Wealden Skills Centre in Uckfield to close

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A CENTRE which provides practical training for young people in Uckfield is set to close.

The Express has learnt that the Wealden Skills Centre’s lease on Brambleside at the Bellbrook industrial estate will not be renewed this summer.

The Centre and its vocational courses were jointly managed by four of Wealden’s community colleges in Uckfield, Crowborough, Heathfield and Wadhurst.

The capital cost of installing specialised equipment and money for the courses to be run had been provided by the Government in the form of a ring-fenced grant.

This week, ministers announced substantial cuts to the 3,000-plus vocational courses currently on offer nationally. And Wealden’s college principals say they can no longer support skills courses offered at the Centre although they will honour all those currently being attended by students.

Peter Swan, principal of Beacon Community College in Crowborough told the Express: “We have decided reluctantly that we have to shut the Centre this August.

“Government funding streams that supported that sort of education have ceased and in spite of the best efforts made to find creative solutions we have to accept the courses are not sustainable.

“This is entirely due to a change in Government policy. No youngsters in courses at the Skills Centre will be unable to complete their courses. We will continue to look for solutions and we have a commitment to provide vocational courses relevant to young people and the local economy.”

The kind of courses provided at the Centre include hairdressing, catering, building, painting and decorating.

A County Council spokesman said: “It is regrettable that the Wealden Skills Centre will have to close. However, the phasing out of Government funding for 14-19 diplomas meant the schools faced considerable challenges as they tried to ensure it was financially viable for the future. We know this is a decision the schools have not taken lightly and we recognise the efforts they have made to try to ensure it could be financially viable in the long term. We were prepared to support the Centre financially in the medium term but on the understanding that there was a viable and sustainable future for it. In spite of the closure of the Centre we are pleased to learn that schools are committed to continuing to provide access to vocational learning courses. We will continue to work closely with the schools as they plan for the longer term future to ensure pupils still have access to a broad range of options for study.”

The decision provoked a furious response from Chris Lawson, Uckfield’s commercial land agent who is acting for the landlord of Brambleside.

He said: “We all think it is a terribly bad move. The money needed to continue the Centre’s work is a drop in the ocean compared with costs happily swallowed by the local council. These courses were commercially viable as they trained young people for the real world. Under the terms of the lease the property must be returned to the condition it was in when it was taken over. What amazes me is that the cost of removing all the specialised equipment will amount to about the same as continuing the lease for another year. This is a vital resource for youngsters.”