Computer centres' future under review

By David GreenTHE future of four computer centres - set up to provide training for communities and businesses in a “deprived” rural area - is under review because they are struggling to remain viable.

By David Green

THE future of four computer centres - set up to provide training for communities and businesses in a “deprived” rural area - is under review because they are struggling to remain viable.

The centres, in Eye, Stradbroke, Bungay and Framlingham, cost a total of £1million when they were built in the late 1990s with funding from the European Union, Suffolk County Council, district councils and the former Training and Enterprise Council.

Their aim was to help train individuals and businesses in local communities in modern computer and IT skills and to make use of facilities such as video conferencing.


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But despite attracting sufficient business in the first two or three years, at least two of the centres are now struggling to remain viable and a review of the future of all four is taking place.

Talks have begun in both Stradbroke and Eye to see if the local high schools would be prepared to take over financial responsibility for the centres.

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However, concerns are being expressed about whether they would remain available to local communities and not be fully absorbed into the schools' teaching programmes.

Mike Readman, of the Supporting Stradbroke organisation, set up by the parish council to develop facilities in the village, said he believed there had not been enough local consultation when the learning and resource centre had opened.

While it wanted the centre to survive, the local community did not have the resources to take financial responsibility for it. “The running costs and equipment replacement are beyond the means of the parish,” he added.

Mr Readman said an independent board of directors might be needed to ensure the centre remained available for community use if the local high school took over its running.

Penny McSheehy, an Eye town councillor, said the local centre had not been sufficiently promoted, but was tremendously important to the community.

“We don't want to see it devoted only to the needs of the high school. It should remain available to the community during some daytime hours as mothers with young children often cannot attend evening classes,” she added.

Bob Dool, the county council's senior officer for community education, said efforts were being made to bring the centres closer to the communities that could benefit from the courses and facilities on offer.

“With this in mind we have started discussing the management of the centres with the high schools where they are situated to see if the schools can work in partnership with us to run the centres more effectively,” he added.

Detailed discussions had already been held with the high schools in Stradbroke and Eye, which were now drawing up “viable business plans” for the centres.

Community courses would run alongside the schools' own programmes, he added.

david.green@eadt.co.uk

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