Cumbrian MP Calls Decision To Close Newton Rigg College A ‘Bitter Blow’

By Rachael Grealish

Cumbrian MP ‘deeply disappointed’ by the ‘bitter blow’ to shut Newton Rigg College, in Penrith.

The Further Education Commissioner-led Strategic Review came to the conclusion the 125-year-old agricultural college should close after last-ditch attempts to find a buyer for it failed.

Unfortunately, the Cumbrian groups who applied were unable to secure a compliant bid that would enable them to go ahead and negotiate to take over running the College in its current form from Askham Bryan College. 

Myerscough College has been recently approached by a number of parties, led by Dr Neil Hudson, MP for Penrith and The Border, who remain committed to securing the long-term future of Newton Rigg College. 

Dr Hudson expressed his disappointment in this decision but said ‘there is still hope and we fight on’.

The Conservative MP said: “Like everyone here in Cumbria I am deeply disappointed that at this stage of the process it was not possible to secure a local, Department for Education-compliant bid to take over the College. 

“This will be a bitter blow for the staff and students of Newton Rigg and I fully understand how upsetting this will be, especially after our long-fought campaign to save the College. 

“But I want to assure folk that there still is hope and we fight on. With that in mind, it is vital that we maintain continuity of educational provision for our young people here in Penrith and I am really pleased that Myerscough College and Ullswater Community College have agreed to come together and work with local stakeholders to secure local educational provision in Cumbria. 

“This offers a lifeline for the community while we all work together to secure the farms and campus for a new longer-term Newton Rigg College entity.” 

Myerscough College, like the Cumbrian community, had hoped there would be a local solution for the delivery of land-based education to meet the needs of young people, adult learners and employers, from September 2020. 

However, it now appears, despite 12 months of detailed exploration and discussion, that alternative solutions need to be considered.   

At this stage it is critical that this year’s school leavers and the young people currently studying at Newton Rigg are fully aware of the next steps available to them, to reduce further stress and anxiety, and to ensure they complete their current study programmes to the best of their abilities, in already very difficult circumstances due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.  

Myerscough College has very recently held initial discussions with Ullswater Community College, a key education provider within the local area, to see whether some aspects of their school provision may be extended to provide agriculture and animal management programmes as part of their sixth form provision in partnership with Myerscough. 

Ullswater Community College is the biggest feeder high school for land-based education to the Newton Rigg campus, offering Level 2 (GCSE equivalent) programmes in Animal Studies and Agriculture. 

Extending this offer into the sixth form could provide an essential lifeline to allow land-based education to continue to operate within the local community whilst further exploration takes place, led by MP Dr Neil Hudson, on securing the Newton Rigg sites for the future.   

Alison Robinson, Chief Executive & Principal of Myerscough College, said: “Myerscough College wants to see land-based education flourish in Cumbria, and we have come into the process having been invited after a local Cumbrian solution was not possible within the timeframe. 

“We are delighted to be working with Ullswater Community College and we believe that this continuity of provision will provide clarity for new students and a number of students progressing with their studies and will be a platform for the continuation of land-based education within Penrith, which is so critical for both young people and employers in the Cumbrian community.”  

Stephen Gilby, Headteacher of Ullswater Community College, commented: “Newton Rigg College here in Penrith has been an important destination for significant numbers of our pupils and we are very happy to be working with Myerscough, Dr Hudson and local stakeholders on this innovative solution.

“Ullswater Community College is at the heart of the community in Penrith and we firmly believe that this partnership can be built upon to sustain land-based education in Penrith, Eden and Cumbria long into the future.”

Myerscough is one of the leading institutions in the UK within the land-based sector, teaching more than twenty different subjects, all of which give learners the hands on, practical skills required to secure dream jobs and make a difference to people’s lives. 

The College’s main campus is North of Preston, a few minutes from junction 32 of the M6 (approximately 60 miles and 1 hour from Penrith), where a £35 million campus development programme has recently been completed. 

Myerscough College and Ullswater Community College both remain committed to working with Dr Hudson and key partners in Cumbria and the Borderlands region to determine the best way forward in the coming weeks and months to support the ongoing delivery of land-based education in the county.