College of West Anglia inspires generations with sustainable University Centre

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The College of West Anglia (CWA) set a new sustainability standard for educational buildings when it opened its innovative University Centre in 2016, and it continues to inspire its students and people across the region.

New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership awarded £6.5m for the development of the building through its Growth Deal with the Government. Since then, thousands of students, teachers and community groups have enjoyed using the state-of-the-art Centre on the King’s Lynn Campus which is 2,000m² with 14 digital classrooms, a 120-seat multimedia lecture theatre, offices and social space. On top of that, the Lindum Group which constructed the Centre achieved BREEAM sustainability rating ‘Excellent’ for the building.

Principal David Pomfret, who led the team behind the development, recalls the launch of the project: “This was more than a building; it was a statement of our ambition to raise aspirations. It’s a flagship as it’s built to a high spec. It was the LEP’s first capital project, and it was key to address the UK Higher Education cold spot and make a statement about the importance of sustainability. The LEP also recognised that the new building would raise sustainability ambitions in the area.”

The Centre contributed to the College of West Anglia winning a Green Gown Award for carbon reduction from the Environmental Association for Universities and Colleges. Talking about one of the biggest benefits of the Centre, David highlighted how it raised the College’s profile: “Getting ‘University’ on the building was incredibly difficult to achieve. In the past 15 years, we’ve spent about £60m and this project enhanced those developments.

“We only used half of the old building’s footprint to create a sense of arrival with the green in front.” The Centre’s facilities are widely used by local groups, businesses and others, and each year the College uses it for the ‘WorldSkills UK’ (the ‘Skills Olympics’) medal ceremony watch parties.

Launching into this subject enthusiastically, David says: “We champion skills and our students often qualify in the WorldSkills UK national competition finals. We want people to leave CWA with great skills and career opportunities. We set a high bar and have high expectations of our students.”

The success of the building project has also encouraged the team to manage other major capital developments. “The LEP trusted us to deliver the Centre and it was the first project to be signed off,” comments David. “It has inspired other investments too, for example it has accelerated Town Deal funding to establish a School of Nursing Studies. We opened in 2022 and have already supported about 40 level 5 trainee nursing apprentices.”

Getting the Level 5 Trainee Nursing Apprenticeship course was inspired by local employer Queen Elizabeth Hospital. David says: “We identified the need to support their workforce development and responded. Similarly, we’re now delivering level 4 Data Analyst apprenticeships for Anglian Water.”

The company sponsors and co-designs Further Education courses, and provides regular course input and industry experience days. Around 85% of the students enter apprenticeships with the Anglian Water Alliance. David continues: “It’s employer focused and results in a phenomenal experience for students and great outcomes for the College and Anglian Water.”
As with many other businesses, the College is feeling the economic crunch: “We’re seeing a decline in higher education student numbers in part due to the cost of living and Covid impact,” says David.

Encouragingly, new applicant numbers look stronger this year and the University Centre West Anglia offers smaller class sizes and personalised support. He says: “We have a good success record, with over 75% qualifying with good degrees, achieving at least 2:1, and we focus on offering careers not just courses.”

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