How did we get here?

There has been a substantial educational presence in Wornington Road for nearly 150 years since the first Board School was opened here in North Kensington in 1874 (see ‘Wornington Road School – A History’). Generations of families in North Kensington and throughout the borough have been educated within the building as it exists – from teaching English to the Vietnamese Boat people in the late 1970s and speakers of other languages through to access to university and other career paths. Just last year a local homeless student succeeded in gaining entry to Oxford University.

Despite all this, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea is planning to sacrifice Kensington and Chelsea College (KCC), Wornington Road site, to property developers.

Sale of the college

The KCC site at Wornington Road was sold to the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) for £25.4 million in August 2016. According to Ian Rule, ‎Interim Vice Principal, Finance & Resources, this was due to the college being in grave financial difficulties.

However inadequate the price may have been, a RBKC Cabinet Key Decision report (KD04801R) was uncovered in April 2016 revealed that Wornington College was to be demolished, after which the site would be privately redeveloped as housing with a reduced facility for education that could amount to less than 30% of current useable space.

There has also been discomfort about the circumstances behind the sale of the land as an employee of the council, Tony Redpath, was appointed to sit on the Board of Governance of KCC in 2014. To avoid any supposed ‘conflict of interest’, Mr Redpath took a ‘sabbatical’ from the Board of Governors at KCC, between 16 February 2016 and 31 December 2016, at the exact time that the Cabinet at RBKC went ahead and purchased the freehold of the College building.

Land Registry image



Managed decline?

The college’s precarious financial position as outlined by present financial controller, Ian Rule, came after years of mismanagement by the college.

KCC has been in financial difficulties since 2012. The Skills Funding Agency (SFA), on which KCC depends for a significant proportion of its annual funding, issued a formal Notice of Concern in October 2012 which was not lifted until September 2014.

The issuing of the Notice of Concern appears to have resulted from a pattern at KCC of initially forecasting end of year surpluses that subsequently degenerated into significant deficits by year end. In July 2015 the College’s draft budget for 2015/2016 showed a planned surplus of £300,000 with surpluses of £331,000 and £312,000 predicted for the following two years. By October 2015 KCC were instead forecasting an in year operating deficit of £948,000 and this was followed, the following year, by a projected in year deficit of £1.7 million.

The college’s financial difficulties were not helped by overseas trips ostensibly to recruit foreign students, that were undertaken by former Principal Mark Brickley, who left under mysterious circumstances in October 2016. KCC have refused Freedom of information requests to ascertain the reasons behind his resignation, however it is clear that over £60,000 was spent on eight foreign trips made by Brickley and very few oversees students were recruited.

At the same time as the financial management of the college was shambolic, there was a noticeable lack of promotion of college courses, both locally and across London.

Whereas in the past the college was actively advertising courses on posters in local shops or buses, and leafleting local people in good time, it was now very difficult for anyone to find out what courses were available even if they made the effort. The college’s marketing has been so poor that the college prospectus was only released in June, almost six months later than most other colleges in London.

Ofsted report

This year’s Ofsted Report for KCC (including both Wornington Road and Hortensia Road, Chelsea, sites) was published in March and found a number of areas falling short: principally, ‘governance arrangements’, a low proportion of course completion and a low proportion of people working towards apprenticeship qualifications. KCC received a 3- rating that equates to “requires improvement” and was the same rating that the college achieved when last visited by the Ofsted inspectors in 2015 and 2013.

Merger talks

Due to cuts of 24% in the national budget provision for further education in 2015/2016, the SFA began recommending that further education colleges should merge wherever possible to strengthen their finances, and specifically recommended a merger between KCC and City Lit in which both parties would hopefully retain their individuality and a measure of independence. Unfortunately the KCC/City Lit merger fell through and the reasons for this are still unclear. However, we do know that this has left KCC facing a merger with Ealing Hammersmith and West London College (EHWL) in which KCC is likely to lose control over what is left of its assets and operations.

Mr Redpath, the RBKC employee turned KCC Board Member, warned in February 2017, following the collapse of the City Lit merger talks, that Ealing Hammersmith and West London College were ‘already circling’ and that KCC’s problem was that its attraction to larger colleges was ‘based on its assets rather than it activities’.

Michele Sutton, former Interim Principal of Kensington and Chelsea College, has said of the merger:

“We are delighted to be able to announce the agreement to enter into this merger with a very strong, well-respected and successful neighbouring college. This announcement (will ensure) good provision in the borough while at the same time drawing on the resources of a larger organisation. We are looking forward to working closely together as this merger takes shape over the coming months and ensuring a smooth transition.”

Sutton’s statement suggests that the merger is confirmed. However, current Chair of Governors, Mary Curnock Cook has promised a consultation with the community on the terms of the merger once they have been worked out. This consultation is scheduled to start in September this year.

Save Wornington College petition

The Save Wornington College campaign was set up in October 2016. In the subsequent four months, over 1,600 signatures were collected supporting the following demands:

‘K and C College in Wornington Road has been serving the adult educational needs of the North Kensington community for many years and has transformed the lives of a multitude of the Borough’s residents (including some of it’s most vulnerable members) by providing courses in ESOL, Access to Higher Education, Teacher Training, the Creative Arts and Health and Social Care.

‘However, all this is set to change as the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea Council have now purchased the freehold of the college building and intend to redevelop the whole site as housing, with an unseen commitment to re-provide a smaller educational space.

‘We believe that under the Council’s Consolidated Local Plan 2015 the current D1 use of the site falls under the “social and community uses” category and is protected under policy CK1.

‘We believe that redeveloping the site for predominately residential uses would be contrary to policy CK1 and we are calling on the Council to ensure that the entire building remains in educational use. We ask the Council to debate these issues at a Full Council meeting.’

Kensington & Chelsea council were duly obliged to discuss the college’s future at its Full Council Meeting on Wednesday 26th April and a representative of the Save Wornington College campaign spoke to the meeting. The speech ended by asking for the council to support ‘our demands and [protect] the educational wellbeing of the residents of North Kensington and the long-term future of Wornington College’.

Save Wornington meeting back of room

‘Consultation Event’ featured on Channel 4 News

The college announced a ‘Consultation Day’ to be hold on the afternoon of Thursday 29 June at the Wornington Road site. It was originally planned as a standalone event, but following the Grenfell Tower tragedy, the college decided to tie-in the consultation with a fundraiser for Grenfell victims.

The ‘Consultation Day’ took place in the library of the college and was so well attended that many people could not find a seat. Concerns about the future of the college were expressed to a panel, headed by the Chair of Governors, Mary Curnock Cook, who was visibly taken aback by the level of frustration and anger felt by so many people in the community as well as former students. This took up most of a Channel 4 News report into the issue.

During the meeting, Curnock Cook agreed to participate in a public meeting to allow more members of the community to have their voices heard. The college have also committed to publish important information on their website, including the Heads of Terms of the sale, their current marketing plan, and possibly also the surveyor’s report showing the building is no longer fit for purpose, although there was no firm commitment on sharing this document.

Merger ‘consultation’ in the autumn

At the Consultation Event on 29 June, Ian Rule spelled out that a consultation into the planned merger between KCC and EHWL was being planned for autumn.

Garry Philips CEO of EHWL met staff at the Wornington Road College site on 13 July and informed them about his plans. It appears that talks between KCC and EHWL are at an advanced stage, so it is unclear what the terms of any consultation will be.

Public meeting

A public meeting has been promised by the chair of the governors, Mary Curnock Cook, in which college and council representatives will hear from the local community, staff and students. No date has been set for this meeting as yet.

Get in touch

If you’d like to be involved in this campaign, please email us at:

Wornington Road School – A History

This article appeared on the Grenfell Action Group site

‘Kensal New Town’ was laid out in the 1840s following the successful devel­opment of Kensal Green. At first it had been intended that Golborne Road should cross Kensal Road and the canal, so as to connect North Kensington with Harrow Road. The Paddington Canal Company scuppered this plan by placing a footbridge over the canal instead. Had the original plan been carried out the whole Golborne area might well have developed in a radically different way. Instead it became geographically and socially isolated, was poorer and less fashionable as a result and deteri­orated into a notorious slum.

At that time the Kensal New Town/Golborne area was a detached part of the Parish of St Luke’s, Chelsea, covering about 140 acres and nicknamed Chelsea-​​in-​​the-​​Wilderness. In 1899 it was incor­porated within Kensington despite the Royal Borough’s objections – the real reason for which seems to have been the abject condition of its inhab­itants. In 1902 social reformer and statistician Charles Booth described Kensal New Town as “an isolated district, shaped like a shoe and just as full of children and poverty as was the old woman’s dwelling in the nursery rhyme.”

The first school in the area had been a Ragged School which opened in 1850. By 1865 it was housed in a small iron building next to the canal. It was built for £100 which was raised by the Ragged School Committee and included £50 donated by ‘a lady’. Ragged schools were founded all over the country to cater for the very poor, literally ‘ragged’, children. One ragged school, which was typical of many, had 260 children, of whom ‘seventeen had no shoes, twelve no body linen, 42 had no parents, 27 had been to prison, 36 were runaways, 29 had no bed and 41 lived by begging’.

The Factory Act, passed in 1867, excluded large numbers of children from paid employment so some rudimentary education had to be provided for them. Between the Great Western Railway and Portobello Road the growth of the population was so rapid that the school accommodation provided by churches and chapels was inadequate, and consequently two large Board Schools were built in Golborne. The first of these was Wornington Road School, which opened in March 1874. A second Board School was built in Middle Row and others followed in Portobello Road and Barlby Road.

The Board School in Wornington was built in response to the huge numbers of people, particularly young people, living at that time in the Golborne. The original building, on the site of the present day Kensington and Chelsea College, was divided into a Boys’, a Girls’ and an Infants’ school. A little later a school for the blind was added. The Wornington Road Infants’ School was the largest in London for that age group and, seven months after opening in March 1874, it was so overcrowded the School Board had to open temporary classrooms in the Golborne Hall nearby. Numbers continued to increase and by October that year there were 813 small children crammed into ten classrooms.

The building (shown in the picture above) was an imposing one, reflecting the new emphasis on education, but its location next to the railway with steam trains thundering past every few minutes was very trying to teachers and pupils alike. On January 25th 1908 the headmaster reported in the school log book: ‘Fog signals that might be heard a mile away have been used just outside the school on the Great Western Railway throughout the past fortnight. The noise is sometimes maddening.’

In the early days of the Wornington Road School pupil attendance was often poor because of the poverty of the area. Diseases such as scarlet fever, smallpox, typhoid fever, measles, diphtheria and whooping cough spread quickly through the tenement houses. The log books record periods of wet weather when some ‘were unable to come to school through the mud’, lacking good boots to keep their feet dry’. Pupils were kept at home if their fathers, many of whom had only seasonal work, could not afford the fees they were required to pay. In winter the classrooms were sometimes so cold that ‘the pupils could not write or draw till the afternoon’. In the harsh winter of 1895 the Headmaster wrote, ‘The frost is very severe and many seem to suffer from hunger’. By the 23rd February he was reporting, ‘We are now distributing between 30 and 40 free dinner tickets daily during the distress caused by the inclement weather’.

Starting in the 1930s the Council began a programme of slum clearance and estate building. This was inter­rupted by the Second World War and was slow to resume afterwards, with the result that rapacious landlords continued to prey on the locality’s inhab­itants until the early 1960s. The old Board School building was demolished in 1936 and replaced, by The London County Council, with a new school which, though lacking the aesthetic and architectural presence of the old building, had much better facilities. There was a library and the classrooms were equipped for subiects which included science, woodwork, metalwork and housecraft. The hall doubled as a gymnasium and next to it were changing rooms with showers.

During the War the new school buildings were evacuated as children left London for the countryside. Protected with sandbags, it became an emergency centre for the Auxiliary Fire Service. Classrooms were turned into dormitories for the firemen and the school medical room became a Watch Room from which emergency calls were taken and fire engines dispatched to deal with fires in the nearby streets.

The school re-opened after the war and continued to be used for primary and secondary education. However, the frequent changes of use over the next 40 years reflected major changes in the area and in education itself. Golborne’s population dropped dramatically between 1941 and 1981. Early in the war there were estimated to be 21,000 residents, but the huge changes in the area’s housing meant that by 1981 the population had shrunk to less than 7000.

The Florence Gladstone School, which educated girls between 11 and 15, used the Wornington Road building from 1951. Then from 1958 it was the turn of the Isaac Newton Boys’ Upper School. The Wornington Road Infants’ School was still in the premises in the 1950s. When it closed, the Ainsworth Nursery moved in, but moved again in 1977 to the ground floor of Trellick Tower. The Isaac Newton boys moved out when their school was amalgamated with Holland Park Comprehensive in 1983.

Adult Education had expanded during the seventies under the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA) and as the number of primary school pupils dropped due to the decreasing local population, unused offices and classrooms at Wornington Road were increasingly used for evening and day classes for adults. Daytime and evening classes also took place elsewhere in the borough, in school buildings, day centres and old people’s homes. By 1972 there were four orchestras, two choirs, and special English and Maths classes for ‘people newly arrived in England who speak no English or wish to improve their English‘.  Among the many who benefited from this programme were Vietnamese ‘boat people’ who, at the end of the decade, were housed in the old Kensington Barracks in Kensington Church Street. At Wornington Road Fresh Start courses provided English and Maths for adults who had missed out on basic skills and the first ‘mature students’ were helped, via a pioneering Return to Study course, to prepare tor university entrance.

Wornington Road ultimately became the hub of Kensington and Chelsea College which subsequently opened additional premises in other parts of the borough with many thousands of students attending a wide range of vocational courses. The choice of subjects included hair-dressing, catering, film and media, fashion, acting and dance. Students could also prepare for careers in nursing, business studies, management or information technology. Established in its present form in 1993 when finance became available from the Further Education Funding Council, the Kensington and Chelsea College now runs many part-time courses and some Wornington students go on to higher education, while others retrain to acquire skills needed in a changing employment market.

Like much of North Kensington, the Golborne area is a multi­cultural community that includes residents of Afro-​​Caribbean, Portuguese and Moroccan birth or descent. Over the years, since its pioneering work with Vietnamese refugees, Wornington College has helped many students acquire basic skills in English. Child care is provided so that parents with small children can attend classes. Tutors encourage newcomers to persevere with studies so that they can become fully fluent in the language, are able to assist their children’s education and gain qualifications which will enrich their own lives and improve their chances of gaining employment or even a challenging and rewarding professional career.

There is a long and proud history at Wornington Road of providing education to some of the most impoverished and underprivileged citizens of London. This history is now under serious threat. The Wornington Road site has been sold to the RBKC Council. The Council intends to demolish the college building and redevelop the site as private housing. They have promised to retain part of the new development for educational use but without any guarrantee of how much educational space will be reprovided, no guarantee that the diversity and breadth of existing courses will be maintained, no guarantee that existing staff will keep their jobs and no assurances that the creche and other facilities will be kept in situ. If this proves true it will shame and dishonour the long and proud history that we have described in this blog.

The Grenfell Action Group do not believe that the future life chances of this community should be sacrificed, in the name of profit, on the altar of untrammeled redevelopment and regeneration which, like a cancer, is destroying communities throughout the length and breadth of this country. We will continue to do everything we can to speak truth to power, to make sure the Council and KCC know that we value and treasure our College, and that we will do all that we can to hold them both to account for their actions.

(N.B. We plagiarised most of the historical detail reproduced above from‘Tales of the Inner City, From Kensal Village to Golborne Road’  by Jerome Borkwood published in 2002 . We are extremely grateful to Mr Borkwood for this excellent source which we greatly admire and recommend wholeheartedly to any of our readers wishing to better understand the history of the Golborne.)