After four years of successful community engagement, the Explore programme at Sunderland University’s North East Centre for Lifelong Learning has come to an end.
Conceived as a creative response to the withdrawal of funding for adult learning under successive UK governments the programme operated as a ‘gym for the mind’ in which a single subscription payment gave access to an entire programme of more than 1600 contact hours across four subjects and thirty JACS subjects taking place morning, afternoon and evening 6 days a week. About a thousand people joined the programme with around 450 members at any one time.
The Explore programme ran for 4 years, running 4,500 individually scheduled sessions, in galleries, theatres and arts centres across Newcastle upon Tyne. During this time, there were nearly 30,000 attendances on “open” sessions and 37,000 attendances on bookable course sessions. In 2010, the scheme won the Universities Association for Lifelong Learning (UALL) 2010 National Award for “creativity, innovation, impact and transferability.”
Explore was a unique experiment in lifelong learning that was loved by its members and tutors and received national acclaim. Sadly, due to financial pressure on the host university, and the additional loss of funding for public language programmes, the Explore programme closed in September 2013 and with it the North East Centre for Lifelong Learning.
But the idea of Explore – of learning for its own sake, open to all and funded by subscription – may yet live again. With the in kind support of Sunderland University and staff members of NECLL, former students members of Explore have set up a Community Enterprise Company to run Explore as a social enterprise. A new, if much reduced programme, begins in October, 2014. If it succeeds, this will be the first time in the UK that a community education programme has transferred from the HE to the third sector. Watch this space!