By 2006, St. Bede's School was crying out for redevelopment. The original building was constructed in the 1970's and the Sixth Form of 200 students was housed within the old main school building which needed significant updating and extending. It became clear that remodelling was required and a bid for a grant of £5m was put forward to the Government to build a new Sixth Form College, two new Science Laboratories, a Management Suite and a new Main Entrance to the school. The Government agreed to fund 90% of the grant leaving the school to find the remaining 10% (£500,000).
Knowing of Sir Tom Cowie's keen interest in his local community of Derwentside and his commitment to helping under-privileged young people, the school wrote to him to outline the project and ask for his assistance. He agreed to fund the project with the £500,000 needed to ensure its success and he visited the school at least four times during the build to see the progress and meet the staff and pupils.
Named ‘The Sir Tom Cowie Sixth Form Centre’, the college now accommodates 330 'A' level students from schools all over Derwentside and County Durham including Lanchester, Consett, Stanley, Durham and Wolsingham. In fact, an extension had to be constructed in 2011 due to the demand for places from students attracted by the new Centre. The Sixth Form is now a bright, modern and airy building, with an interior designed by the Sixth Form students themselves. There is a large room designed for study providing computer terminals for the use of students, a cafeteria-style common room and modern classrooms which are used by the whole school.
Previous Head Teacher, Maria Matthews says, "Without Sir Tom's generosity, St. Bede's would not have been able to continue its development and provide our young people with such a wonderful learning facility".
The Sir Tom Cowie Sixth Form Centre was officially opened by Sir Tom and Lady Cowie on Wednesday, 21st November 2007. However, Sir Tom's interest in the school did not stop there and in October 2008, he opened a new Technology Suite in the main school, which was also made possible by his generous donation. His Charitable Trust also continues to support a number of Sixth Form students at St. Bede's with help in covering their transport costs to school.
For more information on St. Bede's Catholic School please go to www.stbedes.durham.sch.uk