A public consultation has been launched on merger plans between two London Colleges, amid mounting opposition from Grenfell Tower fire campaigners who fear it will end adult education for poorer people in the area.
The central London area review recommended that Kensington and Chelsea College merge with the City Literary Institute, a specialist designated institution, but the former announced in June it planned to join forces with Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College instead.
The public consultation on this move was launched on Friday (September 1), and closes on September 30, with the planned date for completion set at January 2 next year.
It is understood residents from the Grenfell Action Group and Save Wornington College campaign met with interim KCC principal Dr Elaine McMahon last week, during which they raised grave concerns about the merger.
“We don’t want this merger because EHWLC would ultimately take control, and we don’t think they would be interested in fighting local council plans to demolish the Wornington Road campus [near Grenfell Tower],” said campaigner Verena Beane.
“We think they would cut provision at Worthington even further than it already has been, and move out of the building to allow the council to demolish.
“Residents fear KCC’s teaching sites, particularly in North Kensington, would be massively pared back overall, in the long-term.”
The Wornington site, one of KCC’s two main campuses, was sold for £25.3 million last year to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea under a lease-back arrangement.
The local authority is looking to demolish the building for housing, in a deal that would at best result in greatly reduced college teaching space on the redeveloped site.
Ms Beane, a retired ex-KCC employee, said the college had assured campaigners it would hold a public meeting on the future of Wornington.
“We’ve told them there’s huge local opposition to the merger and demolishing the campus,” Ms Beane added. “If they held the meeting in the town hall it would be packed-out.”
Edward Daffarn, another campaigner, explained the Wornington campus has played a vital role in helping poorer people in the area, often with English lessons or access to higher education classes.
“It’s vital for the sort of people who lived in Grenfell Tower – often people who moved to this country from overseas and relied on college classes to help them learn English, integrate and find work,” he said.
“Poorer people feel they are being driven out of the area. These are the sort of vital services that are being taken away.”
Director of strategy and local services at the Royal Borough, Tony Redpath, sat on the college’s board of governors until July this year.
He warned about merger asset stripping, in an email to colleagues seen by FE Week, in February: “KCC’s problem, put baldy, is that its attraction to other colleges is based on its assets rather than its activities.”
When asked about the merger and controversy over Wornington, Dr McMahon told FE Week: “We understand very well the desire of the local community in North Kensington to see the college thrive”, adding “we certainly share that aspiration”.
The college answered criticism that the public were not informed about the sale of Wornington before it went through, on its website, alongside the new consultation document.
It said: “The current management team has not been able to ascertain why there was no engagement about the disposal plans and, with the benefit of hindsight, considers consultation at the time would have been advantageous.”
An EHWC spokesperson told FE Week: “The college will continue to engage with and support local communities and ensure that the appropriate provision is available and accessible.
“We will continue to provide adult education in North Kensington.”
A joint statement from the leaders of both colleges, in the consultation document, added: “We believe this merger will result in a financially secure college… allowing us to continue to meet the needs of our students, employers and the local communities.”
A spokesperson for the local authority told FE Week: “Kensington and Chelsea Council and Kensington and Chelsea College have agreed that nothing will happen without consulting the community first.
“RBKC and KCC will continue working to ensure there is minimal disruption to FE provision in North Kensington and a wide range of options for the Wornington Road site can be considered.”