Scoop with a happy ending
Inside the well-appointed former home of Girvan Town Council overlooking the harbour, it was not difficult to see why such a homely atmosphere had persuaded Learndirect Scotland to name South Carrick Open Opportunities Project (Scoop) as its first-ever learning centre of the year.
To win, it had to beat off competition from more than 400 branded Learndirect Scotland learning centres and the four other centres which made it to the final - all, interestingly, non-traditional providers and not an FE college among them.
"It is not just a place to pick up skills," Ron Wilson, a 62-year-old former bus driver, says. "It is very sociable, with good relationships and a great atmosphere plus excellent professional advice."
Mr Wilson first attended Scoop after he was made redundant. He learnt about preparing a CV and gained his European Computer Driving Licence, before he found a job at Culzean Country Park as a minibus driver. But he has not neglected the centre or his IT skills. "I still pop in to see the staff and other friends and I now have a computer at home to keep my grey matter going."
Flo Porter's motive was more personal than professional. "Following a messy divorce, I wouldn't leave the house until a friend introduced me to Scoop.
Working with the staff and the other learners brought me out of my shell and made me a different person."
Inspired by her success on the "computing for the terrified" course and Surf IT, an introduction to the internet, she bought herself a computer and is now a self-employed mothers' help. She still drops in at least once a week.
"I can't thank the staff enough. Scoop has been absolutely magic for me," she said.
The centre was opened under the former Strathclyde Region in 1995 to offer learning and advice for adults. When Ayr College opened an annex in the town in 1999, a review of the centre's role led to a decision to concentrate on job-seeking, personal development programmes and basic IT.
Betty McDonald, the manager, was appointed in 1997. One of three full-time staff, she feels that a key to the centre's success is the relationship staff have with clients. "We have an open-door policy in which personal contact is crucial. Our courses are designed to be the first step on a journey of lifelong learning.
"All courses are part-time and our clients often go straight into employment from here or move on to Ayr College to do further qualifications. Some have even gone on to gain degrees at the University of Paisley campus in Ayr."
The age range of the 1,300 registered clients, representing more than 10 per cent of local adults, goes from 16 to 80, almost half of whom are men.
Stasia Warwick, the opportunities adviser, comments: "Men often come in to enquire about job-seeking activities and are then motivated to take up appropriate courses here as well as elsewhere."
Life enhancing rather than life saving may be Scoop's function, although Flo Porter might argue with that.
But it is difficult not to dwell on the neat symbiosis of having the Girvan lifeboat station a few yards away across the street, especially on a day when the grey seas and white rollers indicated that the boat's services may be required. Appropriately Gillian Anderson, senior clerical assistant at Scoop, is a crew member.