A SURBITON college has been given a grant of nearly £750,000 for a four-year project to “empower women and transform their lives through learning”.

Hillcroft College, the national residential college for women in South Bank, Surbiton, was awarded the money as part of the Big Lottery Fund’s £48.5 million women and girls initiative.

The college, founded in 1920 and which also runs as a charity, is the only college in the country that specialises in intensive and residential education aimed at women aged 19 and over.

The new project aims to engage with women “furthest from education” by providing outreach, residential study, enrichment and support to potential students by increasing offsite work with partners, improve specialist services onsite and improve networking opportunities for students once they leave the college.

Sue Carter, head of the college, said: “We are delighted to be part of the Lottery’s women and girls initiative and look forward to working in partnership with a wide range of organisations to deliver the services women feel they most need to successfully access education.

“We’re calling the project Hillcroft 2020: Beyond Education, as the final year of the project coincides with our centenary in that year.”

Many of the courses at the college are free, and include childcare, accommodation, travel, tuition and does not require any formal entrance qualifications.

Hillcroft tudents have often experienced barriers to accessing an education, including domestic violence, undiagnosed learning disabilities, poor mental health, interrupted schooling, gender, age or race-based discrimination, alcohol- or drug-related problems and issues associated with being a refugee from conflict or persecution.

The Big Lottery Fund’s scheme will target more than 60 other projects around the country to “raise awareness, support preventative work and share what works and lessons learnt for women and girls affected by substance misuse, mental health and other complex issues such as domestic violence, sexual exploitation and homelessness.”

Hillcroft, which was rated 'good' by Ofsted in 2014 after turning around an 'inadequate' rating from a year earlier, will launch the project in September.