140 years after it first opened, Pioneer House will return in a new guise, as a higher education centre.
Pioneer House is one of Dewsbury’s most iconic landmarks. Built by the local co-operative in 1878, it was a hub of activity for over 100 years, but for the last decade, it’s stood empty. Now the Grade II-listed building has been given new purpose, as Kirklees College comes to the end of an ambitious £16 million restoration project. Their new Pioneer Higher Skills Centre will bring this incredible building back to life and create new opportunities for locals to develop the skills they need to succeed.
Protecting history for future generations
We have the co-operative movement to thank for Pioneer House. In 1874, local branches came together to form the Dewsbury Pioneers Industrial Society. Four years later, they commissioned Henry Holtom and George Arthur Fox, the architects behind Dewsbury Town Hall, to design their headquarters. The result was an incredibly grand building that housed shops, offices and reading rooms, as well as a library and a 1,500-seat theatre.
In the years that followed, the theatre became a cinema, a bingo hall and a snooker club. Shops came and went, joined now by restaurants and cafes, but the building itself remained popular until the 1980s, when changing shopping habits took their toll. In 2005, it was bought by The Stayton Group, with ambitious plans for a mixed-use development, but they never came to pass, and in 2011, Kirklees Council issued a compulsory purchase order to protect the building for future generations.
And that’s exactly what they did. They secured investment from the Heritage Lottery Fund and launched the Dewsbury Townscape Heritage Initiative. It caught the attention of Kirklees College who were able to get funding from the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership to transform the building into their new skills centre. Not only have they protected the building for future generations, but it will now be used to educate them. Education was very important to the co-operatives, so in a way, the building has now come full circle and returned to its original purpose.
A state-of-the-art college in a historic building
Pioneer Higher Skills Centre is the ultimate juxtaposition of old and new, with original features, awe-inspiring grandeur and state-of-the-art facilities, all under one roof – they’re even installing a new Antony Gormley sculpture on the roof that will become new focal point in Dewsbury. From the painstakingly restored beams and stonework to the terrazzo floors, Minton tiles and vaulted ceilings, they’ve retained as much of the history and character of the building as possible. But at the same time, they’ve transformed the space, creating a modern working environment that’s more akin to a university than a college.
Everything is bespoke. Traditional classrooms and computer rooms come kitted out with Promethean Boards and interactive TVs that teachers and students can connect to in seconds, but they also have a dedicated space for work-based learning where students can get hands-on experience and develop practical skills. Retractable walls create flexible spaces where double classrooms can be split in two for group work, presentations and events, while carefully placed breakout spaces give students somewhere to study and socialise between classes.
The original theatre has been sectioned off to create the computer suites, science labs, and the building’s crowning glory, the Learning Resource Centre. They’ve retained the original vaulted ceilings, installed bespoke bookshelves and added formal seating areas where students can work. The mezzanine has been transformed into an archive for the art and design students, making the most of every little bit of space.
Degree-level courses on your doorstep
When Pioneer Higher Skills Centre opens on 23rd November 2020, it will offer a wide range of courses, both full and part-time, so you can fit your studies around your life. Work your way up from Access to Diploma courses, which are the equivalent of A-levels and BTECs, to Foundation Degrees and Higher National Diplomas, which equate to one-third of a degree. Taught by industry-experienced tutors and designed to equip students for real working environments, it will help people get a quality education locally and for a lower price than at a university.
One of the most exciting things about Kirklees College is their vocational approach and it’s made even better by their state-of-the-art facilities. Business and Computing students will benefit from dedicated computer rooms, but that’s just the beginning. They have a Build Room where you can get hands-on experience by taking apart and rebuilding computers, as well as a CISCO Suite where you can learn about networking and cybersecurity through visualisations and practical learning on a live network.
Art & Design students will benefit from their own dedicated space on the ground floor, complete with original pillars and exposed stonework. It’s set up for both wet and dry trades, so you can do anything from art to textiles, ceramics and graphic design. They even have a dedicated darkroom in the basement for budding photographers. Meanwhile, Hair and Beauty students will find themselves working in the old Roberto’s restaurant, where the original doors, stained glass windows and wooden panelling add character to super-realistic hairdressers, barbers and beauty rooms, each of which has its own distinct personality. And Counselling students will have equally realistic, private treatment rooms where they can practise in a true-to-life environment.
The future of education in Dewsbury
Pioneer House is an iconic landmark, so seeing it restored and back in use is a huge confidence boost for Dewsbury, but it’s more than that. Once open, the new Pioneer Higher Skills Centre will create opportunities for local people to develop their skills and get a quality education, so this historic building will once again leave a lasting impression on people’s lives.