“ERSP (Essex Rural Skills Project) delivers a programme of practical and skills training to residents of Essex and surrounding areas with a particular focus on supporting those living in rural locations who need help to access jobs, or further education and training, in the rural sector”
The Essex Rural Skills Project is part of the Abberton Rural Training Project Programme under the guidance of the Rural Community Council of Essex. ART was formed as Abberton Rural Training in 2014. The initial funding was a regulatory obligation that Essex and Suffolk Water Company had as part of the establishment of the Abberton Reservoir, hence the name. Known as a Section 106 requirement, it imposed an obligation for the provision of an Education Centre, as part of their commitment to social responsibility.
The water company partnered with Essex County Council, Colchester Borough Council, Rural Community Council of Essex, Essex Wildlife Trust, Writtle College and Essex and Suffolk Water to initially identify how the project would be created. It was agreed that there was a real gap addressing the number of people isolated in rural areas of Essex, while at the same time helping address a shortage of rural skills within the available workforce. Rural Essex is estimated to have lost 400,000 young people over the last 20 years. It is much more rural than most people think, being 72% rural for the whole of Essex, with Mid and North Essex being in the region of 85-
It soon became apparent that the need was very real and long standing, beyond the timespan of the Section 106 requirements on the water company. Therefore ART was created as an independent Charity (Charitable Incorporated Organisation) and also needed to be sited independently of the water company.
So what do we do?
ART is an educational organisation that delivers a set of programmes of practical and skills training to residents of Essex and surrounding areas. The courses have a particular focus on supporting those living in rural locations who need help to access jobs, or further education and training, in the rural sector. Our initial focus has been on residents of North Essex but particularly in the Colchester Borough, with the addition of another site in Maldon District providing further coverage.
Essex may seem a wealthy county but there is a lot of poverty and deprivation. While this is most apparent in the larger towns and cities, there are pockets of deprivation throughout, particularly in small and isolated communities. Indeed we are finding that rural areas have extra challenges due to inadequate or costly public transport; isolation and lack of infrastructure.
The benefits of the courses are great. First to the individual, who gains confidence, self-
Some of our participants have been isolated for many years – the longest to date being over 20 years of severe isolation. Often the first and critical step is giving them the confidence to travel from their home. This can be a process of many small steps. It is also one reason why we provide mini buses and free transport from across Mid and North Essex to enable our participants to reach our venues.
While we are an educational body, we are not structured and rigid like a conventional college. Many of our students circumstances are in part because they could not cope with or had bad experiences at school. We have boundaries and requirements but we don't impose a rigid classroom style. We recognise people learn in their own way, and some have issues that mean that they find it difficult to cope in crowded or noisy environments, or need space for retreat from time to time.
A lot of our work takes place outdoors, rural skills almost demands that. Working in nature is very positive in helping those with mental health issues to improve. We do a lot of conservation work in conjunction with Essex Wildlife Trust and other woodlands, and around the site. Indeed, to mow the lawn at Wormingford is a real achievement for some -
What do we do at Wormingford?
The school at Wormingford is a fantastic site. As a former primary school, it has space for indoor courses, such as carpentry, but also for outdoor courses, gardening, etc. The admin block enables the administration and support team to stay close to the students and tutors.
As well as our courses at the Wormingford site, we also run courses at Stow Maries Aerodrome and at Friday Woods in Layer. We are also seeking further local sites in which to provide further facilities and courses. Keep up to date with all our latest developments through our Facebook and Twitter pages.