Founded 100 years ago by chocolate tycoon George Cadbury, today’s Bournville College is more than a world class centre of learning – it’s driving forward the vision of a new, exciting era for Longbridge
Norman Cave isn’t a man to do things by half. The principal of Bournville College is perfectly summed up by the building itself. Challenging, forward-thinking, dynamic, making a statement of intent. Only last year, the college celebrated its 100th anniversary since being founded as a school for workers’ children by chocolate tycoon George Cadbury. The past and the college’s key place in the history of Longbridge are very important to Norman – but it’s the next 100 years that really drive and excite him as the centre of education excellence continues to build on its world class reputation. “This college is going to become the centerpiece of the exciting and total regeneration of this area,” he said. “The future for Bournville College and Longbridge is immense.”
LOVE AND HATE
Most Brummies know the college because of its futuristic £66million campus building which opened in 2011. Architecturally, it’s recognised as one of the UK’s most notable educational structures. “It’s the classic Marmite building,” said Norman as he turned guide to give me a private tour. “People either love it or hate it, but one thing they can’t do is ignore it.” Behind its dramatic yellow and blue clad exterior – the blue is an exact match to the colour of the original Austins that used to be built on the Longbridge site – Bournville is a state-of-the-art learning centre for 15,000 further education students drawn from across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. That number will increase by a further 4,000 this year as the college continues to expand. Its growth is mirrored by the huge change which can be clearly seen from high up on the college’s top floor viewing platform. Jutting out into the sky, it’s no place for those with vertigo, but it provides a breathtaking panoramic view of the ongoing transformation of what was the vast Rover Longbridge site. “The next 12 to 18 months are going to be very exciting for the college and the new Longbridge Retail Centre,” said Norman, as he pointed down to the commercial buildings fronting the lovely landscaped area, complete with the original and fully restored stream that runs through the site. Stretching out in the distance, are huge areas of cleared and bare earth ready for more building including scores of new homes. Back on the Retail Centre site, a new Marks and Spencer store – the biggest outside of the flagship premises at Marble Arch in London – will soon start to spring up. “All of which will make Longbridge a place people will want to come to rather than pass through,” said Norman. “They will want to spend time enjoying the Longbridge experience, and the college will be at the heart of it all.” If this all sounds like the college and its surrounding environment are interlinked, that’s not surprising. There can be few educational centres anywhere in the world that are quite so intrinsically part of the local community.
REALISING A VISION
When Rover collapsed in 2005 with the shocking loss of 5,000 jobs, the college sprang into action to help the ailing Longbridge community. A taskforce was set up, offering to retrain and find the out-of-work new employment opportunities. More than 1,500 ex-Rover workers were helped by the college in this way. “The closure of Rover presented the college with an opportunity to move from our old location,” said Norman, “I had always had a clear vision for the college – to grow, never to cut back, even in the recent tough economic times. Moving here to Longbridge gave us the chance to begin to fulfill that vision by designing and building a state-of-the-art college while at the same time making an important statement to the local area and the region. We wanted a building that made it absolutely clear that we’re here and we’re committed to change.’” The college’s links to industry, forged through its historic ties to Longbridge, carry on and get stronger – Bournville works with well over 600 employers each year, running training and development courses for every conceivable skill needed in business and the workplace. Earlier this year, Bournville secured more than £7million of EU funding for a scheme being run by nine colleges across Birmingham offering free training courses to over 10,000 workers in the area. The new Bournville campus stands on 4.2 acres and provides facilities that are among the best in the UK. These include Mac suites, music studios, training kitchens, over 1,000 computers, cinema rooms, conference centre as well as a restaurant, fitness centre and hair and beauty salons. Norman and his governors have ambitious plans to extend the campus still further with new buildings and initiatives.
And the vision reaches beyond Longbridge by growing Bournville’s international centres. “We are a global college,” said Norman. “We have a company based in Calcutta, India and offices in Delhi. We have a training facility in Seoul, Korea, and this month we are opening a new academy in Kuala Lumpur. The college has also helped with training in the setting up of companies in Malaysia. It’s all part of broadening people’s horizons and working in the world as a whole.” In all this talk of vision and regeneration, there is one element of Bournville College that will never change according to Norman – and that’s its name! “People who don’t know us always say: ‘Oh, isn’t that the place where they make chocolate?’ Our name makes us stand out and gives us an edge – and that’s exactly how we like it.”