Merciful release for Mersey arts

24th November 2000 at 00:00
Liverpool's cultural heartland has been enhanced with a pound;8m arts centre. Martin Whittaker reports

LIVERPOOL Community College's new pound;8 million arts centre is an imposing red-brick building, right in the heart of the city's thriving cultural community.

Tom Webb, head of the college's arts faculty, recalls how times have changed.

"What's hard to realise is the comparison of what we had to what we've now got," he says. "Liverpool had the worst college buildings in the country, and the worst of the worst were the arts buildings."

The arts faculty used to be in four old buildings, which Tom Webb describes as "100-year-old slums". One has since been demolished.

"They had wet rot, dry rot, leaking roofs, asbestos in the walls, electrics that were unsafe, and parts of the buildings were locked off because they were collapsing."

The new building, opened last year by Education Secretary David Blunkett, is on the site of the city's former children's hospital. Today it bustles with students taking a range of courses in performing and visual arts, fashion and media, everything from rock music to creative writing.

The college estimates that having this new building alone has pushed enrolment up by between 10 and 20 per cent.

It has also boosted staff morale, and given Liverpool Community College a presence in the city which it never had before.

"We really have an artistic quarter here, all based around educaion and live performance."

The transformation has not gone unnoticed. It is held up by the Royal Institute of British Architects along with others, including Newham College and The Oldham College, as an example of good practice in a team.

The whole approach to the college's transformation has been curriculum-led, with the students and delivery of courses as its main focus.

At each stage, students' views have been taken on board and disability groups have been consulted on access issues.

How has Liverpool Community College managed to fund this transformation?

The Further Education Funding Council provided pound;25m after a council survey identified a need for urgent repairs on the grounds of health and safety. The rest of the cash had come from disposal of college buildings.

There has been European money and the college has forged funding partnerships with companies like Apple Computers, allowing the arts centre to be equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

Vice-principal Maureen Mellor says the arts centre alone has given the college much more than new accommodation. The image of the college has been completely transformed.

"Now we're surrounded by other cultural organisations - the theatres, the Liverpool Philharmonic - close to John Moores University. So for the students, it's all about being in the desired students' environment.

"And for us it's certainly been a big learning curve."

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