One of the key messages I always take from #CollegesWeek is the important role that colleges play at a local and regional level – as anchor institutions in their local civic infrastructure. We are so important to our individual areas, not only because of the education and training opportunities we offer, but because of the impact we can have on our communities in many other ways. Colleges offer so much more than education and the extraordinary events this year has made that clearer than ever.
As a national college group, NCG is in a fortunate position where our colleges can not only work locally with their key employers, local leaders and within their local communities to make that local impact, but they can amplify that impact through coming together to collaborate, innovate, problem-solve and support each other. That collaboration is such an important part of the work that we do and allows us to have impact on a national scale.
At the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, as colleges across NCG closed their doors and moved to remote teaching and working, I was moved by the two sides of that coin. Firstly in being humbled by the different ways that students and colleagues from each NCG college quickly assembled to support their local communities. But, critically, how colleagues came together nationally to support each other, leverage expertise and share their problems. As I was told more than once, there was never a better time to be part of a national family.
Many of our degree students in Newcastle College University Centre were called up to work in frontline roles at the height of the crisis. Whether they were working in care homes or hospital wards, students provided critical care to the ill and the elderly while working in difficult conditions and under extreme pressure, all while completing their degree studies.
And they weren’t the only NCG students working to make a difference.
Stephanie Ogundolie, an Access to Nursing student at Southwark College, has worked as a Healthcare Assistant at Bupa Meadbank throughout the outbreak. She continued her studies online while juggling her work to support some of our most vulnerable members of society and look after her own family.
"Working at the care home during the coronavirus pandemic has been challenging but also a privilege. I'm pleased to support the residents with the knowledge and skills I've gained in my course at Southwark College – the experience is something I will always remember and take forward into the future."
In Lewisham, our Health and Social Care students were able to complete their work placements during lockdown, working with Lewisham Local to reduce the impact of isolation on vulnerable people in their community. Assisting with food shopping and deliveries, taking the time to call people and help prevent loneliness, students in Lewisham made a real difference in people’s lives at such a critical time.
Deljona Gjomaka, a Health and Social Care student at Lewisham said:
"My work placement was a great experience for me. I was able to help my community with the knowledge and skills I've developed on my course, and gained a thorough understanding of the impacts the lockdown can cause on mental health."
Carlisle College took a slightly different but ambitious approach to reduce the negative impact of Covid-19 on young people and their career prospects, by launching a ‘100 in 100’ project with Carlisle City Council.
Working with the council, strategic partners and local employers, the College aimed to secure 100 apprenticeships for young people, encouraging businesses to take advantage of the government’s incentives for employers taking on new apprentices before the end of January 2021.
This is a fantastic example of a further education college wanting to do as much as they can to support young people and businesses within their community, and despite those challenging economic circumstances, the team at Carlisle exceeded their target and have secured 177 apprenticeships with local employers.
This achievement has not only given 177 young people a brilliant start but has also given businesses valuable employees who can help them to rebuild and recover after this crisis.
Every single one of our colleges responded to the nationwide PPE shortage to donate huge amounts of vital supplies and resources to their local NHS and community health providers. With extensive amounts of PPE readily available across our college’s health and social care training facilities, it was clear that it could be put to better use by organisations on the front line.
I could go on and provide even more examples and individual stories of sacrifice, commitment and social action from across our group. With seven colleges spread out across the country, we are a key part of providing education and skills training to learners, apprentices and employers.
NCG’s mission is to enable social mobility and economic prosperity through the education that we deliver, but by sharing our extensive resource and expertise across all of our colleges, the collective impact that we have across the UK adds up to even more than that.
Separately, all of our colleges work hard to make a real impact on learners and communities in their individual regions. Together, we accomplish real change for young people, communities and economies across the country. That is the real power of a national college group and that is why we back Colleges Week to celebrate the amazing work of our sector.
By Chris Payne, Deputy CEO, NCG