The country’s best FE colleges are those that successfully focus on delivering their skills and education agenda while being at the heart of their communities.
I firmly believe that FE colleges have an important wider role to play and are at their most effective when they are an active ‘community resource’ in the areas they serve. It is therefore very important that we showcase all the great things that colleges do outside of the mainstream thereby highlighting the valuable, civic role the best of us perform and the broader positive impact on their respective communities.
Since becoming CEO of Gateshead College, I have been determined to throw open our doors and engage with as many people as possible. As a major employer, in receipt of public money, I take our civic responsibility seriously. We have a fantastic proposition and wonderful opportunities for so many people; I want as many people to know that we are there for them and can support their lives and their futures.
We at Gateshead College have a clear and well-articulated purpose: to make our students the most highly prized in the jobs market and, as such, help drive economic prosperity. This strategy includes playing a proactive role in the community, being a good partner and neighbour by sharing our fabulous resources, facilities and expertise to benefit communities across Gateshead and the wider North East, whether that’s business, the third sector, schools or community groups.
Such community engagement also helps our students develop the skills that will ultimately also make them better employees and employers. They realise what it means to be socially responsible, recognise the contribution they can make while at the same time building and polishing their practical skills, their self-confidence and ability to work with others.
I make it our business to reach out at every opportunity, to be highly inclusive and ensure my team are enthusiastically supporting this ambition. We are always trying to think of creative ways to integrate student learning with community-based activity so there are meaningful mutual benefits and impact.
For instance, our innovative retail unit and project Handpicked, based in Gateshead Metrocentre, not only helps students to develop skills and potentially launch new products but also supports sole traders to grow and develop their business with advice from our skilled staff.
We see primary school engagement as an important activity – getting involved in coding clubs and robotics to maths refreshers, sports coaching and STEM events – to name but a few examples. Children from one school, Lingey House Primary School, have come into the college to lead our annual Christmas celebrations for many years, bringing us together for a nativity and to join in the carols. In doing so we are not only inspiring the next generation, but also bringing families into the college which gives us an opportunity to engage with their parents who might also see an opportunity to develop their own skills to support their career aspirations.
Elsewhere, our students regularly support Age UK and Contact the Elderly. They host and manage events from the entertainment, music and dance to food and hospitality. Media students undertake film commissions for charities and have long-standing relationships with Show Racism the Red Card, Oasis Community Housing, and Dyslexia North East.
People quickly get to see we are approachable, consistent and more than happy to share our resources and offer the time and experience of skilled staff and students.
Our engagement policy means we are always open to establishing new relationships to deliver a real, positive impact for local people. As an extremely well-connected college with strong links into business, public and voluntary organisations, we are ideally placed to help forge new connections and foster new partnerships to help others.
Staff are genuinely engaged, and this approach is very much part of our culture. Through our ‘One Day to Make A Difference’ scheme, every staff member is encouraged to volunteer for a cause close to their heart. This has seen people supporting local dog shelters, the Old People’s Assembly creating a community garden, litter picking and supporting our local foodbanks and homeless charities.
It is important we celebrate our successes. A college that delivers on its core purpose, motivates its workforce and genuinely engages with its community is a hugely powerful force for good. #LoveOurColleges
Judith Doyle, CEO of Gateshead College