The CPR Learning Space is a building with a ‘wow’ factor, providing services to schools and the wider community. Jane West looks at its development

In September 2001, the then DfEE invited schools to bid for cash to build architecturally inspiring Classrooms of the Future ‘with the aim of challenging current thinking on school building design’. Over 90 local authorities and Education Action Zones (EAZs) put in bids and 12 were selected to share the £13m. Environmentally sustainable projects and those that incorporated wider community use were given precedence.

The lessons learnt by the pilot schools over the last six years now inform the newer and more ambitious Building Schools for the Future initiative, which aims to rebuild or renew every secondary school in England over a 10- to 15-year period.  

The Camborne, Pool and Redruth Learning Space

One Classroom of the Future was built to serve 28 schools in Camborne, Pool and Redruth, one of the most deprived areas of south-west England. The picturesque beauty of Cornwall’s golden sandy beaches and Hepworth landscapes mask considerable rural poverty and a county so poor that it still receives Objective One funding from Europe. The average wage is £14,000, some £10,000 lower than the national average. Seasonal unemployment is high and house prices have increased by over 100% in the last five years. Winning the Classroom of the Future bid, therefore, represented more than just a technological and architectural achievement.

The vision

In 2001, EAZ staff in the region had a vision to build a Classroom of the Future based on NASA’s mission control. The innovative building was to consist of three zones, holding up to 90 people:

  • an Earth station – modelled on the Challenger Centre in Florida

  • a Mars station – inspired by the work of the Challenger’s space buggy on the planet’s surface

  • an exhibition-lecture auditorium.

Building had already started when this vision was changed to a more flexible ‘Learning Space’. Today, the Learning Space has three large areas: the Dome, the Pod and the X-change. In addition, there are two small seminar rooms, a comms room, a staffroom and toilet facilities. The original ‘Martian’ outdoor activity area has been modified, with thoughts now moving towards creating an outdoor activity area, making use of nearby wooded and scrubland areas.

Despite backing from the government, the DfES, the EAZ, the local authority and industry, bringing the project to fruition was a slow and frustrating process, taking some four years before the first bulldozers moved onto the site and a further nine months to complete the work. The Learning Space cost £1.7m to build and furnish, but the architects (the Design and Maintenance Consultancy, Cornwall County Council) are convinced that the finished facility has a real ‘wow’ factor and provides a stimulating learning environment. Sadly, the architects had to cut back on their original vision that included a copper-clad flying-saucer dome on one part of the building – the costs were just too high. Ironically, mining surveys and boreholes showed that the Learning Space was built on the site of an old copper mine. The water feature that surrounded the building has also had to go, although this is due to health and safety issues rather than money.

Environmentally sustainable

A number of environmentally sustainable features did make it to the final cut:

  • Photo voltaic panels (the kind you get on a battery-free calculator) sponsored by the South West Electricity Board enable the Learning Space to generate energy, and staff estimate that energy generation subsidises their need by 30-40%; they rarely generate excess to requirements due to their 5KW system.

  • A geothermal heat exchanger that uses heat from the ground 1.8m down to both heat and cool the building.

  • Solar collectors providing a free source of hot water.

  • A ‘grey’ water system uses rain water to flush toilets.

  • A digital read-out of the building’s energy management system is available for students so they can see how much energy it is using at any one time.

Sustainable building materials were used throughout and students are able to study first-hand environmentally friendly features. There is also planning permission for a wind turbine, although lack of cash has prevented its provision – sponsorship is being sought. It is still something very much on the team’s wish list for a future phase of development.

Making the most of technology

As a result of the early vision for the Learning Space, there has been close cooperation with the Faulkes Telescope project in Hawaii. The West Cornwall Astronomical Society uses the Learning Space on a monthly basis for meetings. They have used the Faulkes Telescope and the experience they have developed with free access to Faulkes has led on to school-based sessions for students. Camborne Science and Community College and Redruth Technology College both offer students the chance to study an Astronomy GCSE.

The learning spaces have access to the latest ICT kit including:

  • a wireless IT network running up to 35 tablet PCs and 15 PDAs

  • plasma screens and multimedia projection facilities

  • a fully integrated surround sound PA system enabling remote communication between rooms

  • video conferencing systems and pan, zoom, tilt remotely operated cameras  – together with a range of scientific, technological and creative resources.

Operational issues

The Learning Space belongs to, and is run by, the CPR Success Zone (formerly the EAZ for Camborne Pool and Redruth).

The Learning Space has occupancy of between 80 and 82%; some days there are as many as five events going on; it opens from 8am onwards and at least once a month is open until 10pm or later.

When the facility was first planned, it was thought it would open at evenings and weekends, for use by the local community. Currently, it opens at weekends on request but also has a regular booking for Crime Scene Investigation family days at weekends and family and community sessions in the evenings.

Currently, 85% of bookings come from schools and 15% from individuals, community groups and businesses. CPR Success Zone Excellence Cluster Schools (23 primary and three secondary) have free access to the Learning Space; schools outside of the area are charged £200 for the whole building, for one day. It is the same charge for businesses and community groups: £40 per hour, £100 for a half day or £200 for a full day.

The Learning Space is funded by the CPR Success Zone Excellence Cluster Schools (an Excellence in Cities cluster), with additional oneoff funding from the Neighbourhood Renewal Fund for wider community and business access. The Learning Space also generates income from users outside the zone.

There are four full-time Learning Space staff paid for from Cluster funds, all capable of delivering learning experiences, which includes one teacher and three professional assistants. There is ICT support from the Cluster’s ICT team of three – two of whom are centrally funded and one is paid for by smaller cluster of schools via a service level agreement.

The Learning Space officially opened on 18 November 2004 for the 9,000 students of the Zone; by the end of the first year, they had 13,872 visitors. Figures at the end of 2006 stood at 20,327 visitors. The emphasis has changed from providing centre led programmes to those planned, designed and run by school staff at the Learning Space. The idea is that this embeds school innovation more effectively in the long term.  

The Learning Space as a business initiative

A visit or series of visits to the Learning Space is sometimes the start and sometimes the end of school-based project work. Schools and learning groups across the county book visits as part of ongoing schemes of work. This most modern of classrooms also links to Camborne’s history of tin mining that made it an economic hotspot from pre-history up until the 1920s. The vision is to acknowledge Cornwall’s rich history but also look to the future and help train a workforce that will continue to lead the county to further economic recovery and develop world-class facilities such as the Eden Project or the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth.

Finally, the implications of the project go far beyond a facility set up on a discrete site to serve the needs of a group of schools. Many schools are now investigating the possibility of building innovative learning resource centres, inspired by the possibilities of the extended schools agenda.

And some are already in the process of undergoing rebuilding works that incorporate some of the principles demonstrated by this impressive Cornish project.

Bethia McKinley, facilities manager

‘There is no average week, as the Learning Space’s needs change dramatically according to who is using it at any given time. On one of the brief occasions when the building is not in use I spend a lot of my time on the telephone, taking bookings for the building and giving information to those who have phoned to express interest. I also do tours of the building, keep a log of the visitor throughput and note any feedback they give us. I write the monthly highlights which we send to schools, staff across county and to the press. This keeps people informed of our activities, and widens awareness of the Learning Space and what we do here.

‘We are always very busy, and when we have schools taking part in our programmes, I spend a lot of time assisting in facilitating, or helping the day run smoothly by providing resources. I also take photos to make PowerPoint presentations and burn CDs for the schools to take with them as a record of what has been achieved by the students. I also keep a track of our finances and invoices.

‘I run my own Spanish programme that I have planned, resourced and delivered for primary age children, using RM Sonica Spanish and 2Simple 2Create a Story. I am planning an open day for the Learning Space as a thank you to the construction staff and a welcome and open day for local residents.

‘I am learning as I go. The key to working here is to be up for anything, and to be creative and flexible. We all work closely as a team, so if I’m not sure I ask and we discuss. Our marketing is by word of mouth as we have no marketing budget. We spend a lot of time disseminating what we do to as many people as possible.

‘Education staff at the Eden Project were keen to hear about the Learning Space when they were building their education centre and we paid for a freelance garden designer who worked at Eden to plant our outdoor space, but we had to fund all of this.

‘The Learning Space is an iconic building that surprises visitors from far and wide. For the local community this raises aspirations about what is possible and encourages others to follow suit – The Liveability project in Tuckingmill; Geevor Creativity development project; and Heartlands Kerrier District Council project for example. All these organisations have had key members of their project visit us as part of their planning process and have high-tech or environmental features. For anyone else embarking on a similar sustainable building project I would say, follow your dream and don’t let others sidetrack you. Be prepared to be creative and work alongside like-minded people who share your dream.’

More details about the learning space can be found at www.cprlearningspace.co.uk

The Building Schools for the Future website is www.bsf.gov.uk

Jane West is an educational consultant based in Cornwall.

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