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Rural community shaken as popular agricultural college is earmarked for closure

A North West agricultural college is set to close after an independent review found the campus financially unviable, sparking an outcry among its 888 students and many rural communities across the region. 

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Rural community shaken as popular agricultural college is earmarked for closure

An independent review into the operational running of Newton Rigg, Penrith, was carried out by the Department of Education at the request of Askham Bryan authorities, who have run the college since 2011.

 

The proposed closure of Newton Rigg from July 2021 will be subject to the outcome of a 45-day consultation process with 117 staff and trade unions.

 

Tim Whitaker, chief executive officer and principal, Askham Bryan College, said: “We understand the strength of feeling about Newton Rigg and the fact this will be upsetting news to our staff, students and the local community.”

 

He said: “This has been a very difficult decision. We regret putting staff at risk of redundancy. However, the review has confirmed that the campus is not financially viable from the college’s perspective and would require ongoing investment to keep pace with industry skills."


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"Given the current economic climate, and the fact that no capital or revenue funding is available, we have no other option but to propose closing the facility in July 2021. We will do all we can to support our staff and students at this difficult time," Mr Whitaker added.

 

Commence as intended

 

The college has stated learning planned and apprenticeships for the next academic year (September 2020 – July 2021) will commence as intended and all current and prospective students will be informed of the closure proposal.

 

University and College Union (UCU) has vowed to fight the planned closure, describing it a ’hammer blow’ for the region.

 

Julia Aglionby, executive director of the Foundation for Common Land, said: "While the announcement is sad, it gives us the opportunity to create a strong future for land based education not only for 16-19 year olds but as importantly for all farmers, foresters and land managers.
"The Foundation for Common Land is supporting the University of Cumbria’s initiative to form a partnership to work with Cumbria LEP, Eden District Council, Borderlands, the Farmer Network, the NFU and others to secure and enhance land based provision. Collectively we can build back better for Newton Rigg."

Reactions

 

Dr Neil Hudson MP, who has led a cross-party political campaign to save the campus since the review began in March, said: "This is hugely disappointing news for the students and staff of Newton Rigg.

 

"I have been and continue to work hard to secure a future for this valuable and important college. I have held meetings with stakeholders, ministers, the FE Commissioner’s Office and Askham Bryan.

 

"One small glimmer of light for us is Askham Bryan has listened to my call for them to delay the implementation of their decision for as long as possible, and the fact Newton Rigg will be open for business as normal this coming academic year will give us the window to implement a rescue plan.

 

"I will continue do my upmost to secure a viable future for Newton Rigg. It is so important to our rural economy, both in Cumbria and the wider UK."

 

Big disappointment

 

Cumbrian dairy farmer, James Robinson, said the news was a ’real shame’ and a ’big disappointment’ to the local farming community and his family, who have studied at the college for more than four generations.

 

He said: "Newton Rigg has played a massive role in my family. My great great aunt was one of the first female intakes in 1910, my dad studied there in the late 60s and I did my dairy diploma in the early 90s. My son, Robert, had planned to enrol on a two year course at the college this September but now is uncertain what to do.

 

"The decision to close Newton Rigg will have a much wider economic impact on the county and will be a real loss for our rural area for future generations of farmers, game-keepers and arboriculturists keen to learn and enter the industry."

 

Saddened

 

Current student Katie Willey contacted Farmers Guardian stating the decision will have ‘major negative impacts on the students, staff and the whole of Cumbria’.

 

Ms Willey said: “During my short time at Newton Rigg college I have made so many new contacts and connections within industry and it saddens me future students will not get this networking chance.

 

"Staff and fellow students have been incredibly supportive and knowledgeable. I have been given so many opportunities at the college that I have never had anywhere else, so it is important it remains open for future generations.”

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