Friday, 20 May 2022 00:00

Learning centre secures £3.5m university and college backing

Written by  James Goffin
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Learning centre secures £3.5m university and college backing

Work to create a new library, university and learning centre in the heart of Great Yarmouth has stepped up a gear thanks to a £3.5m partnership with the University of Suffolk and East Coast College.

Plans were unveiled in 2020 for a new education and community hub in the former Palmers department store in Great Yarmouth Market Place, including an enhanced Norfolk County Council public library. Last year Great Yarmouth Borough Council bought the building and began initial planning for the new centre.

Now East Coast College and the University of Suffolk have formally committed to the scheme, with a £3.5m contribution that will see the college teach degree level courses at the new centre, accredited by the university. The University of East Anglia is also backing the project, with plans to offer remote learning facilities for its students, alongside professional development courses.

These latest commitments mean that the project has secured £15.3m of funding support and work can now start on preparing the five storey, 5,300 square metre building for its new role.

Norfolk County Council has already committed £2m towards the new centre which will help to provide a new home for the local library and the county's award-winning adult learning service. 

An invitation to tender to strip out and restore the building was issued last month, with initial work expected to start this summer ahead of the detailed design phase. Construction will then start on the new facilities, which are expected to open in stages from autumn 2023.

Great Yarmouth Borough Council leader Carl Smith said: “This is a massive vote of confidence in the future of Great Yarmouth – our people and our town centre. We are determined to improve the lives of residents, and this investment in education and learning is part of our drive to help employability and the borough’s economy.”

East Coast College chief executive Stuart Rimmer said: “We are delighted to be extending our partnership with the University of Suffolk to the new town centre learning hub. This will enable us to offer courses in growth industries such as health, engineering, and the digital arts in fantastic new facilities, right in the heart of Great Yarmouth, and play our part in helping revitalising the town centre and bring new skills and opportunities to people of all ages.”

University of Suffolk vice-chancellor Professor Helen Langton said: “We are very pleased to be working with Great Yarmouth Borough Council and East Coast College to establish this university centre at Great Yarmouth. 

“As a community impact and civic university, we are very proud of our work to widen access and higher education participation. Creating a high-quality learning, training, and apprenticeship hub in the centre of Great Yarmouth, covering key subject areas such as health, technology, and engineering, will provide an excellent opportunity for developing the skills required for Great Yarmouth’s rapid development.”

Norfolk County Council cabinet member of communities and partnerships Margaret Dewsbury said: “Great Yarmouth’s new library and learning hub is an exciting and ambitious project that will be a real boost for its residents. Our library and adult learning services will continue to act as the focal point for the local community and the new facilities will help us do even more.

“Having local universities and colleges involved is a real boost for anyone looking to learn something new and will make this hub something to be proud of.”

University of East Anglia associate pro-vice chancellor for innovation, Professor Laura Bowater said: “As an established Top 20 UK University with strong civic roots in the region, we hope to offer our students increased flexibility in accessing our courses by extending our offer in Great Yarmouth.

“We are delighted to be part of this partnership. Although we are already working locally to benefit the community and the economy, we hope to provide additional opportunities for businesses, organisations and other members of the local community to interact with us through this exciting initiative."

In addition to the funding from East Coast College, the University of Suffolk, and Norfolk County Council, the project is being backed by nearly £7.5m from central government via Great Yarmouth’s Town Deal programme and £2.4m from the Future High Streets Fund, secured by Great Yarmouth Borough Council. 

Following public consultation in summer 2020, the new library is being planned to replace the existing facility in Tolhouse Street, and will also host adult learning, registrars and other information and community services. Further community engagement is being planned.

Alongside the new learning hub, the borough council is currently regenerating the historic market place with a new permanent market building, and this autumn will begin major works to improve the public spaces using funding from the government’s Future High Streets Fund. The work will see new paving, new trees and planting, and two enlarged flexible event spaces.

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