A PARTNERSHIP between an energy firm and a college that could benefit hundreds of learners has been cemented.
East Durham College, in Peterlee, has agreed a deal with renewables company Infinis to establish and operate a new Employability Fund that could be worth more than £1.5m.
The Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the college and Infinis was signed during a short ceremony yesterday at the college by Baroness Sally Morgan, a non-executive director of Infinis, and college principal Suzanne Duncan.
Under the terms of the MOU, community benefit cash from the operation of a proposed five-turbine wind farm at Wingate Grange, to the west of Wingate, south-east of Wheatley Hill, north of Deaf Hill and south of the A181, will be placed in an Employability Fund to be overseen by the college.
The fund will be open to anyone of working age from 16 to 65 to help them to access skills training that will allow them to enter employment and will include fees and student support, which would not otherwise be supported.
Should the wind farm be approved, access to the fund will be available to those living in Wingate, Thornley, Wheatley Hill and the Trimdons.
The fund, which is estimated to be worth £62,500 a year should the wind farm be approved and constructed, will support at least 500 local residents over the lifetime of the wind farm.
Infinis commissioned an independent economic impact assessment to identify the key problems facing County Durham and East Durham in particular and proposing recommendations for action.
The study, carried out by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR North), clearly identified the need for more skills training opportunities for young people and adult learners.
Baroness Morgan, a Labour peer who up until recently was chair of Ofsted, told the Mail: “This is really important because what we want to do is make sure this really makes a difference locally.
“What we want to do is show something can be done in a way that delivers a sustainable impact over 25 years.
“I’m really committed to this area – I went to Durham University and I really hope this will play a part to make a small difference but an important difference.
“The people here are great, they just need to be given a bit of help to maximise the opportunities needed to get more skills.”
Mrs Duncan said: “The important thing is administering the impact of the fund in terms of how many people we support.
“We hope to help a minimum of 500 people over the lifetime of the project.
“In this current climate, funding for adult learning courses is very limited, therefore initiatives like the Employability Fund are vital.”
Durham County Council will consider the planning application for Wingate Grange Wind Farm in September.