Bridging the gap

Interior design has helped to bring the workplace into the classroom at a Nottinghamshire FE college

In a competitive jobs market where students shop around to find the education that will best prepare them for their career, further education colleges face a challenge – how to create classrooms that combine a learning environment with the professional facilities and feel of the workplace.

Vision West College is a major provider of post-16 education and training for students and businesses across north Nottinghamshire, specialising in science, electronics and engineering. To meet the changing needs of the students, apprentices and employers who access its facilities, the college wanted to invest in ambitious new science and electronics laboratories which mirrored those found in the professional workspace. With space at a premium, the college faced the additional challenge of creating labs which accommodated both the spacious practical requirements of electronic and scientific equipment and the need to provide a space in which theory lessons could be taught.

Initially seeking a company to install labs based on its own designs, a visit to an installation created by interior design company Innova Design Solutions at Shirelands College in the West Midlands resulted in a re-think for Vision West. The space-saving ‘hot corners’ layout Innova designed for Shirelands prompted the college not only to award the contract to the Stockport-based company, but to hand over the whole design process to them.

Offering a working classroom and practical laboratory within one space, the hot corners concept provided an appropriate solution for the science lab Vision West was looking to create. Combining practical and theory spaces together on the same work bench, the layout reduces spatial restrictions on a room and offers teachers and students a more dynamic way of working than traditional rows of desks. Working to the college’s plans for the science lab, the hot corners design was adapted to create a spacious, stylish environment which is both a welcoming classroom for students and an inspiring, professional space. Integrated storage was fitted into centre-floor and perimeter benches to ensure workspaces could be kept clutter-free, improving circulation and ensuring the lab was able to adapt quickly to either theory or practical sessions.

Creating a layout which made best use of the space in the electronics lab presented a further challenge. The electrical engineering courses taught at Vision West focus on the development of practical knowledge, requiring students to spend much of their time in the lab using machinery. Developing benching of sufficient depth and width to accommodate both machine tools and the services each student required to use them without compromising circulation regulations required a careful assessment of the space available.

Innova’s design used deep perimeter benching fitted with two double electric wall-mounted sockets at each workspace, providing students with room to work comfortably and complete machine tasks effectively. Loose, reconfigure-able chairs and tables provided teachers and students with the option to alter the workspace to suit group working or teacher-led theory sessions.

To achieve the professional feel Vision West sought for both labs, high-quality, durable materials were chosen for work benches and surfaces, including long-lasting Trespa, so that the rooms would remain stylish and hard-wearing for future generations of students.

Finishing both rooms with contemporary monochrome colour schemes with bright colour accents has turned the labs from classrooms into smart, work-orientated environments which offer students the opportunity to study in a space that’s designed to help them not only learn but also make a smooth transition from education to employment.

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