Historic college building set for multi-million-pound restoration

By Tim Aldred

31 Jul 2023

Dr Fazal Dad At Blackburn College's Victoria Building

Blackburn College's 135-year-old Victoria Building is set to undergo a multi-million-pound restoration which will convert it into a community and learning hub that sits at the heart of Blackburn’s Town Centre Master Plan.

The flagship project is one of the largest schemes of its kind in the UK and will see the Grade II-listed, four-storey building transformed into a modern hub of learning, skills and community activity, featuring a top floor art space.

Funding has been secured from the Department for Education’s (DFE) Further Education Capital Transformation Fund and planning permission has been granted by Blackburn with Darwen Borough Council, allowing work to begin this August. 

The first phase will see the building surrounded by scaffolding and a protective building wrap. Appointed contractors BAM will then work with DfE technical advisors Mott MacDonald on the key structural and utility elements.

This will be followed by remodelling and interior restoration work. 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.

The entire top level of the building will be turned 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 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.

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.

The work is expected to be completed in 2026 when the Victoria Building will once again become the college’s centre for adult learning, adult skills and English as a Second Language (ESOL) provision. 

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-pound 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.”

Coun Quesir Mahmood, deputy leader of Blackburn with Darwen Council and 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."

Enjoyed this? Read more from Tim Aldred

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