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The £500m Humanist Centre of Excellence and Lifelong Learning

by Aaron the Humanist

A dreamer, a visionary, a Star Trek fan - can Aaron give shape to an idea that will appeal to humanists everywhere? Could he bring a 'Starfleet Academy' educational structure into modern-day learning, promoting a concept that will appeal to everybody? In this article, he tries to show you the inside of his imagination. Would you enrol in his academy?

Modern glass building design - space, comfort, vision

What would a humanist education centre look like?

In my mind, it would be modern, light, and airy, with a welcoming learning environment that is open to everyone. Young people would learn during the daytime in regular school hours, and adults would use the centre in the evenings, with everyone coming together at weekends. It would be more than just a school; it would be a university of life, offering opportunities and providing resources for all aspects of our existence.

It's more than a school

Every age catered for

Outside the regular timetable, there would be school clubs available both before and after the school day. In these clubs, students could practice communication, interaction, negotiation, debating, and critical thinking. They would learn everything from how to frame a debate and engage in fair conversations to mastering interview skills and understanding parenting. Alongside these, practical skills would be taught such as first aid and navigation without relying on satnav. The focus would be on teaching young people how to take care of themselves, how to handle stress, how to manage life's challenges, and how to overcome obstacles. Additionally, classes and lectures would be designed to address and relieve stress, respond to mental health issues, and equip students with the tools to face future difficulties in life with confidence.

To enrich the educational experience, the centre would incorporate topics taught in organisations such as the Combined Cadet Force (CCF), Scouts, the Red Cross, and youth groups. By incorporating such activities into the learning schedule, the centre would aim to provide a well-rounded education while fostering enjoyable youth activities. Providing engaging and valuable experiences for young people in this way would help fill the void left by the decline of youth clubs and other groups for young people in cities.

Modern computerised learning centres

In the mornings, before-school clubs would offer working parents the option to drop their younger children off early, where learning would begin in a less formal setting. Activities such as yoga, meditation, relaxation or a more active fitness regime could be offered to wake students up and set a positive tone for the day. Following these activities, a nutritious breakfast would be provided before the regular school day begins. By extending the school day with these additional activities, parents would have the flexibility to work a full 9-5 job, knowing that their children are in a supportive and engaging environment before the formal learning hours commence. A creche option would be set up to offer an all-round age provision.

But not just for children

Mixed age learning environment

For adults, there would be a wide range of talks and debates, covering various topics to appeal to people from diverse academic backgrounds. The Humanist Starfleet Academy wouldn't be limited to those with degrees, university backgrounds, or wealth: instead, we would strive to keep it open and accessible to everyone. Discussion groups would be held to address important matters of the day, including debates on news, current affairs and politics. Understanding and actively participating in the administration of one's town, city, or country would be encouraged, along with learning about the background and significance of democracy. These discussions would be balanced with topics like football teams, in-groups and out-groups, tribal cohesion, and community structures. Another area of focus would be to welcome the senior retired generation through University of the Third Age (U3A) learning. Involving them in the centre would help overcome loneliness, keep their minds active through thought-provoking discussions, and engage them in meaningful and fulfilling post-work activities. This approach would promote communication, interaction, and a sense of usefulness among seniors, fostering a sense of belonging and purpose within the community.

The centre would actively work to promote adult learning by offering courses with actual qualifications at affordable prices. Additionally, it would provide opportunities for individuals to volunteer, whether within the centre itself or at other sites and avenues. The goal would be several dozen voluntary groups, activities, learning avenues, classes, walks, fitness ventures and more, available to members each month. Hopefully, there would be no more boredom, loneliness, or lack of interaction or involvement. At the centre, you would have the opportunity to participate, you would be warmly welcomed, and you would find activities that fit your budget. Moreover, you would have the chance to interact with a diverse array of people, sharing knowledge, experiences, and humanity at every level. The centre would offer various resources, such as fitness centres, a library, and companionship to support you along your journey.

A healthy mind and a healthy body

Light and airy fitness centre

The building would house a comprehensive fitness centre, encompassing a sports hall, gym, pool, and courts for various sports. It would strongly encourage people to keep their bodies as sharp as their minds, promoting an all-round human development programme. Classes for aerobics, Zumba, yoga, and stretching would be open to all ages, encouraging a fit and balanced lifestyle. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) sessions would be available for those in a hurry, or for those dropping in before work. Not everyone has an hour to spare each morning, so a ten-minute workout followed by a quick shower might be just what's needed to kick start the day. Outside of the building, walks, jogging, cycling, and skateboarding would be offered as free activities that anyone could participate in. Additionally, competitive sports days to build team cohesion and foster further interaction among members would be organised.

Nobody left behind

The centre would provide opportunities for the ‘left behind’. Those wishing to make something of themselves would be warmly welcomed and invited to take part. For those experiencing homelessness, sofa-surfing or living on the streets, it would offer life skills training, helping them write CVs, gain job experience through shadowing or volunteering, and providing access to sports facilities to improve their physical well-being. Additionally, they would have the chance to attend classes that foster interaction, cohesion, learning, and the opportunity to build friendships within the community.

Similarly, individuals undergoing rehabilitation, who have made mistakes and require moral-compass adjustments to reintegrate into society, would be supported. The centre would offer rehabilitation courses covering topics such as crime, addiction, and anger management to help them find their way back into the fold after being left out in the cold.

Even those on low incomes would have access to almost everything the centre has to offer. The centre would be primarily driven by a core of volunteer staff, supported by a small group of paid employees responsible for managing the entire project.

Green friendly

For everyone involved, there would be an EV car-sharing scheme, as well as bicycle loan, storage, and rental services. The centre would work closely with the local council to establish a bus stop right outside, enhancing accessibility to public transportation.

To minimize its environmental impact, the building itself would be designed to be as carbon-neutral as possible. Climate control would be achieved through thermal retention (effective insulation) and repulsion (to keep the building cool in summer), ensuring energy efficiency. The centre would employ various forms of green power options, including solar panels, wind turbines, and solar trees that could power fountains, water features, and cooling devices for the grounds.

Of course there's a bar

The centre would have a bar, a cafeteria/eatery, a rooftop terrace, and gardens to create spaces for relaxation and socialising. These facilities would play a crucial role in promoting interaction, understanding, and acceptance among the diverse array of individuals who are part of this concept. Socialising and learning from one another, appreciating the richness of different cultures, and engaging in open discussions, would be actively encouraged. Visitors from other cultures would be welcomed to experience the vibrant atmosphere and values portrayed in the centre, and their feedback would be valued.

Roof garden terrace

A planted roof terrace with seating, designated discussion areas, working zones, Wi-Fi spots, and refreshments would create a conducive environment for smooth conversations, engaging debates, solving life's mysteries, and unwinding after a day of learning. The thoughtful design of these spaces would facilitate both active learning and meaningful connections.

So what's stopping us doing this? A one-stop community building that educates the young, continues educating those in or out of work, maintains the body and the mind from zero to a hundred and everything in between. Solves mental health problems, offers counselling, support, interaction and communication. Inclusive of those who are excluded, affordable to those not affluent and accessible to those who struggle to find a niche in life.

St Aldhelm's Academy Poole

The idea exists; I'm not the first one to think of this. Yet, the funding, desire, drive, and vision to bring this into reality are lacking. I would like to think that large organizations like Humanists UK, Humanists International, and others would have this as an ambition. I'd like a billionaire to read this post and say, 'Yeah sure, I'll back this. How many do you want set up?' and off we go. I have no idea how much a college campus costs, being the closest thing to what this might represent... maybe a secondary school? The modern one pictured above might be the size, although this is sprawled out. I'd want a single building, with parking all underground. Any flat roofs would be 'people' spaces with planters, and slanty roofs would have solar panels. Are we talking £500 million, do you think?

One has to recognize that in a school, we are building it anyway. This is just a school that uses the same grounds many times over, benefiting a far-reaching demographic, reaching so many more people, and getting a much greater return on the investment. What's not to like?

Learning is one of the greatest things we do badly. Let's do it well, let's do it for everybody, let's do it NOW!

Note: Images are from Bing Image Creator unless otherwise stated

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