West Nottinghamshire College rolled out the red carpet last Friday (20 February 2009) when The Prince of Wales visited its £7.2m Construction and Logistics Skills Academy.
His Royal Highness enjoyed a guided tour of the state-of-the-art facilities at Station Park in Kirkby-in-Ashfield, which provides vocational training to over 600 students.
Accompanied by the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire Sir Andrew Buchanan and College Principal and Chief Executive Asha Khemka OBE, Prince Charles spent time chatting to staff and students across various curriculum areas before meeting governors, funders, college partners and employers.
Renowned as one of the best training facilities in the sector, the Construction and Logistics Skills Academy – known as Station Park – boasts extensive workshop space, the latest industry-standard machinery and equipment. The Centre has developed a unique concept of integrating theory with practice.
Addressing His Royal Highness before inviting him to unveil a commemorative plaque to mark his visit, Mrs Asha Khemka said: “Our College has been in existence for more than 100 years and this is the first time we’ve had the honour to host a Royal visitor. The visit marks an important event in the history of the College and is an extremely proud day for us all.
“We are truly honoured to showcase our magnificent new training facility. The centre demonstrates our commitment not only to our young people but to our employers alike and forms part of our ten main campuses. Through our investment, we are developing and training tradesmen and women of the future in one of the leading facilities in the further education sector.”
Mrs Khemka also told the Prince: “I believe there is a great deal of synergy between your pioneering work with young people through The Prince’s Trust and what we are trying to do here at the College.”
And she insisted the College was putting Mansfield and Ashfield on the map, just like Olympics stars Rebecca Adlington and Sam Hynd had done.
“We are ambitious and keen to prove that we are not only capable of producing Olympic gold medal winners in Mansfield and Ashfield but we can reach the same heights in education and training,” said Mrs Khemka.
The Construction and Logistics Skills Academy provides training across a range of subject areas including bricklaying, plumbing, carpentry, gas fitting, painting and decorating, construction management, driving passenger vehicles, forklift truck driving and railway engineering.
Elliott Milton and Sam Tucker were just two of the lucky students that had the honour of meeting Prince Charles.
Electrical installation student Elliott, 18, said: “He asked me about the current economic climate and what it’s like to be an electrician right now. I also told the Prince about the curriculum area and what qualifications I am aiming towards.
“I said to him: ‘If ever you need any electrical work doing, you know where to come. We can rewire Buckingham Palace for you – which he found amusing!’”
Sam, who is studying painting and decorating, said: “Prince Charles asked me what I do as a student here and was a little surprised to hear about females in the painting and decorating trade, but when I explained about our roles in a changing society he realised the advantages.
“I was so nervous about meeting him but it’s certainly something to tell your children about.”
Brickwork student Matthew Harbor’s encounter with Prince Charles made the national newspapers!
The 18-year-old was pictured with the Prince in The Sun and The Daily Mail, who described him as a dead ringer for Prince Harry.
He said: “It felt really good seeing myself in the national newspapers. I haven’t stopped smiling! Lots of friends have been texting and ringing to tell me they’d seen me in print. I’ve also received quite a few messages on Facebook from strangers talking about my resemblance to Prince Harry. I appear to have a few female American admirers!”
Others who met His Royal Highness described it as a historic day for the College and the community.
Roger Begy OBE, Regional Chair of the Learning and Skills Council East Midlands, said: “The royal visit recognised the great work of the College, the transformation of the area and the skills of the many young people here today.
“How can this environment possibly fail to inspire confidence and provide students with the skills for future careers? Seeing the regeneration in the area really does show that West Nottinghamshire College is playing its part in working closely with businesses across construction and logistics.”
Dr David Collins CBE, President of the Association of Colleges, said Prince Charles’ visit was recognition of the important role that colleges play in society.
“Station Park is a fantastic facility that provides first class training. Having The Prince of Wales here today is recognition of not just what’s being achieved at West Nottinghamshire College but at colleges in general,” he said.
Local business people were also quick to praise Station Park.
John Sankey MBE, Managing Director of John Sankey Estate Agents, said: “I am staggered by the quality of the building. People can’t help but learn and practice their art within the acres of space and light.
“I last met the Prince of Wales three years ago when I received my MBE. He said to me then ‘I hope you are going to continue your work in the community’ and I certainly do – and I wholeheartedly support the College.”
Nick Linney, Chairman of the Linney Group, said: “The Mansfield and Ashfield community doesn’t always realise what great work is going on at the College, so visits by people such as The Prince of Wales really do help raise the profile.
“Prince Charles cares passionately about young people, which very much showed today. People who leave the College with a good qualification should feel truly inspired and live a good life.”
Howard Baggaley, Group Chairman of Baggaley Construction Ltd, said: “I started as a brickwork student at the Chesterfield Road campus in 1956 – and both the College and I have come a long way since then! These students can really relate to learning in an environment such as this. In fact, we need more of these facilities.
“His Royal Highness looked absolutely absorbed by everything he’d seen.”
Civic dignitaries also stressed the importance of Prince Charles’ visit.
Mansfield Mayor Tony Egginton said “For me, the main beneficiaries of today’s visit were the students. The Prince of Wales was absolutely brilliant with them and extremely welcoming.
“I’m sure His Royal Highness will go away with the view that Mansfield and Ashfield is a great area with major aspirations.”
Jean Hardy, Chair of the College’s Corporation Board, said His Royal Highness cannot have failed to be impressed by the facilities at Station Park, as well as attitude of the students that he met.
“The facility has a real ‘buzz’ about it,” she said. “It’s an excellent training centre that equips students with the best chance to get the qualifications they need to maximise their potential.
“The Prince was impressed to hear about the success of the College. He appreciates that life is tough in an ex-mining community and recognises the journey that we’ve been on.”