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Plans to charge for lipreading courses in Norfolk shelved after one man’s fight

Wensum Lodge, where Norfolk Community Learning Services is based. Picture: Steve Parsons

Wensum Lodge, where Norfolk Community Learning Services is based. Picture: Steve Parsons

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A move to introduce fees for lipreading courses in Norfolk has been shelved after one man’s determined campaign.

Norfolk Community Learning Services (NCLS), run by Norfolk County Council, had planned to bring in charges for the courses, £60 a term and £24 for concessions, bringing it in line with many of its other adult education courses.

But when a letter outlining the idea was sent to Robert Lamacraft, from Norwich, a course user, he had some concerns.

“A lot of the people on the course are low income, but they might not be at the standard to get the concession,” he said. “So it might have put people off going and exclude students that can’t afford it or those who were anxious to go. It takes courage to admit you need help and go along.”

He also had concerns over access - students claiming concessions could not book online, and he said many found it difficult to phone or visit Wensum Lodge in Norwich, and did not have faxes or textphones.

So he got to writing - penning letters MPs, MEPs, the council and even the House of Lords.

The 54-year-old, who works at St Martin’s Housing Trust, said: “I know how vulnerable people are when services are cut.

“There are often people, particularly the elderly, who don’t feel able to fight back when it happens.

“It wasn’t really about me, but for those who it would have really affected.”

Support quickly came in from hard of hearing communities around the country.

And - four days later - he received a second letter from the council, this time telling him that the plans would be scrapped.

“I was really pleased - this will make a different to people,” he said.

Funding for adult learners was cut in 2005, meaning several councils introduced fees.

In 2009, the BBC reported that just 13 local authorities, including Norfolk, offered free lipreading courses.

A spokesperson for NCLS said: “As our government grant was not covering the full costs of providing these courses, we considered the introduction of tuition fees.

“However, now it has become clear that this would have disadvantaged some learners, we have decided not to introduce fees and will develop a long term plan to make the service sustainable.”

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