Earlier this year, the new £20m Torfaen Learning Zone in the heart of Cwmbran officially opened its doors to students.
The state-of-the-art campus is part of the Welsh Government 21st Century Schools and Colleges programme. Managed and run by Coleg Gwent in partnership with Torfaen County Borough Council, the learning zone replaces three English medium school sixth forms in the borough and will be home to all A-Level education in Torfaen. It will also offer the Welsh Baccalaureate and a range of complementary level 2 and 3 qualifications, bringing further education services together under one roof for Torfaen.
As governments at Welsh and UK level prepare to invest in tertiary education to improve skills and retrain the workforce for the future, HLM Architects are committed to helping Colleges to secure capital funding and to rationalise their estates to make them effective, sustainable and inclusive.
HLM Architects was part of the design team for the new five-storey building, which features two atriums, performance and social spaces, classrooms and a rooftop garden. The BREEAM Excellent rated campus will cater to over 1,000 students and includes specialist facilities for pupils with additional learning needs (ALN).
The design team selected a different colour theme for each floor to help create distinction and improve wayfinding for the building users – with the ground floor in teal, first floor in green, second floor in purple and third floor in orange. These colours are reflected in the carpets, communal lockers, soft furnishing and toilets.
Another major focus was the use of biophilic/natural feature walls on each floor, particularly in the central student social areas to create a calm and inspiring study environment. These are also separated by themes, including forest and trees in the ground-floor café, a rainforest in the first-floor social area, and sky/clouds in the second-floor social area.
We spoke to Guy Lacey, the Principal of the Torfaen Learning Zone, to learn more about what the new college means for students and how its design creates a positive social value impact on future building users and the wider community.
How does the design for the college meet the College’s vision for learning and teaching?
Our vision for T&L has always been about the best modern facilities used by excellent teachers to inspire learners. The Torfaen Learning Zone delivers that as an inspirational learning environment. Learners respond to the building with enthusiasm and creativity.
Are there any aspects of the new facilities that you think are particularly innovative in terms of delivering the curriculum or approaches to learning and teaching?
The staff spaces are deliberately configured to promote and encourage collaborative working. They are definitely not traditional staff rooms. This promotes dialogue and sharing best practice among teachers. The learning spaces have all been designed to be as light and as airy as possible – learning needs space and light and promotes an atmosphere of calm and reflection.
What aspects of the building particularly support student/ staff health and wellbeing?
Some specific spaces are notable – e.g. the roof garden and the library. They are planned to be open spaces which promote working together and sharing. The whole building is designed to be as ‘open’ as possible (to eliminate ‘closed’ spaces which can allow poor behaviour) to send a message of collaboration and sharing to promote wellbeing.
How do you think the new spaces created will benefit learners and the local community as a whole?
The new spaces are a tremendous learning resource for the local community. The facilities are modern and technology rich and will allow the college to host events that reach out to the community.
Could you explain the great social benefits that will be achieved by the creation of the new college, in terms of social value and future employment potential? How will the college help to shape this?
There are numerous social benefits, including being a recognised centre for all post 16 learning in the borough. A new relationship will be developed with local schools that will promote and support participation in post 16 learning. As the college grows it will expand its role as a key large employer in the local community.
What does it mean for you as Principal to be able to welcome learners to the new space?
The new Torfaen Learning Zone is an inspirational place to learn – amazing facilities and an environment that allows staff and learners to flourish.
As the Principal, the new Learning Zone symbolises the commitment to all our local partners that Coleg Gwent will deliver the best possible experience and education for all our learners.