College celebrates radical change

FOR nearly five decades Suffolk College has taught tens of thousands of people in Ipswich and Suffolk.But today, the college is under going the most radical change since its birth in 1959.

FOR nearly five decades Suffolk College has taught tens of thousands of people in Ipswich and Suffolk.

But today, the college is under going the most radical change since its birth in 1959. In the second half of this week's focus on changes to Ipswich's education system, JOSH WARWICK reports.

THERE'S a misconception emerging that Suffolk College will be consigned to the history books, now that the county has unveiled its first university.

As of yesterday when University Campus Suffolk (UCS) came into being, every higher education student was transferred from the college to the university. But in fact the outlook for the college has never been more secure, with a clear vision promising it a bright future as a further education institution.

And in two years' time, it will be the turn of the college's new £60million building to be unveiled, offering state-of-the-art facilities for students.

College principal professor Dave Muller, who has been at the college for 20 years, said: “This is a brave step but it's best in the long term for Suffolk and it will mean there will be two institutions in the heart of Ipswich. We can now, with confidence, split the college and create UCS and still have a healthy further education college.

Most Read

“It will be a fabulous achievement for the college to move into its new building and it will provide a lasting contribution to Suffolk.

“It's a very interesting time and splitting the college is the first stage of that project. There will be two new organisations serving different markets in the community. We had got too big. Now there is a clear identity to both organisations and we will be focused on south Suffolk and Ipswich in particular.

“It's been exciting to get to where we are - now we have to make it happen.”

Much of the demolition work has already been completed in preparation for the £60million redevelopment of the college. Buildings, including the college's main hall, have been pulled down and land levelled.

Due to be completed by the 2009-2010 academic year, the college, which will be four-storeys in places, will replace the 40-year-old tower block and make up the northern end of the new Ipswich education quarter.

There have been delays in the project - it has been put back by a year - because of funding constraints which meant the plans had to be altered.

The new structure will comprise two main buildings as well as a separate sports facility. The new 21,400sq m college will include a fine dining restaurant overlooking Alexandra Park and glass walled workshops facing Rope Walk - enabling passers by to see students working inside.

There will also be a large college square, close to the new three-storey atrium entrance and parking spaces for up to 250 cars on the campus.

A building which will house hair and beauty salons, care education and public service lecture rooms, a sixth form academy and business, leisure and information technology classrooms will be linked to the main building by an elevated walkway.

Prof Muller said: “When we move into our new building we will have the facilities to welcome employers into the college. The Learning and Skills Council is looking for us to expand as part of our move into a new building, around 3 to 3.5 per cent each year.

“There will a big engagement around leisure-type activities. We will encourage community groups to come and use our facilities. Once the new building is there it will be the mark. People will walk past and see these new buildings and know it's really happening.

“I'm proud of the college and that's why I have stayed for so long.”

Tell us your memories of Suffolk College. Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail

FORMED in 1959, Ipswich Civic College, as it was known then, was comprised of five existing vocational schools which were scattered around the town.

Jen Mackness, college academic registrar, said: “There were schools of commerce, engineering, technology, arts and crafts, and Christchurch Evening College, which were all brought together under the umbrella of Ipswich Civic College in response to the 1949 education act.

“There was a need to develop homes for people to live in so construction was important to the college.

“In fact, the first principal was an engineer. Frank Metcalfe was a war time pilot who had been shot down in the North Sea and had come to Anglesea Road Hospital in Ipswich. When this job came up he applied for it.”

It was Mr Metcalfe's vision for the future and pursuit of funding which led to the tower block being built in 1961, with the Queen coming to Suffolk to cut the ribbon.

Ms Mackness said: “Building the tower block was a big achievement. I was a school girl and I can remember coming to wave a flag when the Queen came to open it. It was a big deal and very exciting.

“People were impressed that we had such an amazing facility because it was state-of-the-art. Everyone was thrilled to bits with it. It was one of the few imposing and tall buildings in Ipswich.”

Even in those early days, there was some higher education provision although it did not develop fully until the 1980s.

The second principal, Alex Williamson, was also an engineer, while the third, Derek Mortimer, came in 1986 from a higher education background.

It was with the arrival of Dave Muller as deputy principal a year later that higher education began to really take off.

Ms Mackness said: “In 1992 we became an associate college of UEA, which meant we started a validating relationship with them. By 1996, UEA gave us accredited college status which meant we could develop and validate our own degrees.

“They awarded us the title of University College Suffolk and for a couple of years we operated under that name. But the government then withdrew the right for universities to be able to award the title and so the name reverted back to Suffolk College.”

The college's name was Ipswich Civic College from 1957, Suffolk College from 1977, University College Suffolk from 1996, Suffolk College from 1998/99 and Suffolk New College from 2007.

IN post war booming Britain, there was a need for new universities - and Ipswich was singled out as a potential host for a higher education institution.

In 1958, research was undertaken and 14 towns and cities were identified as possible sites for universities. Both Ipswich and Norwich made the list.

Jen Mackness, college academic registrar, said: “Ipswich met all the criteria, but suddenly people started to get cold feet. They seemed worried about it and said they didn't want Ipswich to stand in the way of Norwich's bid. In fact, it was agreed in 1958 that an annual grant of £7,500 would be given to Norwich to help with the creation of a university there.

“I think the money was given under the proviso that the university would be for the benefit of the whole region, but that's never really happened. Instead, they decided to develop the civic college.

“We also missed the boat when it came to polytechnics, too. It could have happened in 1965, but nobody agreed to it in the town planning department.

“In the end, the first principal Frank Metcalfe resigned because he got fed up trying to push for these things.”

LUCY Westley, 24, studied beauty therapy at the college between 2000 and 2002, before setting up her own business in October last year.

She now runs Hares and Graces, based in Felixstowe Road, with her business partner Maria Hare, 31, also a former Suffolk College student.

Lucy said: “When I left college, I went to work for Bodylines Beauty Salon in Tacket Street and then the Next Generation gym salon, which is where I met Maria.

“In October, Maria and I opened our hair and beauty salon. We started off with just the two of us and now there are seven people here.

“We are really busy and doing really well. We may look for a bigger premises in the future but we are quite happy just now.”

There have been only four principals at the college since it was established in 1959.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter