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Share of Pounds 800m could be for you

National Lottery cash will be coming to schools next year following a change in the law. Diane Spencer reports.

Millions of pounds of lottery money will be available for schools to tap into from early next year, as part of the new sixth "good cause".

The National Lottery Bill became law earlier this month, adding the New Opportunities Fund to the existing beneficiaries of sports, the arts, heritage, charities and the Millennium celebration.

The fund's statistics are impressive: Pounds 800 million will be distributed before September 2001, providing out-of-school activities for more than 800,000 children by 2003 in half of secondary schools and a quarter of primaries.

The fund will also give grants to healthy living centres, childcare, and training for teachers and librarians in the use of information technology.

Chris Smith, Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, said the Act was "a landmark" as it also set out a new framework for lottery funding, ensuring that money would address the real needs of communities. It would promote access to the arts, sports and heritage; it would focus on children and young people and make partnership funding more flexible.

Speaking at a conference in London last week for nearly 500 delegates reflecting a wide range of people involved in the lottery -grant recipients, local authorities, private sector advisers and applicants - he said projects would focus on people rather than on buildings.

Distributors of lottery money such as the arts and sports councils and the new fund will be able to issue vouchers instead of cash which could speed up the system, and allow contract or bulk-buying to spread funds a bit further.

For instance, the NOF might use vouchers for information technology training, allowing schools or libraries to buy what they needed from approved providers. The English Sports Council could give them to volunteer football coaches for professional training, while the Arts Council could provide vouchers for materials at art stores.

Children's play would also benefit from the new rules. A leaflet outlining ways of gaining access to lottery money has been distributed to 80,000 organisations nationwide to spread the message.

Eager headteachers will have to wait a while to find out how to apply for the National Opportunities Fund largesse as the board has just been set up and has yet to meet. Baroness Pitkeathley, the Labour peer who has a background in care and voluntary work, is the chair and Eric Bolton, a former chief inspector of schools, is one of the board members.

By the autumn the board will publish draft guidance on bids and invite comments. Applications will be accepted in January for an April deadline, Peter Dunmore, the acting chief executive of the fund, told the conference.

Further details from Rob Crowe, New Opportunities Fund, Dacre House, Dacre Street, London SW1H ODH.

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