Following the incredible success of City of Bristol College’s Brislington Centre For Independent Living, we have announced the official opening of our second residential training facility at our Ashley Down Centre.
The grand opening ceremony took place yesterday, Tuesday 21 November 2023 and marked a significant milestone in the college’s commitment to providing exceptional education and support for students with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).
This is a unique asset for the city of Bristol; funded by and operated in collaboration with Bristol City Council. This is a place where students learn to be independent and become equipped with the crucial skills needed to help them excel in life.
Skanska undertook the construction of the centre on behalf of Bristol City Council and thoroughly understood the scale and sheer importance of the project. As a result, the Site Manager for the build, Nathan Bowerman, went the extra mile to ensure that the centre was completed to an excellent standard.
Nathan worked with both the college team and WECIL to consult with students regarding the fit and finish of the building. This ensured that students were included in the decision-making process for the entirety of the building, something that played a vital role in its incredible success.
The total build cost of the innovative centre was circa £4.5 million and Skanska very kindly donated circa £1000 worth of equipment from their site offices for re-use within the building.
To commence proceedings, City of Bristol College Vice Chair, Steve Bennett extended a warm welcome to all attendees, setting the stage for an informative yet celebratory opening.
Principal and Chief Executive Officer, Julia Gray, then delivered a compelling speech, offering insights into the project’s history, whilst emphasising the positive impact that it will have on both the lives of students and the wider city of Bristol.
Julia commented: “Firstly, welcome and thank you for attending this momentous day. A particular thanks go to our partners in this project, Bristol City Council, who recognised the need for independence living provision in the city, and the high impact of the existing work our team at our Brislington Centre have delivered over the last six years.
“I wanted to provide some context and history of Project Rainbow, the overarching mission to provide in region independent living support for young people with education, health and care plans in Bristol.
“Prior to 2017, any student who had an Independent living skills target in their EHCP had to leave Bristol and attend a provision elsewhere in the UK. Bristol City Council wanted to address this and approached City of Bristol College along with SEND students and their families to trial a 2-year pilot provision. This is how Project Rainbow started.”
Julia then ran through the establishment of the Brislington Centre before taking the audience through to present day and the grand opening of the Ashley Down Centre.
Julia concluded: “I am delighted that we are here to officially open this centre today. I have seen first-hand how young adults benefit from the support and guidance provided by our incredible colleagues who work at these centres. My personal thanks go to Adam Metcalfe and his team for their continued dedication, vision and commitment; you are all exceptional.
“Independence is something that most young people aspire to, and SEND should not be a barrier to that. It brings me great joy that we at City of Bristol College, in partnership with Bristol City Council, can play a part in being the gateway to independence to the young adults who access our provision.”
Cllr Asher Craig – Deputy Mayor with responsibility for Children’s Services, Education and Equalities, then proceeded to address the audience before officially declaring the centre as being open and participating in the ceremonial ribbon-cutting alongside Julia Gray and a representative young person/student of the college.
Cllr Asher Craig stated: “In Bristol we really believe that every young person should be able to access education in the way that supports and encourages them. The Ashley Down Centre is a great example of that. Having a facility like this in our city means that our young people with special educational needs and disabilities have the opportunity to develop their skills and confidence in a supportive environment whilst being able to live independently and importantly, within the community.
“The commitment we have made to support those with special educational needs and their families is a whole city commitment. It’s through working together with individuals, families, education providers and many others in the sector that we will achieve the positive outcomes our SEND investment aims to deliver.
“Project Rainbow is an excellent working partnership between Bristol City Council and The City of Bristol College, WECIL and young people as well to improve the offer for young people aged 18 and above.”
Introduced by Strategic Residential Lead, Adam Metcalfe, tours of the impressive new facility took place, led by college staff and enthusiastic young people, enhancing the guests’ understanding of the centre’s functionality and allowing them to explore the state-of-the-art amenities designed to empower SEND students on their journey to independence.
After the tours concluded, Matt Justice, Head of Children and Services at the West of England Centre for Inclusive Living (WECIL) delivered an inspiring speech, highlighting the sheer work undertaken as part of the project and the co-production work with students.
Matt said: “We developed an advisory board, specifically to involve young people within this project. We had the brief and then we had to consider how we could involve them and consider what would be important to young people.
“We interviewed young people, ran competitions, did lots and lots of things to give them a voice throughout this entire project, even before there was a spade in the ground. We had a group of 30 young people in a room together for three hours at the Brislington Centre and picked everything from the floors to the furnishings to the colour of the walls.”
Matt then welcomed Liam, a student and resident of the Ashley Down Centre For Independent Living to speak to the audience. Talking of his experience of delivering a speech for the grand opening, Liam said: “When I was asked to speak today, I wanted to say what I feel from the bottom of my heart. When I looked over at Carole and the team, it brought me to tears.”
“It was a big step up for me today doing this all and I can’t thank them all enough. Being a part of this all has given me so much opportunity.”
Cllr Asher Craig expressed the council’s gratitude in a speech, acknowledging the significance of the occasion and thanking everyone for their attendance and support.
Cllr Asher Craig said: “The work has been key to make sure that this centre has been designed by young people for young people, I want to thank everyone who has been involved in Project Rainbow and the opening of the new Ashley Down Centre.
“Thank you all for being here today to celebrate what I believe is a fantastic resource in our community for our young people. We need to do this all over again, all over the city. I’ve already had the conversations – let’s keep those conversations going and make it happen.”
The celebration continued with refreshments and an opportunity for guests to mingle, instilling a sense of community and collaboration. The event not only showcased the remarkable achievements of the project but also demonstrated City of Bristol College’s dedication to providing unparalleled educational opportunities for SEND students.
The Ashley Down Centre For Independent Living stands as a unique asset for the city of Bristol, made possible through funding and collaboration with Bristol City Council. It serves as an incredibly valuable place where students can cultivate independence and acquire essential life skills.