Ambitious, economy-boosting plans to create a university campus in Wigan town centre are this week unveiled.
The University of Bolton Group confirmed to the Wigan Observer this week that it is in talks with the board members of the former university technical college on Parson’s Walk to create a new campus accommodating up to 1,500 students and creating 50 jobs.
The UTC closed its doors in the summer having not attracted enough teenagers to take up its vocational courses and amid bitter recriminations that it hadn’t received sufficient government funding.
But left behind are state-of-the-art facilities including its famous “vertical farm” and process hall which looked too good an opportunity to miss for the Bolton institution.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Kondal Reddy Kandadi said: “The University of Bolton aims to work collaboratively with all stakeholders to develop the former Wigan UTC and its associated learning infrastructure into a vibrant, fully-fledged and sustainable University Campus facility and Centre of Excellence.
“This Wigan University facility and Centre of Excellence would be based in the state-of-the-art building in New Market Street that housed UTC Wigan until its closure in July this year.
“The University of Bolton will, thanks to its academic strengths and first class links with industry, be able to create and deliver a holistic education offer in high demand disciplines including Health, Engineering, Supply Chain and Logistics, Retail, Computing, and Creative Technologies.”
Dr Kandadi said the proposed Wigan UCoE would:
Offer undergraduate, postgraduate and postgraduate research programmes with integrated apprenticeships.
Establish an ‘Innovation Zone’ to generate new business creation in an incubational environment.
Provide opportunities to optimise the potential of the current vertical farm in the facility using the university’s links in the UK and overseas.
Explore commercial training opportunities for industry, based on the current engineering laboratories in the building.
Benefit from the University of Bolton being top for student satisfaction in Greater Manchester and fourth in the UK for its teaching quality.
The Wigan UcoE would also significantly contribute to economic regeneration in the Wigan borough, create new jobs and help to enrich the town centre, which will be able to rise to future challenges.
He added: “It fits well with the University of Bolton’s academic and institutional strategy and will create a full university presence in Wigan, with integrated links to our core operations in Bolton and our planned new UCoE in Bury.
“The University of Bolton has a successful track record in investing strategically and developing state-of-the-art learning infrastructure based on highly successful partnerships with industry, which can be replicated in Wigan.
“For example, we recently were awarded £10m grant funding from Greater Manchester Combined Authority for our proposal to establish a £30m Bolton College of Medical Sciences (BCMS) in partnership with Bolton NHS Foundation Trust and Bolton Council.
“The University of Bolton Group’s initial proposal for Wigan University Centre of Excellence has been welcomed and supported by the UTC board.
“We look forward to working with the UTC board and other partners to progress the plan to bring the building back into use as a world class University Centre of Excellence.”
Dr Kandadi said he felt that the university offering higher education would complement the further education offer of Wigan and Leigh College across the road rather than be in competition with it.
Built in 1900, the UTC was orginally Rushton Mill (named after an ancestor of the cartoonist Willie Rushton) and was used as a food and grain warehouse.
It was later renamed Civic Buildings and became the base for the gas showrooms.
People visited to buy new gas appliances and pay their bills. In the ’50s it also became temporary home to Pendlebury’s when their town centre store was badly damaged in a huge blaze.
Being opposite the Market Square coach companies collecting people to go on day trips and holidays used to tell them to wait at the gas showrooms, and later the old gas showrooms. It then became the base for the council’s planning department for many years before being acquired for the UTC when it underwent a £5m refurbishment and opened in 2013.
When it was announced that the UTC was closing just six years later it was mooted that the building might be used for student flats.
A Wigan Council spokesperson said: “We are working with the Department for Education as they consider potential future uses of the site. The council will continue to push for a positive local future for the building aimed at supporting education and skills development for our residents.
“Helping our residents gain new skills and providing better employment and training opportunities is a key part of Wigan Council’s new Strategic Framework for Work and Skills.
“This new approach is designed to drive job creation and support residents into work and training.”