A MARCH through the streets is on the cards as part of a growing battle to try to save Stourbridge College from closure.

Hundreds of people attended a meeting last night (Wednesday) organised by union officials to try to stop Birmingham Metropolitan College axing the popular Stourbridge campus in Hagley Road.

Halesowen News: The queue to get into the Save Stourbridge College meetingThe queue to get into the Save Stourbridge College meeting

Panelists, which included former Dudley Council leader Councillor Pete Lowe, highlighted a host of failings they claim have taken place at BMet and in the further education sector in general at the event at Stourbridge Town Hall - where many people in the audience gave wholehearted backing to a plan to stage a large public protest.

Teresa Corr, of the University and College Union (UCU), told the packed meeting that members of staff were prepped for Stourbridge College to be taken over by either Dudley or Halesowen Colleges, having had earlier meetings with BMet bosses about the college's financial woes, but not the facility to be shut down entirely.

She said: "We were completely stunned that by August 1 Stourbridge College would no longer exist. We were all deeply upset."

Paul Reilly, UCU Stourbridge branch chairman, said at first when news was afoot of proposed changes at the college he initially felt he would be "glad to see the back of BMet" - adding: "For five years now it’s been nothing but a nightmare.”

He said staff had been left without paper to print on and those learning plumbing skills had been left without pipes.

The college also went through a period where it could not register students with qualifications body City & Guilds "because they hadn't paid the bill" - he said.

Lucy Philpott, of the National Education Union (NEU), told the meeting there had been "no meaningful consultation" with staff or unions and she added: "I can’t believe a decision could be made by the FE Commissioner and just a few other people. How democratic is that process?"

Halesowen News: L-r - Lucy Philpott of NEU, Teresa Corr of UCU, Nita Sanghera of UCU, Paul Reilly - UCU Stourbridge branch chairmanL-r - Lucy Philpott of NEU, Teresa Corr of UCU, Nita Sanghera of UCU, Paul Reilly - UCU Stourbridge branch chairman

She said around 200 staff are reportedly affected by the closure plan, which would see education provision transferred to Dudley and Halesowen Colleges and the landmark college campus sold off by BMet, and she added: "It’s ridiculous we have not been consulted. It’s a sham."

And she said the mental health effect on students had not been considered and it was not fair that young people were being made to suffer because of poor management decisions.

Unison activist Gavin Cartwright said: "There’s a lot of evidence when it comes to FE that people will not travel. People will only go to their local college that is very close to them.

"The idea people are happy to travel six or seven miles down the road is complete baloney."

He added: "We don’t need people in Birmingham saying Stourbridge doesn’t need a college. I’m shocked at the way this has gone but not surprised."

Nita Sanghera, of UCU, issued a warning to BMet bosses and said: "We have lots and lots of people who are going to look very deeply into this."

Halesowen News: The new-look Stourbridge College

The meeting was told that although around £5m was spent on upgrading the Hagley Road college campus, pictured above, just four years ago - it was likely being put up for sale for around £2.5m as part of efforts to pay back what has been estimated to be around £20m of debt accrued by BMet.

Stourbridge MP Margot James, who was in the audience, said: "I’m outraged by what BMet has done. There’s not enough scrutiny."

She maintained she supported the merger of Stourbridge College with BMet back in 2013 "because of the investment that was promised" and she said since news of the closure plan had broken she has raised a number of questions with the FE Commissioner asking "why Stourbridge College has got the axe?".

She added: "If we can’t get satisfactory answers there should be an inquiry to establish the facts."

Meanwhile - Labour activist Geoff Dixon asked: "Can we not sack the management of BMet?

Councillor Pete Lowe gave a rousing speech about how the community can unite to try to overturn the decision and he said: "Stourbridge College matters. It matters not just for the present students but for the students to come; it matters to the shop owners, it matters to the whole economy of this community."

But he stressed: "Words are simply not enough; the first thing we’ve got to do is get to that August date and ensure the gates of Stourbridge College remain open.

He said a large-scale public march through the streets would be organised for a Saturday in June and he bowed out by saying: “Let’s march on these streets loudly and proudly. We will do all we can to save Stourbridge College.”