College chair welcomes move to 'transformational' campus

Jeff Hope, chair of governors at Northumberland College.Jeff Hope, chair of governors at Northumberland College.
Jeff Hope, chair of governors at Northumberland College.
One of Northumberland’s most prominent businessmen has welcomed news that Northumberland College is relocating to a new site in Ashington.

Jeff Hope heads up the £100m AkzoNobel paint plant in the town and for the last two years has been Chair of Governors at Northumberland College.

He said: “As someone who was born in the town this is transformational news.

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"Relocating the college into the town centre will be a huge boost to the local economy, while delivering a new, state-of-the-art learning environment to students and staff that will take our provision to the next level and serve the employers in the local area.”

Jeff, from a Northumberland farming family, studied a national diploma in civil engineering, architecture and surveying at Northumberland College’s Ashington site, and then completed a degree in surveying and mapping science at Newcastle University.

He was a navigator on a marine exploration ship for six years before going to work at Alcan’s Lynemouth aluminium smelter, where he progressed to plant manager before being approached by AkzoNobel.

Jeff said: “One of the problems we faced on opening the plant was finding people with the right skills and attitude.

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"We found the skills we wanted often didn’t exist in the local workforce – and the culture we wanted to introduce at the plant required a certain mindset that was proving hard to find.

“We were baffled there were so few applicants for these great jobs. We’d researched the area and the average salary was £20,000 and we were paying an average of £40,000 but we just couldn’t fill all of the available jobs.

“We were looking for partners to help us with this, but the college at that time, weren’t structured to effectively support our needs.”

Jeff persevered and the college started a fledgling apprentice programme with AkzoNobel before the college completed a merger with Sunderland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form to create Education Partnership North East (EPNE).

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“The merger saw a transformation and we now get exactly what we want from the college, great people with the right skills and the right attitude – and that’s something I’m hearing from other manufacturers and other companies across the county.

“We’ve helped shaped the relevant curriculum and what we’re getting ready now is work-ready candidates.”

The new campus, developed by the Department of Education (DfE) on behalf of the college, will be built on a 5.7 acre site at Wansbeck Business Park.

“As a proud Northumbrian and as someone who went to the college, it is a huge privilege and an honour to now Chair Northumberland College. The changes have been remarkable and have been brilliant for the county, its students and its future workforce.

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“The current Ashington site is in a residential area and isn’t anywhere near as accessible as the new site will be – it’ll be a few hundred yards from the new train station and an easy walk from anywhere in the town centre.

“It’s going to be a special place and will help provide present and future employers – the likes of Britishvolt – with the talent pipeline they need.”

A planning application for the new campus will be submitted to Northumberland County Council over the coming months.