Alcan hopes £65,000 legacy will help soften blow of plant closure

Director of strategy and standards for Ashington Learning Partnership Trevor Swann with John McCabe, Rio Tinto Alcan's regional economic development director.
Director of strategy and standards for Ashington Learning Partnership Trevor Swann with John McCabe, Rio Tinto Alcan's regional economic development director.

RIO Tinto Alcan’s doomed Lynemouth plant is hoping to continue creating jobs long after it is gone to help make up for those lost because of its closure this year.

The aluminium plant has already shed more than 300 jobs, and a further 200 will follow when it shuts in November.

However, the multinational firm is out to leave a positive legacy by boosting the employment prospects of future generations no longer able to look to the smelter for work.

It has handed over £65,000 to the Ashington Learning Partnership to fund a new education programme in south east Northumberland in an effort to reduce the impact of the closure of the 40-year-old smelter site.

The cash will pay for two projects offering 3,000 students at five schools in Ashington the chance to boost the enterprise, employability and entrepreneurial skills they will need to secure work now the county’s biggest private-sector employer is closing.

John McCabe, Rio Tinto Alcan’s regional economic development director, said: “For more than 40 years, our Lynemouth plant has played a major role in south east Northumberland communities by supporting the local economy and helping charities, voluntary organisations and other good causes.

“With the closure of the smelter, we are keen to ensure we leave behind benefits that will last and continue to improve people’s lives long after we have gone.

“We are pleased to be supporting the Ashington Learning Partnership to deliver this new and exciting educational programme.

“The partnership has an enviable track record of working with businesses on projects which help learners to develop a wide range of key skills.

“It has devised an innovative teaching programme that will inspire local youngsters and help them to make the connection between what’s taught in the classroom and its practical relevance to the world of work.”

The Rio Tinto Alcan cash will enable the partnership to develop its teaching of science, technology, engineering and maths in its secondary schools.

It will also pay for a science lab at Bothal Middle School to be given a high-tech makeover and for a new vocational and technical skills centre to be created at Ashington High School to help students develop the practical skills that employers look for in new recruits.

The new centre will enable the Green Lane school to develop its teaching of subjects including construction, hairdressing, beauty treatments, manufacturing and product design, engineering and hospitality.

Trevor Swann, the new director of strategy and standards for the partnership, said: “Ashington is situated in one of the most economically deprived districts in the country, which is why it’s vital we encourage and equip our students with the skills, confidence, experience and ambition to succeed, so they can look forward to a bright and rewarding future.

“We are working to ensure that our young people become problem-solvers, innovators, inventors and entrepreneurs who are self-reliant and able to think logically and meet the needs of employers or, indeed, aspire to go into business for themselves.”

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery has welcomed the funding, saying: “While we all wish that the smelter had remained open, providing jobs and economic benefits for our local communities, the reality is that it has now closed.

“I warmly welcome the Rio Tinto Legacy initiative, which is focused on providing support for the local community, and I am absolutely delighted that the Ashington Learning Partnership will be one of the first beneficiaries, receiving £65,000.

“This generous donation will enable the partnership to deliver its science, technology, engineering and maths programme and will also fund a new vocational and skills centre. Both will be of tremendous benefit for learners and for our communities.”

The Ashington Learning Partnership is a trust formed by five schools in the town, with more than 3,000 pupils between them – namely Central and Wansbeck first schools and Bothal and Hirst Park middle schools, as well as Ashington High.