Rugby League Club, Wigan Warriors, and industry-leading education provider, ProCo, have moved into a new multi-million pound community-based Work Academy in the town, the first of its type to open in the UK.
The campus at the site of the former Pembec High School will be named ‘Central Park' in recognition of the Rugby Club's former home and will feature a state-of-the-art Education Centre. This will be run by Wigan Warriors offering vocational training and further education programmes aimed at providing experience, qualifications and work opportunities for 14 to 19 year olds, many of whom will not currently be in education, employment or training (NEET).
The provision will also offer extensive facilities to be used by the local community as well as new Headquarters for the Rugby League Club, a sophisticated base for the Warriors Community and Foundation operations and a Centre of Excellence for the highly reputed Wigan Warriors' Youth Development Programme.
The previous Pembec High School was recently closed following changes to the Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme and its regeneration will be completed by March 2012 to provide the first specialised community-based Work Academy in the country and a blueprint for multi-use facility development. The partnership has been facilitated by Wigan Council who will continue to use elements of the refurbished site for schools across the Borough. InnovEd, an innovative education solutions provider who specialise in software and content for virtual learning/e-learning are part of the Partnership.
The key elements of Central Park are as follows:
VOCATIONAL TRAINING AND EDUCATION
Wigan Warriors and ProCo will work as a partnership providing both Education and Training.
Staff from Wigan Warriors - the 2010 Super League Champions and 2011 Challenge Cup Winners - will be heavily involved in the Centre's full-time and part-time Teaching Programmes in Sport & Active Leisure as well as running specialist courses on sports psychology, physiology, health and well-being and Performance Analytics including video analysis and GPS performance analysis.
ProCo will provide an extensive offer of vocational training across a wide range of sectors including: Construction, Hair and Beauty, Catering and Hospitality, Land Based Industries, Sport and Leisure, Business Administration and Information Technology which is expected to have significant impact on employment and skills availability in the area.
Adult learning will also feature heavily on the site.
Central Park will be positioned at the heart of the local community. Consultation has taken place with numerous stakeholders to ensure the site provides an inspirational environment in which to learn and develop.
It houses the Wigan Warriors Community Foundation who will continue to provide outreach services as well as welcoming local community groups and schools into the centre.
Furthermore, the sports facilities are be available to the local community and for use by the general public, whilst a hair & beauty salon and cafe / restaurant will be open for the public, run primarily by learners on the campus.
Wigan Warriors' have entered an exciting new phase in their long term strategy, as developed by Chairman Ian Lenagan and the Club's senior management.
Building on strong foundations, Wigan's Youth Development systems will continue to learn and implement findings from elite sporting development centres from around the world.
The new site will bring together all functions of the Club's Scholarship and Academy programmes under one roof and will provide world class facilities to further enhance player and personal development.
It will also provide additional facilities, including a 3rd Generation artificial playing surface, Sporting Excellence Centre which includes a weight lifting gym, wrestling room and rehabilitation clinic, as well as an indoor Sports Hall, to complement the Club's widely acclaimed High Performance Training Centre at the Co-operative Community Stadium, Orrell.
The site will provide a home for over 100 young players to train and study, providing a clear development pathway to the First Team.
The Wigan Club has also moved its ‘back office' team from the DW Stadium to Central Park. This will include the Club's Community, Administration, Marketing, Commercial, Finance and Education Departments.
The new offices will facilitate further growth of the business in an open and inspiring environment.
Speaking about the new Academy site, Wigan Warriors Owner and Chairman Ian Lenagan said:
"This is a fantastic development and I am thrilled that the Wigan Club have played a major part in the planning of this exciting Work Academy. There are many facets to this project and ProCo, Wigan Council and the Club have all come together to unite to provide this world class facility.
"Alongside ProCo we will be providing a state-of the-art Education Centre which will offer top class vocational training and further education programmes as well as utilising InnovEd's unique virtual learning and e-learning platform.
"For the Wigan Club this will also be a great addition to our existing world class facilities; the DW Stadium which is our home ground, the Co-operative Community Stadium - our Academy and Reserve Team venue and the High Performance Training Centre at Orrell.
"Central Park is at the heart of building a sustainable and successful professional sports club and improving facilities for the community.
Wayne Joyce, Wigan Warriors Director of Community & Education added:
"A huge amount of work has gone into making this vision become a reality and we are delighted that our hard work is now coming to fruition as the site really now looks to take shape.
"With increases in higher education tuition fees, vocational training provides a real alternative for both young people and adults in the Borough.
"There is a real feeling that the whole community is coming together and this project provides a blueprint model for what can be achieved with a partnership approach. We have been working very closely to put together these exciting plans."
The Work Academy has also received acclaimed support from Lisa Nandy, Member of Parliament for Wigan who said:
"We had the news last week that Wigan is a really difficult place for young people at the moment because of all the cuts that are being made and the loss of opportunities and the contraction of the economy. Here we have a group of people coming together led by Wigan Warriors saying we stand behind our young people and we are going to give them real opportunities at a time when they really need them most. It is really exciting news for the town."
Speaking at the Government's recent launch of Work Academies, Employment Minister Chris Grayling MP said:
"Sector-based work academies are the next key part of our strategy to tackle youth unemployment. With training, work experience and a guaranteed interview, they will put people at the front of the queue for vacancies that employers are looking to fill."
Speaking in response to the news that the number of NEETS is increasing, particularly in Wigan where it is defined as one-in-four young people, Skills Minister John Hayes said:
"We are acting to bring the numbers down. Government departments are working together to ensure that all those aged 16 to 24 are provided with the support they need to get the skills for work."
Former Wigan Rugby League legend and Hall of Fame Member legend Ellery Hanley added:
"Rugby League plays such an important part of the lives of everyone in the town and this is a very exciting initiative which will make a massive difference to many people who get involved in the large array of education programmes on offer. The facilities Central Park will provide will further enhance Wigan's world class youth development and community programmes."