A Lancashire college is the first in the country to open and run a hotel, two restaurants and a conference centre. Lucy Ward reports. In the Lancashire town of Accrington, bar-room domino players are among the few who kept alive memories of the heyday of a landmark which is now being revitalised with help from a local college.
The stone-built Globe Works, with its long rows of windows, has dominated the town's landscape since its foundation by John Howard and James Bullough for the manufacture of millwrighting and textile machinery in 1853. For over a century, Accrington domino players have greeted the placing of a double nine with the comment "Howard and Bullough's lit up".
In reality, the windows of the Globe Works went dark three years ago, after over a decade of financial struggle linked to the decline of the textile industry. But now the Hyndburn Partnership - a consortium of local private- and public-sector partners, including Accrington and Rossendale College - is breathing life back into the building with a Pounds 3.5 million scheme to transform it into a modern business centre.
The college's role in the project involves opening and running two restaurants, a conference suite and a ten-bedroom hotel on the top and bottom floors of the old works. In between, the partnership hopes to attract high-tech companies, insurance and financial institutions and other firms as tenants for four floors of "prime office space".
With around 100 jobs now based at the Globe, against a target of 550, only time will tell whether the venture really has the potential to attract the business interest its investors confidently predict. In the meantime, the development has offered Accrington and Rossendale the chance to create a real workplace for its catering and hotel-work students, which it boasts is unrivalled in further education.
The college, whose former trainees can be found running kitchens ranging from the QE2's to The Canteen's in London, has an enviable catering track record but never had the facilities to match. Until last month, head of catering Ian Ross ran his department in an old grammar school (one of the college's original buildings), where kitchens were former classrooms and the training restaurant was an ex-chemistry lab - a fact not widely publicised to diners.
Now he presides over "Traders", a groundfloor brasserie, and "Horizons", an 80-cover attic restaurant already hosting business lunchers and evening parties. With the opening of 10 hotel bedrooms aimed mainly at those staying overnight on business, the college has been able to re-introduce national vocational qualifications in reception work and housekeeping.
Mr Ross believes the Globe will offer a host of new opportunities for students. Catering trainees will spend about 18 hours a week in the kitchens on a rota basis, combined with IT and other study at a learning centre across the road. Those taking reception work NVQs will staff the reception for the hotel and for the building as a whole.
The operation will run year round, with students entitled to take holidays in term time as they would in employment. There will also be the chance to undertake paid catering work at weekends for Pounds 3.50 an hour, the standard rate trainees will face when they enter the industry.
Elsewhere in the college, students from other departments will also benefit. Floristry trainees will provide the arrangements for receptions held in the restaurant, horticulture students will grow vegetables for the kitchens, and those on performing arts courses will provide music and other entertainment for diners.
Brushing off disrespectful jokes about Accrington's Fawlty Towers, Ian Ross points out that the centre has state-of-the art hotel reception software, with sophisticated catering equipment supplied by a local manufacturer in exchange for use of the kitchens as a working showroom for potential customers.
The college undertook careful market research before launching its project, funded with its own cash as well as with Pounds 100,000 from the Hyndburn Partnership's Pounds 3 million Single Regeneration Budget allocation. It found a gap in the market for hotel accommodation and potential for more restaurant space in Accrington.
"No other English college we know of runs a hotel, though a few have already asked to come and look at what we're doing," says Mr Ross. The attractiveness of the Globe venture is partly responsible, he believes, for the college's record 52-strong intake of school-leavers taking catering NVQs this autumn.
Students testing the new facility this term are genuinely impressed. Robert Buchanan, 18, taking an NVQ 3 in catering, notes that the kitchens are smaller than the old grammar school site, but has found them "really well-equipped and much more realistic". Catherine Hernon, 19, expects experience at the Globe to prove a help in her search for employment.
Though the former industrial landmark still has some way to go before it regains the bustle of its Victorian heyday as headquarters of a world-renowned textile machinery empire, Accrington and Rossendale principal Michael Austin believes the future is bright. The college, currently weathering industrial strife over contracts, has gained a permanent asset to brighten a gloomy autumn, and is at the heart of efforts to regenerate the town it serves. He adds: "It is always good being in at the beginning of something, and when it is a re-beginning it is even better. It is bringing life back where it was almost extinct in the centre of Accrington."