A group of adult learners have made an impassioned plea to the Northern Regional College (NRC) not to scrap their weekly art class.
Their oil painting course is just one of 19 hobby and leisure courses at NRC Newtownabbey and more than 50 across the college’s seven campuses facing the axe due to budget cuts.
Following a Department for Employment and Learning decision to end subsidies for all leisure courses, the college is now considering “trimming” what it has to offer.
That could mean scrapping leisure courses to save money, or continuing to run some courses but passing the full cost on to those taking the classes.
Other courses under threat include upholstery, cookery, interior design, flower arranging, woodwork and motor vehicle maintenance.
Members of the leisure art course at NRC Newtownabbey - some of whom pay the full tuition fee of £228 per year while others get a concessionary rate - have been attending the weekly class for several years. They describe it as “a lifeline” for many of those who attend each Thursday and have vowed to fight any attempt to remove it from the college prospectus.
Praising the standard of tuition they receive, the group describe themselves as “serious learners” and have appealed to NRC not to scrap their class, which attracts a wide mix of participants and caters for people with mental health problems and physical disabilities.
They believe that under its mission statement, the college has a duty to provide learning opportunities for older people. But they are convinced that the decision on the future of courses will come down to one thing - money.
Rathcoole pensioner Elizabeth Fellowes explained how the class has been “a lifesaver” for her.
“When my husband died I was so depressed and I thought to myself ‘I am going to have to do something here’. I got the prospectus out of the library and joined the class and it was the best thing. It has been an absolute lifesaver,” she said.
Mrs Fellowes, who enjoys the educational and social aspects of the class, claimed that “elderly people are being pushed into the background” and said that if the course is scrapped she will be left “sitting in the house depressed, looking at the four walls.”
Maureen Anderson from Glengormley, who has been attending the art class for the past seven years, now exhibits her work.
She echoed the point about the health and wellbeing benefits of the course, stressing that such classes are key if the government is serious about promoting active lifestyles for older people.
Criticising the decision to cut funding for leisure courses, she said: “Personally for me it has been a lifeline. After my husband died it was somewhere to go. In joining the college I not only gained a new skill, but I also made a lot of friends.
“I don’t understand it if they are trying to promote better health in later years, yet when we have this lifeline they are taking it off us.”
Castlereagh man Jim McCrossan, who has been attending the class with his wife Patricia for over a decade, also queried the decision to withdraw the funding.
“They are always talking about getting the older people out of the house and getting them involved and doing things, but now they’re going to get rid of our class. It’s just not right,” he commented.
Facing the very real possibility that some courses will not be running again come September, the students have vowed to fight any attempt to axe their class and several have already raised their concerns with college management.
They are now intent on lobbying NRC officials and local MLAs in a bid to get assurances over the future of their course.
To that end, a group of students from the leisure art class are expected to raise their concerns with NRC Director of Planning and Customer Services, Brenda Crotty and Head of Faculty, Gerard Quinn at a meeting on Thursday, March 12.
While the adult learners are convinced that a move to scrap their course is “a foregone conclusion”, an NRC spokesperson stressed that “no final decision has been made by Northern Regional College as to the future of these courses.”
It’s understood the college’s executive management team is carrying out a cost analysis in relation to each leisure course to assess their future viability.
NRC bosses are expected to make a decision on the future of the leisure courses within the next few weeks.
A decision will have to be taken before early May when the college is due to publish details of the courses it will offer in the next academic year.
• Read associated story ‘No more subsidies for leisure courses’ by clicking here.