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Leisure, laughter, learning;FE Focus

WHEN Wirral Metropolitan College stopped running its popular Learning in Later Life programme for older people, the students refused to give up and set up a breakaway group.

The Wirral 3Ls - which now stands for Leisure, Laughter and Learning - is run from an old Baptist church in Birkenhead. It has 400 members and has more than 30 different courses for the over-50s.

The college dropped its dedicated programme for older learners two years ago because of cash restrictions. But the students have proved the need is still there.

"We had an open day and did some advertising," said chairman Bernard Rowan. "At least 250 people turned up. They were queuing outside the door. We don't do accredited courses. We just learn for learning's sake. It's as simple as that.

"Some colleges are doing lifelong initiatives, but they're not in the main dedicated to 50-plus. Anybody can go along. We're not against that. But we wanted to do something just for our own peer group, so there wouldn't be young people there bashing on ahead and older people trying to keep up."

Other colleges have had to cut their courses for older learners. Bridgwater College in Somerset ran a programme called Primetime for six years. It ended last year.

"We no longer have discrete provision for older people," said Betsy Bowerman, senior lecturer for adult education. "Learning for learning's sake has gone out of the window."

Northampton College tutors go into residential care homes to provide demand-led courses funded jointly by the college and the local education authority.

Violet Connellan, head of adult and community education at Northampton, said: "Under the Further Education Funding Council you have to have qualifications at the end of it. But elderly people don't want qualifications. If you want to put courses on, you have to get the money from somewhere else."

Park Lane College in Leeds works in day centres for the elderly, but only with local authority funding. "So little can be done because we cannot get any FEFC money," said Jill Kibble, community projects manager. "We do what we can with funds from other sources. But a lot of what we're doing is really shoestring stuff.

"I believe very strongly that there should be a proper budget for work with older people. Research has shown that the more older people do activities like this, the fitter and healthier they remain."

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