Fight on to save Russell Street Project

10:39am Thursday 20th September 2007

By Clive White

A former head teacher is spearheading a campaign to reinstate an award-winning project described as a lifeline to the disadvantaged.

The Russell Street Project, in Keighley, which provided vocational courses for people with learning difficulties, has been axed after being hit by a cash crisis.

The withdrawal of Government funding has left the ten-year-old scheme £400,000 in the red.

Staff were told of its closure last week and learners who have paid fees are due to be refunded.

The project has won the Duke of York Community Initiative Award three times in the last nine years.

Retired head teacher Colin Huntley, of Shipley, is seeking help from Keighley MP Ann Cryer and Philip Davies, Tory MP for Shipley.

"I have written to them both stressing how important this project is. The people there, many of them unpaid volunteers, are doing a brilliant job," said Mr Huntley.

"Mr Davies has replied and said he would be contacting the Learning and Skills Council, David Willetts - the Conservative spokesman for education - and the Labour Health Minister Alan Johnson."

The project's closure - revealed in last week's Keighley News - has left a staff of 45 jobless and about 1,000 students from the Aire Valley without courses.

Its main core of students was people who had not been successful in main stream education, who were long-term unemployed and had education difficulties.

But it had also set up a number of outreach centres around Keighley, in Long Lee, Denholme, Braithwaite and Hainworth, offering courses leading to better job prospects.

"The closure is bad news because it had been successful in breathing new life into a community much in need of urban regeneration," said Mr Huntley.

"It's fine to praise those students who have done well within the national curriculum but what about those who have been failed by the system? This was a place which was successfully filling that gap."

Frank Masley, a former science teacher at Yorkshire Martyrs School, in Bradford, was an unpaid volunteer teaching people to read and basic numeracy.

"It provided help for people who felt they could get it nowhere else and felt that they had been let down and overlooked by the job centres and colleges," he said.

"They felt at home there - there was no pressure to succeed but they were coming to do extra work just for themselves," he added.

The project's chief executive, Dick Taylor, said: "A lot of the problem was the recent changes in funding which have been brought in by the Government."

He said staff were keen to carry on and were even working now without pay to help wind up the organisation.

A spokesman for Mrs Cryer said the most significant issue was to ensure the students could find alternative help.

If there was a shortfall, it was important to work quickly to provide alternatives, he added.

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