A college that lies in the shadow of Grenfell Tower is the subject of a governmental intervention after concern that residents would lose access to vital further education facilities.
The Wornington Road campus of Kensington and Chelsea College (KCC), referred to locally as Wornington College, has faced an uncertain future since the sale of the site to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) in 2016, for £25.3 million.
Ed Daffarn, who escaped from the 16th floor during the Grenfell disaster and attended an Access to Higher Education course at the college, has been campaigning to save Wornington for over a year.
He said: “Because of the college I was able to go to university to study to be a social worker and I’ve enjoyed working as a social worker since.
“It was an amazing, transformative thing in my life, but not only for myself.
“Many, many people here in the North Kensington community have benefited not only from Access courses, but ESOL (English as a second language) courses, all different types of learning that enable you to start from someplace and then go somewhere completely different.”
Controversial plans have been proposed, such as redeveloping the site for housing and reduced teaching facility, and a merger with Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College which has faced difficulties in the past.
A group of campaigners from the Save Wornington College group met with Policing and Fire Minister Nick Hurd, who has responsibility for liaison between those affected by the Grenfell Tower disaster and the government, to restate the importance of retaining the college in it’s existing site and capacity.
He referred the case to Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships, Anne Milton, who appointed the Further Education Commissioner Richard Atkins to produce an urgent report on the merger.
Anne Milton addressed college chairs and told them the that Grenfell disaster, “served to emphasis the importance of your role in supporting and providing opportunities to the local community.”
The report recommends that college corporations should delay in making the decision on whether or not proceed with the merger, which was due to take please on the 18th December, until April 2018.
It also states: “Any structural change will require a solution that preserves appropriate capacity to deliver for learners in North Kensington, in consultation with the local community.”
Proposals to transfer many courses to the Hortensia Road campus of KKC, over an hour from Wornington Road by bus, have been met with anger by residents, students, and staff.
They claim that this would make education opportunities inaccessible to many people living in the diverse community of North Kensington, with a particularly adverse impact for women due to childcare issues or those intending to study ESOL courses.
Many campaigners have argued that authorities have a duty to ensure residents have an equal and sustained access to education in light of the suffering caused by the Grenfell tragedy, in which 71 people died.
Though the community efforts to save the college predate the fire, the Save Wornington campaign has taken on a renewed significance in the wake of the disaster and it’s much criticised handling by RBKC.
Meg McDonald, a North Kensington resident and one of the organisers of the campaign to save the college, said: “You know the Jimmy Cliff song, ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’?
“That’s what this has all been about, power to the people. We’ve shown that campaigns can and do have an effect.”
Campaigners handed a 1,600-strong petition to KCC governors on Monday in order to emphasise the strength of community support for the college, and have vowed to continue the fight to preserve the college for future generations.