‘Behind every college door lies the stories of the many lives transformed’

Education changes lives and today, to mark the start of Colleges Week 2019, Stoke on Trent College is sharing the inspiring stories of local people who are realising their dreams.

From starting a business at the age of just 25, to overcoming adversity, to changing careers later in life, the college has helped thousands of young people and adult learners in Staffordshire to take control of their future and follow their passion. This week colleges up and down the country are highlighting the positive impact they have on society.

Employment in Stoke-on-Trent is lower than the West Midlands average and around 15% of the local population have no recognised qualifications, which is twice the national rate, according to the Department for Education. Stoke on Trent College has around 10,000 students each year on a huge range of courses – full-time, part-time, apprenticeships, professional qualifications and university-level courses.


It works closely with organisations and employers to create facilities and courses that meet predicted and existing employment needs, and to help local people into rewarding careers. For example, the college works with Jobcentre Plus to help people retrain and find work. It teaches valuable employability skills such as CV writing, interview training and literacy.


The college also works with the Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire LEP to address any gaps between skills supply and employer demand more effectively. Exciting new investments on campus such as the Urban Heat Academy, Creative Industries Hub and Huawei Academy ensure that the college is at the forefront of innovation and is responding to employer needs.


Denise Brown, Principal and Chief Executive at Stoke on Trent College, says: “Each year the college helps thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds to reach their potential, equipping them with the skills and confidence they need to make a difference in their chosen career. Colleges transform lives, shape communities and boost the economy and we are incredibly proud of the amazing things that our learners have, and continue to, achieve.”


Denise adds: “Links with local employers and organisations are crucial to the growth of the region, regeneration and quality of life for local people in Staffordshire. By working together and developing new partnerships we can pool knowledge to ensure that our students learn the skills they need to thrive in the future.”


David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “Colleges Week this year is about celebrating the amazing work colleges do, educating 2.2 million people every year, including more than 600,000 16 to 18-year-olds. Colleges have been neglected in recent years and proper funding for adult education is still urgently needed. This week is about making our voices heard and campaigning with partners to make sure colleges continue to be a serious political, economic and social priority.”


‘Going back to college helped me get back on track after losing mum’

Katie Purcell dropped out of education at 17 to care for her mum, until she sadly passed away. For the next six months Katie felt absolutely lost and struggled to find any motivation.

She says: “After mum died I didn’t know what to do with my life. I wanted to do something, but I had no idea what that would be. I applied for a course in childcare, but my poor mental health meant that I didn’t have the motivation to even face the interview.”

Then Katie heard about the Prince’s Trust Team Programme, a free programme run by Stoke on Trent College to help young people aged 16 to 25 find their way in life. The 12-week programme is designed to enhance job prospects, build confidence and teach key skills like leadership, teamwork and communication.

Katie, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, says: “I was immediately interested as it sounded like it was something completely different, something which could help me get back on my feet. The first week was daunting, the idea of meeting new people, but ended up being really fun.”

As the course progressed, Katie’s confidence grew and she began to feel excited about her future. As part of the programme, she did a two-week placement at Eastwood Day Nursery and absolutely loved it. She says: “I found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Katie now has an apprenticeship at the nursery after she impressed managers during her placement. Earlier this year, the teenager won the Employability Skills Student of the Year award, sponsored by Staffordshire Chambers of Commerce. She says: “I’ve gone from having no confidence, no motivation and no direction, to a full-time apprenticeship in a career that I love.”

Katie was accompanied to the awards ceremony by her grandparents, Audrey and Michael Stanier. Audrey says: “When Katie lost her mum, it hit her hard. We are a very close family and she really struggled. After she joined the college, her confidence grew and she really blossomed. There’s now a lot of laughter at home and we’re so proud of her.”

‘I changed career to follow my heart’

Darren Smith, 28, has always had a calling to work in a career caring for and helping others. He left his office job at an engineering company last year to pursue his dream of becoming a nurse. After studying for two evenings a week on an Access to Health course at Stoke on Trent College, he’s now studying nursing at Bangor University.

Darren, from Madeley, explains: “I’ve always enjoyed working with people in a caring role. When I left school, I went into a career as a nursery nurse and completed early years childcare qualifications. I absolutely loved the job and did it for three years, but I reached a certain point where I needed to earn more money.

“I went for an office job at a local company and worked in a variety of roles there for seven years. But last year, I realised that as much as I liked the people there, as much as I was earning good money, it wasn’t really what I longed to do.”

Darren took the plunge and quit his job to take up a new role at Phoenix Day Opportunities, working with adults with learning disabilities. Alongside that, he enrolled at the college. The evening course he took is designed for adults over 21 who want to go to university but don’t yet have the qualifications they need to get accepted.

Darren says: “There were 15 of us on the course and it was great – we were all there for the same thing, all wanting to change career and all juggling jobs and home life. We supported each other and we got loads of support from our lecturers and tutors too.”

Darren adds: “I can’t believe I’m starting my degree at university! To anyone else out there who is working in a job that isn’t really ‘them’, go to the college. Ask for advice. Go for it, grab the opportunity by both horns.”

‘I achieved my lifelong dream at just 25’ 

Emma Bird achieved her lifelong dream to open her own beauty salon at the age of only 25. The Stoke on Trent College graduate has just opened the doors to her new venture, EB Nail & Beauty Studio, in Cheadle. Customers can choose from a number of pampering treatments, including manicures, pedicures, lash lifts, waxing and facials.

For Emma, it’s the culmination of months of preparation, planning and a few sleepless nights. But she said it was all worth it to get the keys to her first salon.

Emma, from Meir, says: “I’ve always known what I wanted to do, ever since I was a little girl who loved playing with my dolls. Growing up I was always doing my friends’ hair and makeup so there was no doubt what I would study when I left school.”

Emma joined Stoke on Trent College at the age of 16 and studied for a level 2 qualification in Beauty. She loved the course so much that she stayed on to earn her level 3 Make-up and Nail Technician qualifications. She also completed levels 2 and 3 in Hairdressing. The determined teenager worked in a Tesco café to supplement her income while she studied.

Emma says: “I absolutely loved my time at Stoke on Trent College. My teachers were really inspiring and made everything so interesting and engaging. The staff were supportive and gave me the confidence I needed to go for it.”

Emma graduated in 2015 and worked from home for a few years while saving up for her first salon. This year she decided to take the plunge. She says: “I thought if I don’t go for it now, I never will. I’ve always wanted a salon in Cheadle so when a shop came up, I got in touch with the agent to enquire about it. She told me that it had gone already but she had another one which would be available in a few months. I went to see it and it was perfect.”

Emma adds: “Getting the salon up and running has been stressful but it’s been worth it. Everyone has helped out – my husband, sister and brother-in-law have all been lugging things around, painting the salon and helping to get things ready. The training I received at the college really helped to prepare me for starting the business. ”

Appointments are already filling up thanks to Emma’s previous client base who were happy to be the first customers at the salon. Emma says: “It’s a joy to be working in the salon. The thing I love most about my job is the clients. If they’re having a bad day you can pamper them and they leave feeling so much better. My advice to anyone who has a dream is to just go for it – you’ll never know unless you try.”

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