THE workforce of the future is being immersed in the very latest technology today thanks to a leading North-East college’s newest innovations.

Darlington College formally opened a £3m engineering block, which incorporates cutting edge equipment, 360 degree imagery and virtual reality technology provided by Middlesbrough-based digital specialists Animmersion.

College principal and chief executive Kate Roe and Darlington Borough Council leader Jonathan Dulston cut the ribbon to open the facility, The Ingenium Centre, which will be central to delivering the new T-Level qualification.

Ms Roe told an audience of students, employers and civic dignitaries: “We already have strong provision at the college but this has given us a real step change allowing us to expand in a way we would not have been able to – and the support of the council has been critical.

“It gives us two large workshops, including one fitted with training rigs for electric vehicles, so students can start learning how to work on the latest technology. It sits alongside our latest robotics lab and virtual reality rooms incorporating new technology into education to provide the skills our economy needs. It’s no wonder the Education Secretary thought it was the best college in the country.”

Ms Roe said the facility was pivotal as the college geared up to deliver the T-Level, a high quality alternative to A levels. “They are a big, intensive qualification requiring lots of teaching hours, a very full curriculum and industrial placements,” she said. “So we needed to expand our facilities to accommodate them.”

Inside the Animmersion 360 degree immersive experience with tropical scene projected to all walls.
Inside the Animmersion 360 degree immersive experience.

Coun Dulston said the facility was the culmination of four years’ work. He added: “We are committed to economic growth which will unlock the potential of our town around young people and skills. This is going to be a game-changer for young people in Darlington. It will give them the skills to stay local but go far.

“Our innovation started almost 200 years ago with the first passenger steam railway. We led the way then and I am delighted to say we are still doing that now.”

Animmersion UK CEO Samuel Harrison said: “The high quality 360 degree immersive experience will transform and enrich student learning across every single subject area.

“It’s highly versatile and is capable of taking students inside an engineering works, vehicle workshops, or construction site, or transporting them virtually to visit and study real-world locations anywhere on the planet. Staff can also create their own content using a 360 degree camera to capture a specific learning experience or location.”

The college’s new facilities were financed through Darlington Borough Council’s Town Fund and the Government’s Strategic Development Fund.

For level 2 engineering student Rob Jeffery the opening has come at the perfect time for his studies. “It is very impressive and will certainly help me,” said the 19-year-old, of Darlington.

“The VR equipment is amazing. Welding is quite stressful because you don’t want to get it wrong and waste materials. But with the VR equipment you can practise as much as you want without wasting anything and its great fun.”

Fifteen-year-old Jude Cole is getting an early taste of college life on a pre-16 level 2 engineering course. “School wasn’t right for me and I much prefer the college environment,” said Jude, of Richmond, who hopes to secure an apprenticeship next year.

“It is harder work than school but I enjoy being treated more like an adult. I’ve grown up around engineering as my dad is an automotive mechanic with his own business and he helps me compete in karting.

“The new facilities are amazing and the VR equipment is incredible – the facilities in the college really are the next level.”