Stratford upon heaven

15th July 2005 at 01:00
The principals of the east London colleges closest to the Olympic site are relishing the challenge of the Games, reports Joe Clancy

There was one united reaction from principals of the three colleges on the doorstep of the Olympic Games venue this week: "We've struck gold." Martin Tolhurst, Judith Hinman and Sid Hughes are preparing for a bonanza in cash, students and courses following London's successful bid to stage the 2012 Games.

The three colleges are in the east of the city, near Stratford where the Games will be held following London's unexpected victory over Paris last week.

Appropriately, two of the three, Tower Hamlets and Newham sixth-form, have won "golds" from the Office for Standards in Education this year by being rated outstanding. Newham college of further education, one of the largest in the country with more than 30,000 students, won Ofsted "silvers" by being rated highly successful.

The Olympic games will bring as many challenges to the Learning and Skills Council as the athletes who compete. In London, the LSC will be anxious to make sure colleges and other training organisations are able to respond to the demands from industries including construction, hospitality and tourism, which will be looking for new staff. In some cases, trained workers will be needed immediately as London, particularly the east of the city, begins to prepare for the influx of sportsmen and women Jacquie Henderson, the LSC's regional director, "jumped up and down and shrieked with delight" when she heard the decision at her offices in Centre Point in central London. Already, her staff are preparing the groundwork.

"We are starting the planning now," she said. "Our five executive directors are meeting college principals this week. The range of skills we will need is considerable.

"It is such a mammoth opportunity for colleges and it may be that they have to focus on providing different skills. Now we have won the bid, we have got to make sure that everybody involved in the Games is brilliant. Every college in London will contribute to this."

Martin Tolhurst, principal of Newham college, said: "This is just tremendous. Newham has benefited a lot from regeneration but getting the Olympics is on a completely different scale.

"This grabs hold of people's imaginations and fires them up in a way that other projects, like the Stratford rail terminal, cannot touch."

He said the sense of excitement triggered by the Olympic decision was tempered by the London bombs the next day which caused the closure of the college on Friday.

Top of his agenda now is to ensure that the local community and local businesses benefit from the Games, not just big business and people from outside east London."We want to supply as much local labour to meet the skills needs as possible," he added. "A good share of the extra money available for the Games has got to go into education and training.

"In terms of the curriculum, the college plans substantially to increase both the volume and range of training related to the development period and the Olympic Games themselves.

"This will include construction training, sports coaching, customer care, retail and hospitality, and events management, security and stewarding, among others."

Judith Hinman, who heads neighbouring Tower Hamlets college, which serves some of the most deprived wards in the UK, said: "We will need a lot more money to meet our training needs and we hope the Learning and Skills Council will be able to provide increased funding. We will also be looking at other ways of funding programmes by working with employers."

A governor of the college, former student Ayesha Qureshi, is a member of the Olympic bid team which was in Singapore for the decision.

Sid Hughes, of Newham sixth-form college, said: "The Games are a wonderful opportunity for us. A large number of our students want to be involved."

The Government has already been warned that skills shortages pose a significant problem for staging the 2012 Olympics in London.

The National Federation of Builders, which represents construction firms across the UK, said the Government should tackle skills shortages immediately.

Barry Stephens, chief executive of the federation, said: "The capital expenditure required represents a major opportunity for a wide range of companies, large and small, over the next seven years. It is crucial that the industry rises to the challenge.

"The risk is that we fail to get the necessary influx of new skills into the industry to cope with increased demand."

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