnership) in a HEFCE Catalyst and Agri-Tech BIS proposal to form a Northern network to support and deliver the Government Agri-Technology Strategy.