Hundreds of students at Preston College in Lancashire are celebrating the opening of a brand new £5 million visual and performing arts facility. Around 500 learners study within the department which is home to the College's wide range of creative arts programmes from dance and drama to photography, media, fashion and music. The new facility provides staff, learners and visitors to Preston College with an impressive, high impact entrance and focal point, with a student and community art gallery showcasing student works.

Jason Turton, head of visual and performing arts at Preston College, explains how the importance of providing and creating the right learning environments and the College's commitment to ensuring that all students have the best possible chance of securing employment or reaching higher education once they have completed courses, influenced the design, ethos and function of the new building.

"Now is a time of growth for the creative industries in the North West. The arrival of Media CityUK to Salford, near Manchester, has acted as a catalyst for the sector and as a College we felt it was the right time to invest in our creative arts provision and build on Preston College's national reputation in this growing curriculum area. In planning and designing the new learning environment we were keen to ensure that the building and its facilities reflected the key themes of innovation and creativity that run across the curriculum and that it could enhance both the learning experience and career prospects of students.

"Features of our new facility include a high specification 120 seat theatre, industry standard dance, music, television and radio studios as well as art and 3D design rooms. It also houses one the UK's largest Apple Authorised Training Centres and is both an Imperial Society for Teachers of Dance (ISTD) professional dance centre and a London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) Training Centre. Providing industry standard facilities was an extremely important part of the design brief so that students are able to gain and develop practical skills and experiences that will equip them to succeed in the workplace - this is a philosophy that runs across the College and one we apply to all of our 18,000 students.

"The embedding of innovation and enterprise is also a priority and the high standard facilities give us the opportunity to develop further links with industry leaders. For example, we were delighted to welcome Head of BBC North, Peter Salmon, to officially open the academy and see firsthand the results of our investment and commitment to developing and promoting creative skills.

"As well as welcoming people from industry the new academy was also designed with members of the community in mind. It stands at the entrance to our site and, in that respect, is a showcase building for the College and one that we want to celebrate and share with local groups and people. The professional theatre, for example, is a valuable resource that is available for use by local primary and high schools as well as charities and other organisations helping both Preston College and its students to develop strong community links and see and support facilities in action.

"There is no doubt that an exceptional and creative learning environment raises the aspirations of students and has a positive effect on their attitude to learning. In addition, investing in our new academy has given us the opportunity to further develop and strengthen links with business and the local community. The future is bright at Preston College and in the North West for the visual and performing arts and the creative industries more widely, and we are very proud to have a facility which will be able to maximise the potential of all our learners for many years to come."

(Pictured: Head of BBC North, Peter Salmon, outside Preston College's new Performing and Visual Arts Academy)

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