New vocational skills centre in Watton

Emma KnightsA new �1.9 million centre that aims to encourage more youngsters to stay in education and teach them practical trades was officially opened in Watton today.Emma Knights

A new �1.9 million centre that aims to encourage more youngsters to stay in education and teach them practical trades was officially opened in Watton today.

Built on the Wayland Community High School site, the Vocational Skills Centre is already teaching students aged 14 and over skills including bricklaying, carpentry, electrics and plumbing on the diploma in construction and the built environment.

From next September it will also offer a diploma in engineering among other qualifications, and year 10 and 11 students from local schools will also be able to take part in practical courses there.

Wayland Community High headteacher Michael Rose, who first had the vision of creating the centre five years ago, described today as a landmark day for education in Breckland and the whole region.

He said: 'The centre celebrates increased opportunity for young people without having to travel significant distances and spend much of their day not actually learning. The 16 young people currently using the centre to take the construction and built environment diploma represent a new generation for learners.

'In this time of recession, regeneration will come from a broader, newly skilled workforce - that will respond to increasing market demand and allow Norfolk to take a lead role in the turn around we so much need - our young people should, therefore, be at the forefront of development.'

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Norfolk County Council leader Daniel Cox, who officially opened the centre with Mr Rose, said the state of the art centre was a flagship centre for the whole region, and was especially important because of the anticipated growth in the engineering and construction sectors in Norfolk in the next few years.

He said: 'The centre will be an important regeneration project for the community and the local economy and help fulfil our shared ambitions for Norfolk, to create aspirational people with high levels of achievement and to build a vibrant, strong and sustainable economy.'

Fourteen-year-old Jordan Mole-Zachariades, from Watton, hopes to work as carpenter or bricklayer.

He said: 'The new centre is quite exciting and it will give us some good experience. I am hoping the course is going to be really useful and give us a head start before we get out there into the real world.'

Fellow student 14-year-old Charlie Gritty, from Hockwold and who hopes to become a plumber or bricklayer, said: 'I think the course will help me get a better apprenticeship when I leave school. I am really grateful for the opportunity.'

The centre was designed by Norfolk County Council-owned NPS Property Consultants Ltd and was constructed by Mansell plc.

The centre has five workshops in which to teach plumbing, carpentry, bricklaying, electrical skills and engineering. In the future the centre may also be used for community learning and adult education courses.

Much of the funding for the centre was provided by public sector organisations, including more than �850,000 from the East of England Development Agency's Investing in Communities fund.

Other contributors were Breckland District Council, City College Norwich, The College of West Anglia, The Learning and Skills Council, Mansell, Norfolk County Council, NPS Group and Wayland Community High School.