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Deeside College merges with Coleg Llysfasi

A year on from a merger with the Welsh College of Horticulture, Deeside College this weekend joined forces with Ruthin- based Coleg Llysfasi. ELEANOR BARLOW talks EXCLUSIVELY to college principal David Jones about the expansion

DEESIDE College now has sites in Wrexham, Denbighshire and Flintshire – after a merger which it is hoped will enhance students’ experiences and safeguard the institutions against the challenges of the recession.

Connah’s Quay-based Deeside College, which joined up with the Welsh College of Horticulture in Northop last year, merged with Wrexham-based Coleg Llysfasi on Sunday.

The merger has created an institution with 24,000 students, 1,000 staff and an annual income of just less than £40m.

Principal David Jones described the event as ‘groundbreaking’.

He said: “Last year we were the first college in Wales to achieve a merger and we are now the only college to achieve a second merger.”

Coleg Llysfasi is known for its agricultural courses and has a 900- acre farm near Ruthin with almost 500 dairy and beef cattle, 2,000 breeding ewes and an overall livestock head count which increases significantly during the spring lambing period.

There is also a small animal care centre at Llysfasi, and a wide range of land-based provision which includes forestry, machinery and beekeeping.

Wrexham Training is also part of Coleg Llysfasi, and the facility is the base for employer engagement in Wrexham and south Denbighshire.

Mr Jones said: “There are links between Llysfasi and the Northop site, especially with the small animal care centre.

“We want to provide the best possible experience for students and allow them to work with as big a range of animals as we can.”

He predicted a rise in the popularity of land-based courses.

“I think over the next 20 years there will be a greater emphasis on agriculture and the countryside,” he said. “People are becoming far more aware of the environment and aspects such as food security issues and we’re looking to really develop the range of land-based courses and link with higher education institutions.

“I think there is going to be a big impact on the rural economy.”

The college has already seen a rise in applications for that type of course.

“In terms of land-based courses I don’t think we could have chosen a better time for this,” he added.

The merger will also improve the provision of Welsh medium courses right across Deeside College, Mr Jones said.

“Llysfasi works extensively in the public and private sectors to provide Welsh language and bilingual training and this expertise and capacity will have a positive influence on Deeside College and give us a greater ability to develop through the medium of Welsh,” he said.

But, despite the positives, Mr Jones said there were challenging times ahead.

He said: “By merging we will become more able to face the inevitable financial challenges that lie ahead.

“We are not isolated from challenges and changes and the reason the governing bodies have been keen to develop in this way is that they recognise we will not only be able to offer better services but the mergers will also protect us, to a certain extent, from the challenges of the recession.

“I am looking forward immensely to the next year and beyond.ŠEven though there will be financial pressures from now until 2014 no college is in a better position than us.”

Since the Welsh College of Horticulture, which is changing its name to Northop College, merged with Deeside there have been a number of developments at the site.

Work on a £3m learning centre will be completed this month, with an opening in October and a rare breeds animal centre will be ready for the new intake of students this September.

A £2.5m small animal centre is being built on the site and the college has secured a zoo licence so it will be able to keep more exotic breeds.

Mr Jones said: “Since we merged with Northop College we’ve been able to bring some of the Deeside know-how to the site and have been able to make better use of the grounds.

“For the past five or six years we worked on making Deeside College the magnificent site it is, so this year we’ve been able to focus on Northop.

Events including the Festival of Hope and the High Sheriff’s garden party have been held on the grounds in Northop this year.

There are also plans for a management training centre and conference facility building on existing links with Flintshire County Council and private companies in the region.

Mr Jones said: “We have a Northop 2020 vision and we’d like to develop the site as a conference facility.

“We would relocate our catering department from Connah’s Quay to Northop and I think we could create a stunning new facility for conferences and functions which could provide management training for companies in North East Wales and beyond.”

And Mr Jones has not ruled out more mergers in the future.

“We have no specific plans but we are always proactively looking to work with other colleges and other organisations,” he said.

“I think if you look across North Wales there are further opportunities ahead if other organisations are prepared to show the foresight Deeside College has shown– putting the customer firmly centre stage and developing excellent education and training for learners of all ages in our communities and in local businesses.”

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