Land-based student numbers rise as Suffolk college enters new era

Official launch of Suffolk Rural land college

Phillip Ainsworth, Stephen Pugh, David Barker and Viv Gillespie at the official launch of Suffolk Rural at Otley, near Ipswich - Credit: CHARLOTTE BOND

Perfect June weather and promising figures for student intake greeted the long-awaited official re-launch of Suffolk’s land-based college campus on Thursday (June 3).

Suffolk New College took over the running of the Otley campus of what was Easton and Otley College on January 1, 2020. The merger followed a bruising few years which culminated in the demise of the land-based institution for Norfolk and Suffolk following two damning Ofsted reports in a row.

Suffolk New College — which is now spread across four campuses including Ipswich, Leiston and Halesworth — was just three months into its tenure at Otley when the pandemic hit.

That delayed plans for the official VIP launch of the site’s re-brand as Suffolk Rural. 

But a year and a half on from the merger date, invited guests were finally able to celebrate the new era. They were greeted by fine floral displays created by students and news of an impressive 16% uptick in land-based student numbers since the takeover.

They were served canapés prepared by the college’s catering students as they toasted the launch of Suffolk Rural at Otley with specially labelled ‘Rural Refresh’ and Rural Reborn’ drinks. The beverages were supplied by two Suffolk food and drink success stories — soft drinks company James White Drinks and lager maker Calvors.

The event coincided with the campus’s annual Big Day Out — enabling would-be future students and their families to check out what the college has to offer and enjoy a free family-based outing.

Principal Viv Gillespie set out her vision for the future of the 50-year-old campus — including working more closely with industry. 

Most Read

“We are very excited to finally be able to celebrate the merger,” she said. “We know that had we not taken this on, then unfortunately this campus would not exist.”

Despite the pandemic setback, the team had worked to turn around the fortunes of the site, including by listening to stakeholders, she explained. “What we were hearing was it was time for change,” she said. Major investment was now under way, and the college had thrown its hat in the ring for various government schemes, she told delegates. They would continue to develop courses such as horticulture and agri-engineering, she added. 

Vice Lord-Lieutenant of Suffolk Robert Rous welcomed the new era. “Suffolk Rural is important for our economy, for jobs and families and for the cultural and physical assets that make Suffolk such a great place to live and work in,” he said.

Suffolk Agricultural Association president David Barker said the industry needed trained and motivated young people.

“It’s really, really important this college succeeds,” he said. “It’s such an important thing for this county that we do have this vital source of training. As a farmer I know how important this is.”