Columba set for new journey

10th August 2007 at 01:00
For one charity, striking buildings and stunning locations are as important in leadership training as the contents of courses

COLUMBA 1400, the charity which offers specialist leadership training to pupils and headteachers, is to undergo a massive expansion, thanks to two donors.

Millionaire backers have provided the organisation with two new homes costing a total of pound;6 million Ardoch Estate on the banks of Loch Lomond and Quiraing Lodge on the Isle of Skye. Meanwhile, Columba 1400 has raised a further pound;1.2 million to extend its original centre at Staffin on Skye.

Founded by Norman Drum-mond, a former army chaplain and head of Loretto School in Edin-burgh, the organisation specialises in helping youngsters from "tough realities", as he describes it. It has been funded by the Scottish Exec-utive to develop leadership potential in teachers and heads.

In three years, Columba 1400 hopes to have doubled its capacity, increasing the number of teachers, social workers and young people who graduate from its leadership courses annually to 1,000.

Set up in 1997, the charity is based on the belief that enormous leadership potential exists in youngsters who have weathered difficult times, through being in care or homeless, or who have struggled with addiction. The charity's aim is to unlock that potential through six-day residential courses or leadership academies. It also runs academies for headteachers, teachers, social workers and voluntary sector workers anyone who has a strong influence over the lives of young people.

"We realised it wasn't enough just to work with these young people and we had to extend our sphere of influence," said Jonathan Long, associate director and a former headteacher.

One evaluation report published this year found that at least 60 per cent of care leavers who participated in a programme went into education, employment or training, compared with the national statistic of 37 per cent for the same group.

The headteacher leadership programme, which costs around pound;4,500 per person, was found to have "variable but powerful im-pacts" on each participant, al-though further work should be done to evaluate its impact on schools, according to another study two years ago.

The injection of funding will allow the foundation to run more of its range of leadership academies in September, for the first time, two courses will run simultaneously on Skye and develop new courses. One possibility is an academy for foster parents.

One-day refresher courses for Columba 1400 graduates at the more accessible Ardoch Estate will take place. "We are not a commercial organisation, so this isn't about creating a dependency, but sometimes people need to reconnect to look at how they have practically applied what they learned during the leadership academy," said Nicola Richards, chief executive.

Ardoch Estate, which lies to the northwest of the Dunbartonshire village of Gartocharn, was bought by Peter and Christine Armitage at the end of last year for pound;2.5 million. Mr Armitage, a financier, will retain ownership of the estate but the charity will have the use of it.

The estate has majestic views of Loch Lomond and boasts 133 acres of land, a pond stocked with brown trout, the seven-bedroom Ardoch House and three holiday cottages. Further facilities also financed by Mr Armitage at pound;2.5 million are in the pipeline.

Plans are being drawn up to build on the footprint of an old barn to provide more bedrooms and give the estate a more "Columban" flavour. "An important theme for us is the sense of the coracle, an unbroken ring of trust or friendship," said Dr Long. "We have a round balcony on Skye which we call the knowledge deck and we want to create similar symbolic spaces at Ardoch."

The charity hopes to start using the estate from autumn next year.

Work on the Isle of Skye is further along. Quiraing Lodge was bought for around pound;1.5 million and gutted by Stuart and Geraldine Mitchell. They have retained a flat on the top floor but are leasing the rest of the building to Columba 1400 for a peppercorn rent, supplying them with accommodation for nine people, minutes from the Staffin centre.

As far as Columba is concerned, striking buildings and locations are a must there should be no skimping. "The welcome you give and the hospitality you show send out im-portant messages to people about the respect you have for them," said Dr Richards. "We want to create an environment that says we care."

Rooms have ensuite facilities and the food is of a high standard. But most important is the setting.

"We feel that the journey to the site is important; that sense of coming somewhere new," said Dr Long. "The beauty of the environment is crucial because it creates the internal conditions within which you can do the soul searching and reflection. If you are based in a place that inspires or gives a sense of perspective on life, the power of the programme is multiplied."

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