Campaigners battle to save Kensington & Chelsea college campus

Residents have continued their fight to save Kensington and Chelsea College’s Wornington Road site from redevelopment.

Campaigners, including the Grenfell Action Group, have been informed that a final decision on whether to assent to plans for the site’s redevelopment will be made on December 30.

After a public meeting on September 26, a group met on Thursday at the Venture Centre, Wornington Road, to discuss the importance of maintaining the current site and oppose the proposed merger between Kensington and Chelsea College and Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College.

Those in attendance included past and present college staff members, students, residents, and the Grenfell Action Group, and Chris Minten, a former adult education officer who worked in the borough from 2001 to 2003, believes the college will be a big loss.

He said: “If you want to travel from Wornington to Hortensia, it’s a big journey geographically, but also a big barrier in terms of the social demographic.

“The chance of people making that journey is pretty much zero in my experience.

“Adult education services have struggled because they’ve lost their building – there’s no real identity so people don’t know where to go.

“It takes years to build a brand and identity, so for somewhere like Wornington College that reputation and local knowledge is irreplaceable.”

The site was sold last year for £25.3 million to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and plans have been proposed for a controversial redevelopment to demolish the building for private and affordable housing, resulting in a reduced teaching and community space for the college.

The council have denied accusations of a “ruthless land grab”, expressly stating that Kensington and Chelsea College will be permitted to stay on the Wornington Road site for as long as they wish.

However, residents have repeatedly voiced their concerns about the redevelopment and the relocation of many courses and services to an enhanced facility at the second campus in Hortensia Road, Chelsea.

Over 40 years the college has impacted the lives of many of the borough’s residents, providing a huge variety of courses such as ESOL (English as a second language), Access to Higher Education, Teacher Training, Health, and Social Care.

Edward Daffarn, a leading member of the Grenfell Action Group who himself escaped from floor 16 in the Grenfell Tower disaster, attended the college.

He said: “On a personal level the college changed my life.

“I was at a juncture in my life and I started an access course, which led to university, and I qualified as a social worker in 2001.

“However, I’m just one of the many, many people in this community who has benefited from Wornington College.

“There are people leaning to speak English through an ESOL course, continuing onto further courses, and getting into university.

“They then feed the money they earn back into the community, which allows their children to come and follow through on the same path.”

The North Kensington area, and its relationship with Kensington and Chelsea Council, has come under increased scrutiny since the Grenfell Tower disaster.

Mr Daffarn said: “I believe that it’s so important that Wornington and the college is recognised as part of a pattern of asset stripping by councillors who should have been concentrating on keeping us safe. That is why it’s so important that it’s recognised and the college is protected, as reparation.”

Retired deputy registrar and quality manager at the college, Verena Beane, echoed this attitude.

She said: “There’s a material value to the college, but it is the community value not the material value that creates the sense of belonging.

“There is a sense that too much has been taken away from us. Our campaign is part of the Grenfell Action Group and for the residents that survived it, it is about reparation, the idea that we should keep our community in North Kensington together.”

Financial difficulties that have arisen at the college in recent years have led to reduction of courses available on the site and the redundancy of long-serving members of staff.

Lesley Dillon, 69, who was made redundant after 22 years working at the college, said: “People’s whole lives have been affected by this. I was destroyed by losing my job, and my health has really suffered as a result.

“This college means everything to the community.”

In an initial statement issued on their website in May 2016, Kensington and Chelsea Council said: “Following the sale, the Council will acquire the freehold and the college will have a guaranteed space on the Wornington Road site for as long as it decides to have one, in the current building for at least the next two or three years, and then in any new development that might be built in the future.”

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