Blackburn College reveals ambitious plans to restore and transform its historic Victoria Building

Published Monday 31 July 2023 at 15:19

Funding has been agreed for the landmark site to become dynamic hub of adult learning, advanced skills and community activities in the heart of the town.

Blackburn College has revealed the exciting multi-million-pound restoration plan which will restore its four-storey landmark Victoria Building to its former glory by transforming it into a modern hub of learning, skills and community activity – complete with a top floor art space.

The flagship project is one of the largest schemes of its kind in the UK and will see the 135-year-old building become a central feature of Blackburn’s Town Centre Master Plan.

Extensive work will begin on the landmark structure in August 2023 having secured funding from the Department for Education’s (DFE) Further Education Capital Transformation Fund and planning permission from Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council.

The first phase will see the building completely surrounded by scaffolding and a protective building wrap before appointed contractors BAM working closely with DfE Technical Advisors, Mott MacDonald, start work on the key structural and utility elements.

Re-modelling and interior restoration work on the Grade II-listed site will then be started.

Many of the original spacious classrooms and large meeting areas – which had been partitioned to create offices and storage space – will be re-established.

Much of the decorative panelling, ornate coving and stained glass will also be rejuvenated, false ceilings will be removed, while a labyrinth of corridors, stairwells and reception areas will be refreshed.

One of the most dramatic transformations will involve turning the entire top level of the building into a live performance area for both student and community events.

Other new community spaces will be developed on the ground floor. These will include the restoration of the original Headmaster’s Office – a stunning wood-panelled room which will be available for meetings and private hire.

In addition, there are plans to create two new lecture theatres and develop other areas for studying as well for social and creative activities.

New life will also be brought back to the exterior of the building. Blackburn-based Darwen Terracotta and Faience, one of the world’s leading terracotta conservators, has been commissioned to restore many of the elaborate carvings on the building’s façade.

The distinctive friezes – that depict many skills and trades that underpinned Lancashire’s industrial economy in the late 19th century – will also be renovated.

Once completed – estimated for 2026 – the Victoria Building will once again become the College’s centre for adult learning, adult skills and English as a Second Language (ESOL) provision.

And, just as important, it will provide Blackburn and Darwen with a new, accessible, vibrant environment for all of the borough’s diverse communities.

Dr Fazal Dad, Principal and Chief Executive of Blackburn College, said:

While this investment will bring fantastic benefits to our students, across many of the College’s curriculum, the restoration of the Victoria Building is much more than just an upgrade of learning facilities.

It is an ambitious and bold project which will bring a magnificent community and civic asset back to life and create new opportunities for everyone. It will also become a symbol of both Blackburn’s proud industrial heritage, and its dynamic economic, cultural and inclusive future, in the very heart of the town.

Furthermore, it will act as gateway to the wider Blackburn College campus which is also enjoying a significant multi-million pounds investment in new learning facilities, classrooms and equipment.

And just as the Victoria Building was built to facilitate the skills and education requirements of the Industrial Revolution some 135 years ago, so the whole of Blackburn College is now gearing up to meet the demands of today’s employers.

The Deputy Leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council, Councillor Quesir Mahmood, Executive Member for Growth and Development, said:

The Victoria Building is iconic and part of our wider development of the Blackburn Cultural Quarter. Preserving our heritage buildings is important to the Council and this is a fantastic commitment by the Department for Education and Blackburn College – a welcome boost for our town.

It will see the learning facilities in the Victoria Building completely transformed – offering state-of-the-art facilities for their students who travel from right across the area to study there.

Our highways team are working closely with the college and contractors to make sure we accommodate the work with appropriate diversions in place, whilst minimising the impact on the surrounding area.

I look forward to seeing the works progress with the Council continuing to support the project in any way we can.

Following the closure of the Victoria Building this Autumn, temporary classrooms will be installed in the nearby college car park.

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