Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal visited Weston-super-Mare today (22nd October) to formally open the refurbishment of the iconic Winter Gardens and the brand-new University Centre Weston (UCW) facilities which also houses the Law and Professional Services Academy.
Back in 2015, North Somerset Council approached the Weston College Group with the proposition of transferring the building to the College’s ownership in order to secure its future by restoring the historic 1920s portion of the building for community use and redeveloping the little-used 1980s conference facilities into an educational centre for UCW.
In 2017, the Winter Gardens Pavilion reopened to the public after the extensive renovation and refurbishment, which saw £15 million spent on improving the building’s public facilities and creating an educational centre for Higher Education.
During the visit today, The Princess Royal met key members of the College leadership team including Dr Paul Phillips CBE, the College’s Principal and Chief Executive, as well as local dignitaries including the High Sherriff, Thomas Sheppard, Chairman of North Somerset Council, Cllr Richard Westwood, Chief Inspector Avon and Somerset Police, Steve Kendall and the Mayor and Town Chairman, Cllr James Clayton.
Her Royal Highness took a tour of the UCW facilities, and met students and staff working with VR technology and Hi-fidelity interactive manikins for health and social care, climate monitoring and Smart Home connectivity solutions for the digital sector, and then in the Winter Garden’s iconic ballroom The Princess Royal witnessed Musical Theatre students rehearsing for their upcoming Broadway show with the composer and lyricist in New York, along with the director in London streaming into the lesson to critique. The visit culminated with The Princess Royal unveiling a commemorative plaque.
Commenting on the visit Dr Paul Phillips CBE, Principal and Chief Executive of Weston College, said: “I am very proud to see where the Weston College Group is today, and how we have contributed to the regeneration of Weston-super-Mare through the creation of inspiring facilities for both leaners and the community.
Since 2001 under Dr Phillips leadership the College Group has grown exponentially where aside from the College and University Centre students, it also leads on prisoner education in 19 prisons across the country involving 11,000 learners, with a positive impact on re-offending with those involved.
The College has also been recognised for its transformational approach to creating outstanding progression results for students with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) and creating an ethos which celebrates inclusive practice which has driven the College’s mission, strategic plan and ambitions for all its students, regardless of their starting point in life.
Dr Phillips added; “I feel both honoured and privileged to welcome and share this impressive redevelopment with The Princess Royal; this is her third visit to the College, The Princess Royal opened Loxton Campus in 2008 and then South West Skills Campus in 2018.”
Cllr Mark Canniford, North Somerset Council’s executive member for placemaking and economy, said: “The redevelopment of the Winter Gardens and the extremely important partnership we have with Weston College Group has played a key role in the wider regeneration of Weston town centre. Education is an important part of the mix in a vibrant and successful town centre economy.”