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Gradbach facelift earns a plaque

20th July 2015

Newcastle-under-Lyme College (NULC) is celebrating completion of major building work at its new outdoor education and activity centre at Gradbach in the Peak District.

Gradbach facelift earns a plaque

The college bought the former youth hostel in early 2014 and has since then renovated the buildings to a standard that is sympathetic both to the site's heritage and stunning countryside setting.

Gradbach was built in 1730 and has operated as a mill for flax, silk and wood and as a dairy farm. For the last 35 years it was a 90 bed youth hostel but was sold when the Youth Hostel Association decided not to invest further in its upkeep.

Set in a 16-acre site by the River Dane, the centre comprises a converted mill building, a separate farmhouse and staff accommodation. The buildings required significant internal and external repair and updating so, by the end of this year, the Gradbach centre will provide accommodation for 46 people in its mill and farmhouse buildings. It will offer students, community groups, corporate and private guests the opportunity to experience a wide range of educational or outdoor pursuits.

Activities will include archery, abseiling, canoeing, caving, climbing and orienteering while training and development can include leadership and management training, team building and experiential learning. The farmhouse, which sleeps 16, can also be hired privately.

NULC was keen to recognise the efforts of local craftsmen and women who worked on the project and so has erected a plaque to commemorate the milestone. The plaque was unveiled by Principal Karen Dobson and Chair of the NULC Corporation George Stonier. George joined the college's governing body in 1993 and has overseen the college through difficult times in the early years to becoming one of the top colleges in the country now.

Contractors involved in the renovation included M R Bradley Building and Groundwork of Leek; John Worth Ltd Plumbing and Heating Engineers of Macclesfield; SEI Electrical Contractors of Tunstall; Peake & Son Ltd of Stoke, who carried out all the internal and external painting; and Moorlands Walling and Landscape Contractors
of Ipstones, who rebuilt many of the centre's dry stone walls.

The farmhouse was stripped back to bare walls and had new floors and en-suite bathrooms added, as well as an oak conservatory to create a light and airy sitting room. The mill building was repointed, remodeled and redecorated to provide en-suite accommodation for 30 people.

Karen Dobson, Principal and Chief Executive, said: "We believe it's important to invest in facilities that give our students wider experience whether that's in work placements or outdoor pursuits. In terms of sound financial planning it is also sensible for us to diversify our income streams and I am pleased to say that other educational establishments and commercial organisations are already showing interest in hiring Gradbach."

The College also recently opened a state-of-the-art £5.5 million Performing Arts Centre and a new £60,000 LEGO® Innovation Suite, which provides an exciting and inclusive learning environment where students can experience a 'hands-on' and 'minds-on' learning approach to help inspire tomorrow's scientists, engineers and computer programmers.

NULC is the largest provider of 16-18 education in Staffordshire and offers every type of post-16 course, including AS/A Levels, vocational courses and apprenticeships. Gradbach is a wholly owned subsidiary of the college and will shortly be incorporated as Gradbach Ltd.

To find out more about Gradbach, please visit


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