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ST HELENS STAR: St Helens College to sell Beechams building to property developer Luxor

ST HELENS College is set to sell the Grade II listed, Beechams Clock Tower building to a private developer.

As reported last week the college has embarked on a financial recovery plan after a report by the Further Education Commissioner highlighted difficulties following an underfunded merger with Knowsley College.

The report concluded the “most significant issues facing the college at the current time is the financial position which needs to be addressed swiftly”.

It highlights that the college “occupies significant under-utilised space and should plan for a substantial reduction in estates”.

In a statement, the college revealed that Luxor Group, which has been carrying out significant development in St Helens town centre, is about to "become the new owner and custodian of the Grade II listed, Beechams Clock Tower building".

It is understood Luxor hopes to create a mixed-used development in the building comprising of apartments and commercial space.

The Beechams factory and office building, built between 1884 and 1887, was famous for producing the well-known Beechams pills.

It remains one of St Helens' most iconic buildings.

Beechams was a major employer in the town, and the factory continued to produce pharmaceutical products even after the merger with SmithKline Beckman in 1989.

In 1994 the factory finally closed its doors, with the Beechams estate becoming a part of the St Helens College campus.

In a statment Mr Nicholson, the owner of Luxor Group, which transformed the Tyrers building, said: “We are really excited to be working with such a beautiful and much-loved building in St Helens.

"As the building is Grade II listed, we have actively sought the advice of heritage experts to ensure we protect the fabric and characteristics and features of both the exterior and interior of the building.

"There are no plans to alter the exterior of the building in any way, but we hope to enhance some of the existing features, for example, reinstating the old disused doorways and windows in the currently unused basement.”

An archive photo of the building in the heyday of Beechams

Luxor Group says it plans to hold a public consultation and share the plans for the interior conversion.

Mr Nicholson added: “We hope to sympathetically expose the beautiful internal courtyard that the building is currently hiding, so residents will be able to appreciate the beauty that is this building.

The courtyard of the historic building shown in an archive photo

"Ultimately as imminent new owners and custodians, we want to preserve the heritage of the building, enhance its legacy and bring prosperity to the college’s future along with the multiplier effects that will bring to the community.”

College chiefs have embarked on a vigorous recovery plan after the FE Commissioner's report, following a visit earlier this year, warned it "was at risk of insolvency" if swift action was not taken.

The FE Commissioner concluded: “With regard to the financial position, the FEC team consider that the current underlying operating position of the college is not sustainable.

“The college is at high risk of insolvency should action not be taken to mitigate and swiftly address the current financial position.

“The board also recognise that actions to address the shortfall in income have not been sufficiently timely or effective.

“The FEC team assess that the board are now aware of the actions that need to be taken in order to ensure financial and quality improvement.”

The principal of SK Colleges Group, Jette Burford, retired from the college in April. The college announced in March Monica Box had been appointed to the role.

The report recommended the college prepared a five-year financial forecast to demonstrate how it intends to achieve a future sustainable financial position.

It highlights that the college “occupies significant under-utilised space and should plan for a substantial reduction in estates”.

St Helens College was inspected in April 2017 and was judged as “requires improvement” in all areas, except apprenticeships which was judged as “inadequate”.

Knowsley Community College was inspected in March 2016 was judged as “requires improvement” in all areas except adult learning programmes and provision for learners with higher needs which was judged as “good”.

A monitoring visit took place in October 2018 which recorded reasonable progress in the five themes considered.

Monica Box, Principal of SK College Group, said: “Like many other further education colleges across the country, financial pressures are a reality.

"The College had recognised that it needed to take swift action to mitigate its financial position, and has been responding vigorously to this over the last academic year. Swift action has been taken since the FE Commissioners visit to the College in January 2019, and a variety of significant measures have been implemented.

"The three-year recovery/business plan will deliver the necessary actions to improve quality and the current financial operating position.

"Students and parents can be confident that quality and the student experience will not be adversely affected by any of the actions within the plan, in fact, the complete opposite is true.

"The new curriculum developments and enrichment activities planned will only serve to enhance and improve the overall student experience.

"We wish to reassure all our current students and prospective students that their decision to study with us from September 2019 is still the right one."  

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