The influence of British education and training will expand in regional Russia through a unique cultural franchising scheme.
The British Council, which runs eight regional offices in addition to its national headquarters, is piloting a franchised British information centre at a private language school in the ancient Volga River city of Yaroslavl, 150 miles northwest of Moscow.
The council, which promotes English-language training and British education and culture abroad, usually works only with official bodies when setting up partnership centres or projects.
But the challenge of widening British influence in Russia demanded a new approach, said Tony Andrews, director of the British Council in Russia.
"The council is becoming a risk-taking organisation. We take risks only when we have evaluated that risk and we know the benefit to Britain makes it worthwhile."
It is cost-effective to work with established private partners such as the Yartek private language school in Yaroslavl, he said. The council had invested Pounds 30,000 over the past three years to fund a library and information centre.
Based on the success of the Yaroslavl pilot, the council plans to establish six in other regional cities in Russia over the next two years. At a combined annual running cost of about Pounds 42,000 the centres would increase British influence at a fraction of the cost of traditional schemes.
Ensuring that partners are trustworthy and have high-quality, efficient educational businesses is essential, Mr Andrews said.
The choice of Yaroslavl was very much based on the dynamism of Boris Krasilnikov, a former director of language studies at Yaroslavl Polytechnical College. In 1990 he began Yartek in the dilapidated buildings of a 19th-century tobacco merchant's town estate. He raised Pounds 400,000 to restore the estate, which had been turned into communal apartments, and he helped find new homes for the residents.
Income from British undergraduates studying Russian and from selling cheap goods bought in China funded the restoration and purchase of the building from the city council.
The British information centre was set up in 1995. Mr Krasilnikov said:
"The centre gives great advantages. The British Council helps to channel British students here; the students improve their Russian and take part in running seminars to help Russian teachers of English. Former students often return to make business links in the area, and the centre gives us political status within the city."
James Duffey, a 57-year-old student from Exeter University, has been studying at Yartek since September. He said, "There is a need for direct contact with native English-speakers and for information about Britain."