A new £5.5 million 'global centre of excellence' has opened on Waterside Campus which aims to bolster Northampton's worldwide reputation for leather-making and teaching.
The Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) was officially opened last night (Wednesday) as part of the university’s latest addition to its brand new £330m Waterside Campus.
The 27,000 sq ft two-storey building includes a leather innovation lab (tannery), testing and research labs, classrooms and rooms for businesses to rent, with the tenants having access to facilities.
It is the only university in Europe to provide a three-year undergraduate course in leather technology as well as courses for masters and PhD students.
Here, students, who start their course next week, learn the theory behind leather in the classroom before putting it into practise in the tannery where they make their own leather.
When they have completed their practical work they go into the laboratories and test how good their product really is.
As well as focusing on education, the new facility aims to enhance training and research, all of which are crucial in supporting the global leather industry, which will help Northampton's reputation for being a leading global leather institute.
Beyond the core areas of leather technology the institute’s works are linked to areas such as fashion, product design, podiatry, environmental science, history, business and marketing.
Nick Petford said: "This is set up as a proper, industrial training facility so the training is linked to directly training and employability.
"Often students who come here will be in work and they come here for training. We get a lot of students from oversees who come from family-run businesses and tannery's who come and study here. It’s 100 per cent employability for students.
"What I would like to get out is the message that for local people there is huge employability for young people in this industry if you’re prepared to travel a bit more and be a bit more ambitious."
The institutes research looks into the scientific and technological needs of the automotive, fashion, allied leather industries and has worked with Northamptonshire's footwear industry.
The new centre has replaced the ICLT building at Park Campus, which closed in October last year, and now provides cutting-edge tannery technology and training on sustainable leather.
Mr Petford added: "At the other campus the tannery was built in the late seventies and the tanning technology has moved on significantly since then.
"The industry has become cutting-edge and much, much more environmentally friendly.
"We can now demonstrate that environmental sustainability here, which we couldn't do in the older building."
The university has signed a 25 year lease on the building, which has been funded by Legal & General Property.