Multi-million pound rescue bid launched to save Newton Rigg

A cross-industry group has mounted a multi-million pound rescue bid for Newton Rigg College in Cumbria, which has been earmarked for closure in July 2021.

The intended closure was announced in May, after the college near Penrith revealed its flagging campus and falling student numbers had left it with substantial losses.

A strategic review, co-ordinated by the government’s Further Education Commissioner to look at potential options, has already attracted interest from property developers.  

See also: MP concerned over proposed Cumbrian ag college closure

But the cross-industry group, headed by experts in land-based education, farming and rural business, wants to maintain the site as an educational college.

Closure timeline

  • March 2020 Independent review commissioned by parent college Askham Bryan found falling student numbers and financial losses meant the site was unviable.
  • May 2020 Intended closure of the Newton Rigg campus announced by Askham Bryan.
  • July 2020 Askham Bryan initiated a second review, co-ordinated by the government’s further education commissioner.
  • 20 October 2020 Newton Rigg Ltd submitted expression of interest to maintain the college as an educational establishment.
  • 30 October 2020 Strategic review deadline for bids and proposals for the site.
  • 18 December 2020 Chosen proposal to be announced by further education commissioner
  • July 2021 Planned closure (pending review outcome) of the Newton Rigg College after students complete courses.

Known as Newton Rigg Ltd, it has already submitted a formal expression of interest to the commissioner.  

October deadline

More detailed information on the proposal will be supplied ahead of the review’s deadline on 30 October. A decision on the successful bidder is expected by the Department for Education on 18 December.

In a statement Newton Rigg Ltd said its proposal was solely focused on the continuation, and development, of specialist land-based education.

Newton Rigg Ltd chairman Professor Andrew Cobb added that the campus would be improved for the benefit of young people and adults, farming communities and relevant industries.

As well as rejuvenating the college and its farms, the plan includes an agri-tech hub and provision for disadvantaged people to access employment, education or training.

Prof Cobb pledged the bid was for the long-term and would put the students first, while investing in strong partnerships in the land-based sector.

Colleges lost

He pointed out that, of the 33 independent agricultural colleges operating in the 1990s, just nine remain.

But Prof Cobb said there was a greater need than ever for education in the land-based sector.

Newton Rigg facts

  • Established in 1896
  • 117 staff, more than 800 further education students and apprentices
  • Courses in agriculture, forestry, gamekeeping and equine management
  • Own college farms
    – Low Beckside, Mungrisdale, (upland livestock)
    – Serbowens Farm, next to Newton Rigg’s main campus (specialist dairy)

“Subsidies are to be phased out putting greater emphasis on the environment, public goods and technology-led efficiency.

“There is a shortage of skills in these areas so we need to educate land-based workers like never before. We cannot afford to lose another college.”

The bid has drawn a huge number of backers and supporters.

Further information is available on the company’s website.