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Old school, new social enterprise with a focus on creative minds

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 11, 2013

Children enjoy an interactive approach to learning at Explorium, which has been opened by Julia Black, far right.

Children enjoy an interactive approach to learning at Explorium, which has been opened by Julia Black, far right.

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A former school in Somerset has been sold for an undisclosed sum to a social enterprise which provides supplementary education for children.

Offers were invited for the former Compton Dundon school, near Somerton, which closed two years ago.

It has been bought by Explorium, a creative learning centre, in an undisclosed value deal brokered by Colliers International and Greenslade Taylor Hunt, on behalf of local trustees and the Diocese of Bath & Wells.

Somerset mum and businesswoman Julia Black has opened the learning centre to provide supplementary education for children who might or might not be in school.

She said Explorium provided a creative environment where children could advance their individual talents, away from the constraints of school.

"The whole focus is on creativity, using your hands and your minds," said Ms Black, a documentary filmmaker. "We are not saying: We have got to get the children to this level or reading at this age. We are saying: How is this child and how do we move them forward? What are their strengths and how do we work with that?"

Explorium currently has 22 children aged from five to 12 on its books, each paying £15 for two-hour morning or afternoon sessions, a number which is expected to increase as after-school sessions are added.

They work with qualified teachers and a growing bank of creative mentors from industry, including filmmakers, scientists and engineers.

Once the centre is financially sustainable, profits will be poured back into developing Explorium, with the potential to open centres in developing countries.

Explorium has evolved from Ms Black's own experience of having children.

As a school governor, she witnessed the limitations that can exist within schools.

During a seven-month stay in Canada last year, she saw how her children continued to learn and develop independently of school.

On their return to the UK, Ms Black scrolled through global research which convinced her that there was a need for a shift away from adult-led and content-driven education to a focus on child-led and skills-based learning.

The work of Explorium centres on four Cs – creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication.

"We want to get children thinking differently, problem solving, working independently," Ms Black said.

She hopes the centre can help to better equip students for the workplace by building links with further education providers and businesses.

"Clarks Village is on our doorstep. How about our children create an app for shoe design?" she said.

"We are giving children a strong work ethic and an ability to work as a team or independently. There is no limit to what children can learn here, and that is the difference to schools."

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