New principal says college facilities are just amazing

Gilberto Da Palma, gym manager, Sussex Coast College
Gilberto Da Palma, gym manager, Sussex Coast College
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A NEW principal with a bucket-load of ideas is in charge at Sussex Coast College Hastings and he seems intent on enticing the community into the town centre campus. Observer chief reporter RICHARD MORRIS went to see exactly what was on offer.

ANYONE walking past the Sussex Coast College Hastings building which so easily dominates the town centre skyline cannot have failed to be impressed by the iconic new campus.

Opened last year amid a fanfare of plaudits and excited education chatter, the college is now home to hundreds of local students, studying everything from politics to air hostessing.

Hailed as one of the jewels in the crown of Hastings’ recent regeneration, it does not take a genius to imagine the impact such an impressive and well kitted-out college has had on local teenagers.

But, for locals who have long-since matured past the age of education, the question it has begged is: “What exactly has our town got for £97million?”

The answer is perhaps surprising. Quite simply, there is a lot more to the college than most people might initially think.

Under new principal Janak Patel - who replaced Sue Middlehurst two months ago - Sussex Coast College Hastings (SCCH) has begun opening up its all-singing all-dancing facilities to the local community.

The problem is though, that most people don’t even know they are there.

Mr Patel’s enthusiasm is abundantly clear within minutes of meeting him. According to staff he has proved a breath of fresh air and, if the response of passing pupils is anything to go by, the students have welcomed his somewhat madcap approach with open arms.

In fact, such is his excitement at taking of the reins of such a modern campus, there is more than a glint of Willy Wonka let loose in his own education factory in his eye.

“Look around,” he said during an Observer visit this week, “the facilities here are amazing and it is important to us that we open that up to members of the community as well.

“Further education can and should be a resource for the entire community. Local people should be using this as an environment for formal and informal learning.”

Already changes have started taking place. An on-site Costa Coffee bar has been made bigger, with the hope being that cheaper prices will attract residents and businesses onto the site.

And, judging by the sprinkling of pensioners and suited-and-booted professionals chewing the fat there on Tuesday morning - it is working.

A state-of-the art library is currently only open to students, but plans are afoot to allow members of the public to use it in a similar way to the college gym, which is available at £20 a month to non-students.

And as well as the normal school-style cafeteria - which provides cut-price meals to anyone who wants them - the college has also opened its own, silver service restaurant, complete with terrace.

Coast, as it has been called, offers catering students the chance to try their hand in a professional environment and is open for bookings between 12noon and 1pm (Monday to Thursday) and then 6.30pm and 1pm on Thursday nights.

Menus differ on each day, depending on which class is behind the cooker, but include Cod Mornay, chargrilled monkfish and wild mushroom and red onion tart - with a two course lunch priced at £7.95.

According to the manager, Erica Holland, the demand has been encouraging. “We are already getting booked out in the evenings,” she said, “and our lunchtime menus are proving popular.

“It is great for the students to have somewhere they can put their work into practice - and the feedback we have had on the food has all been positive.”

Another eye-opener is the fact the college boasts a spa and hydrotherapy suite - again open to the public, with a 75-minute long black mud treatment available for just £15.

There are even plans to start running low-cost pamper days.

Already up and running is the college’s beauty treatment department. Cajoled into trying out a service, I plumped for a mini facial. And, despite my stubble getting in the way, it was useful to experience first-hand the benefits of such vocational facilities.

Shelly Rowe, currently studying a beauty and therapy course, drew the short straw and spent 20 minutes applying a veritable cauldron of lotions to my face.

She said: “We are really lucky to have these facilities. To be able to try out the theory side of things in a real working environment is great and helps a lot with our learning.

“I am hopefully going to start learning electrolysis and massage over the next year and it gives you a good head start when looking for jobs.”

The hairdressing team offer men’s cuts for £4 and a full head of highlights for £14.50 and, once a new floor is laid, a professional salon will open at the college - providing students with a place to work once they have completed their studies.

A working gallery is already open, with students displaying their work in an almost unrivalled exhibition space.

Mr Patel, who moved to Hastings from Birmingham, is adamant that the college is now about more than just learning.

“We are keen to help as many pupils as possible find their way into work and are trying to take the lead on that. We have already got apprentices working in almost every single department at SCCH and that number will go up.”

An indoor street party is mooted for the Queen’s diamond jubilee and non-students are regularly invited in to attend concerts in the college’s atrium.

“A college is an important part of the community,” added Mr Patel. “People here are rightly proud when they see the college. We just want them to know they can come and use it as well.”

The Observer has teamed up with SCCH to offer one lucky reader a pamper day for two at the college.

The prize includes a three course lung at Coast and up to £18 of beauty treatments for the winner and a friend in the college’s salon.

To be in with a chance of winning, simply answer the following question and send it, together with a daytime telephone number, to Richard Morris, College Competition, Woods House, Telford Road, St Leonards, TN38 9LZ, before March 20.

Question: Which country does the dish Torta alla Gianduja originate from?

A) Spain

B) Italy

C) Wales