CHARLES GRAHAM: Fingers crossed for Wigan university project

The Wigan UTC Academy building
The Wigan UTC Academy building

I never lose the buzz of imparting glad tidings.

Such was the occasion this week in writing the front page for our sister paper the Wigan Observer (available in all good newsagents now) in which it was announced that the University of Bolton is in talks with board members of the recently defunct university technical college (aka the UTC, aka Rushton Mill, aka the old gas showrooms) with a view to turning it into one of its new campuses and a centre of excellence.

It would provide higher education vocational training in all manner of professional areas - including health, engineering, supply chain and logistics, retail, computing, and creative technologies - for up to 1,500 students and create around 50 jobs.

Having been the person who broke the news of the UTC plan not that many years ago only to see the project go west due to a lack of funding and a failure to attract enough teenagers out of mainstream academic schoools to make it viable, I am aware that not all ambitious schemes turn to gold.

And these are early stages. But deputy vice-chancellor Kondal Reddy Kandadi was very keen on the project indeed and the UTC board are also said to be enthusiastic.

I bet they are. I had spoken to some Jonahs who couldn’t envisage how those premises could be put to alternative use without gutting them and changing use once again - perhaps for student flats.

But this idea - using all the fabulous facilities enjoyed by the UTC pupils for a few short years - including Britain’s only vertical farm - looks like a perfect fit.

I also received reassurances that any such venture would complement the further education offer from Wigan and Leigh College just across the road rather than put itself in competition with it.

To have a full university campus and centre of excellence in Wigan for the first time would be a real feather in the borough’s cap. And

Dr Kandadi himself was keen to point out that Wigan UcoE would also “significantly contribute to economic regeneration in the borough, create new jobs and help to enrich the town centre.”

And, boy, wouldn’t that be welcome with our struggling town cente just across the road? The UTC, with its relatively small intake of school-aged youngsters, could never hope to make a meaningful difference to the retail economy on the other side of New Market Street. But 1,500 students and 50 staff could certainly be a welcome shot in the arm.

What’s not to like?