About Explore

About Explore 

Our patrons 

John Grundy

Explore is pleased to announce that local historian and author, John Grundy, has agreed to become our patron.  

John said
'It would probably be a bit strong to say that my life has depended on continuing education, but lots of bits of it have. I didn’t do as well as I hoped in A levels and so if the Open University had not existed I would have had no degree, I would never have become a lecturer, or got on the telly or ended up writing books.  I would have been less fulfilled and less confident and so I feel a sort of passionate gratitude towards all of those people and forerunners who recognised the need and provided the opportunities for people who wanted (or needed) to keep on learning. 
Explore lifelong learning 2017 John Grundy adult education
Newcastle’s history has been full of them – the members of 18th century philosophical societies and debating groups, the self-help and self-improving workers’ societies, the subscription concerts, the WEA, Joseph Cowen and now Explore….

 When I look at Explore - the level of commitment, the range of opportunities, the quality of teachers, the gorgeous and slightly bohemian setting in which it is based – I feel really delighted and proud to be considered one of its patrons.'

Explore lifelong learning 2016 Lee Hall adult education

Lee Hall

Lee Hall is the Newcastle born writer of hit films Billy Elliot and War Horse as well as the play The Pitmen Painters.
Lee said
‘I am thrilled to be a Patron of Explore. Learning is the way to transform ourselves, to understand others and to create the possibility of a better world so nothing could be more important. At a time when the access to the education we have taken for granted last century is being eroded Explore is taking matters into its own hands and providing a tremendously exciting model of how we can all come together to change this. It is incredibly important that we have opportunities to continue to learn throughout our lives. It's one of the great privileges of being a writer that being a 'student' never really stops. I can see that Explore makes it possible to share that knowledge in a way we once expected the State to provide. Newcastle has always been a place where people have seized the initiative to share their learning from the debating clubs in the taverns of the Eighteenth Century to institutions like the Lit and Phil. So Explore is in a long and important tradition. It's a really exciting programme and I look forward to it going from strength to strength.’

The Joseph Cowen
Lifelong Learning Centre CIC 

Explore lifelong learning 2016 Joseph Cowen adult education

Mission Statement

The Joseph Cowen Lifelong Learning Centre (JCLLC) enriches lives by providing outstanding opportunities for lifelong learning for people in the North-East.


The Joseph Cowen Centre was born in 2013 following the closure of the North East Centre for Lifelong Learning at Sunderland University. The strength of feeling about this loss led members to establish JCLLC as a community interest company, with the aim of preserving the award-winning model of the Explore programme within a new, member-led, structure. We registered as a community interest company in August 2013 and opened our doors to our first members on 15th October of the same year.


We aim to:
  • Provide the Explore programme which enables members to pursue existing interests and explore new areas of study.
  • Support a community of learners where members can contribute their own knowledge and experience
  • Foster an environment where social interaction is a valuable part of learning.
  • Promote the culture, history and natural and urban environment of the North East.
  • Offer a financially and practically accessible programme. 


JCLLC is registered at Companies House (Number 8645261) and with the Community Interest Regulator and fulfils its statutory requirements.  There are eight elected Directors who may co-opt up to four others, and are responsible for strategic direction and management.  All members of the ‘Explore’ programme can participate in governance by becoming Company Members.  Details of current directors and instructions on how to become a Company Member are available on the JCLLC website.

Our members

JCLLC was established and is governed by its members and it is their passion and dedication that drives us. Our members play an active part in running the Explore programme: contributing their time, skills and experience. Most are retired, with many living in rural areas, for whom the opportunity to learn, meet people and be part of an exciting project is invaluable.


We seek to enhance the learning culture of the region through partnerships with other cultural and educational bodies, with the aim of sharing knowledge and expertise. We have strong links with the Literary and Philosophical Society, the Centre for Ageing and Vitality, the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art.

Equal Opportunities 

We are committed to equal opportunities and access for all adults, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or income.  Our Newcastle city centre venue is accessible to people with mobility issues, including wheelchair users. We are currently developing our website to make it more user-friendly.


We are funded through subscriptions to the Explore programme, donations and sponsorship in kind.  All funding is used to deliver and develop Explore.  We are pleased to have a link with the SY Killingley Trust which enables us to offer Explore membership to people with limited financial resources.  We also benefit from the ongoing support of Ampersand Inventions.

History of the Explore programme

Explore was originally conceived in 2009 by Dr Ian Ground of the North-east Centre for Lifelong Learning (NECLL  - formerly run by the University of Sunderland) as a creative response to the effective withdrawal of funding for lifelong learners by the previous government.
Explore is a radical and revolutionary vision of what lifelong learning can be: accessible and flexible, democratic and participative, innovative and challenging. 

Learning for the love of learning. 

And built around the learning that people say they need rather than what successive governments think they need.
Explore lifelong learning 2016 heads at museum adult education
In the summer of 2013, funding was sadly withdrawn. 
Dr Ground announced the closure of Explore: 
'NECLL team conceived, built, organised and taught four years of incredible programme. We achieved national recognition with the National Award for Lifelong Learning for creativity and innovation. We ran more than 5,000 individual sessions in venues across the city. We built innovative new partnerships with some of the region’s great cultural platforms. We wheeled and dealed. Plotted and schemed. Cajoled and trumpeted. We kept costs low and quality high. We made mistakes, learned from them and made things better. We stuck to our values. We believe that the NECLL team, all of us, technical, the office, the academics and management and above all our tutors, have been the most creative, committed team in the sector.'

'The closure of the Centre brings to an end a great tradition of adult education in the North East, stretching back to the days of Joseph Cowen. That tradition survived endless crisis and change, forcing the Centre, in its various guises, to reinvent itself many times over and even make an unprecedented move from one university to another. You know how hard we worked, and how hard we tried to make it work.

'The closure also has national significance. With the loss of so many of our sister departments over the last several years, a great national tradition of liberal adult education provided by publicly funded universities is coming to an end. We know you will lament that as much as we.”
Explore lifelong learning 2016 art workshop tutor Cecilia Holmes adult education
But the story was not over…

A group of Explore Ambassadors formed an Interim Steering Committee and called two Extraordinary General Meetings in June 2013. As a result of their initiative and the overwhelming response, in September they registered The Joseph Cowen Lifelong Learning Centre as a Community Interest Company, published a draft programme for the autumn term and requested prospective members to commit their £325. 

On Monday 7th October 2013, it was announced that we had sufficient members to run the programme and the first classes convened on Tuesday 15th October !
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