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Fit for Learning

15 November 2005

Efficient and effective management of educational facilities is increasingly impacting on the educational outcomes at all levels. Jane Fenwick visited the new City Lit facility and spoke to its principal, Peter Davies

ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, people have enrolled on adult education classes for anything from pottery to pot-holing and cooking to Chinese. For those enrolling this term at London’s City Lit college, they will be learning in a brand new campus - the first adult education centre to be commissioned in the UK for almost 50 years and the largest in Europe.

Founded in 1919, the City Lit enjoys a national as well as an international reputation as a leading provider of part-time learning for adults. It delivers some 3,000 courses to 23,000 students many of whom enrol on more than one course in a year. Recently its reputation was recognised when it became the first adult education community college in the country to be graded for ‘outstanding’ provision. It was also the fifth of 55 colleges in London to be awarded Beacon college status by the Department for Education and Skills.

Construction of the City Lit’s new £21m building in Keeley Street, Covent Garden began in December 2003. It replaced facilities in other sites in the area in Stukely Street, Bolt Court, Bride Lane and Connaught Hall. Funded by a grant from the Learning and Skills Council of £8.4m, plus £6.7m from the sale of two of its sites, some £2.6m from the College’s reserves and a mortgage of £3.3m, the City Lit has a new building to be proud of. It is modern, accessible and welcoming. The cafe/restaurant where students and tutors eat, meet and network is located at its entrance and is open all a day and into the evening giving a lively ‘buzz’ of activity from the first impression.

The six-storey building houses 56 teaching rooms including specialist studios for drama, health and fitness. There are art, jewellery and clay classrooms complete with kilns, and a rooftop sculpture court and garden; music practice rooms, a learning centre and library, a multi purpose performance hall, conference room and student lounges on each floor complete the facilities.

Reaching out
Accessibility is a key factor since not only do students with disabilities of all kinds register for courses but the City Lit has a Centre for Deaf People that runs courses in deaf studies. Some of the City Lit’s work is in ‘outreach’ particularly for adults with learning difficulties, supporting Bengali-speaking mothers in Tower Hamlets, and encouraging rough sleepers and drug addicts to participate in education.

On an average day about 11,000 students attend City Lit courses. The college has 850 part time teaching staff most of whom have other jobs and come to the college for just a couple of hours a day to prepare and deliver their course sessions, and then leave again.

Feedback from staff and students on the new facility is positive according to Principal, Peter Davies. “For students it is a modern working environment with comfortable student lounges on each floor outside the classrooms and a terrace for relaxation. For staff, communications have improved with open plan working and the location at one site, and liaison between the different areas of activity is better than in the past. But what is brilliant is to see a wheelchair user being able to use the building without assistance, making them more independent.”

Now the first term in new building is well underway, Davies, who spent 35 years in the Royal Navy, latterly heading large naval training establishments that were outsourced to Flagship, aims to eventually completely handover management of the building to his FM supplier, Equion Facilities Management. “I want myself and my team to deliver our core service which is education. I don’t want to be concerned with the building. I just want to use the building.”

Davies’ priorities have to be centred on the future of the City Lit at a time of growing budget constraint and changing government priorities. He explained that while he welcomed the Government’s education strategy that stresses the importance of education for 15-19 year olds and improving the skills of the workforce, this diverts the focus and funds away from adult education of the kind offered by City Lit and many other colleges around the country.

The City Lit is entirely devoted to adult learning for anyone over 18 in liberal arts not necessarily directly related to the skills agenda. However, Davies argues that many of the City Lit’s courses do improve access and performance at work – drama courses improve confidence at work, for example and there are clear benefits to health of the population at large in keeping the mind and body active. Nevertheless, the City Lit has to fight for its share of the limited financial resources.

Davies therefore needs to be focussed on keeping the ethos of the City Lit intact while at the same time broadening its appeal and to engage employers and students in supporting courses that may be indirectly beneficial to employment. As Davies explained, “Overall the new building provides less space than the previous buildings but we are utilising the space better. The building is very busy and we need to ‘sweat the asset’ to the maximum. One strategy is to open the building for courses on Saturdays and now even on Sundays.”

This obviously has implications for the FM team and the catering, security and maintenance contractors. Equion Facilities Management won the contract worth over £1/2m a year for an initial 10-year period. Moving into the new building was the ideal opportunity to bring the previously disparate provision of facilities services together under one management.

Equion’s team of four on site includes a facilities manager, assistant FM/help desk operator and two maintenance assistants. Three key activities are managed by Equion. Under a 10-year contract Avenance to provides catering from opening at 9am providing hot meals at lunchtime and in the evening for people attending courses after work. It has invested in the kitchen equipment and café area as part of the deal and opens the café on Saturday and Sunday when the college is open.

Services managed
Local cleaners, Apollo Cleaning, provides cleaning services throughout the building including areas such as art rooms that can be demanding to keep clean. Two janitors are on site throughout the day. Security is by Initial Security and Comtech provides maintenance support that is readily available since this company also manages the maintenance for a nearby property.

Davies has examined the costs of outsourcing and found that not only has it worked out cheaper than providing FM in house, but he also does not have to employ specialists to monitor contractor performance, environmental control or health & safety. “I expect Equion to do that and prepare us for any new regulation,” he said.

But perhaps even more important to the economic health of the City Lit, is that the fixed price contract has given Davies the risk free budget stability he needs. With defects under £1,000 covered in the contract, he knows exactly how to plan his budgets.

Furthermore, Equion is using its expertise to re-examine the operation of printing and copying through the City Lit to find efficiencies. As Equion’s Richard Tregear explained: “It is an opportunity for both parties to improve a vital service for teaching staff. Because they are part time, they often request copying for their students at the last minute before their teaching session. We need to change the way the tutors think about printing to develop an on-line service that allows them to email the document for printing before they need it, enabling printing to be done more efficiently, more cheaply and on time. Currently, there is no management control of the more than 70 printing and copying machines in the college and the £400,000 printing bill. There are opportunities to work smarter together.”

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