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Unique Culinary Medicine Programme aims to Transform the Nation’s Health

Westminster Kingsway College is at the heart of an ambitious partnership between the culinary industry and healthcare professionals, that seeks to transform the health of thousands of people every year – and which officially launched on Wednesday 26 February, at a star-studded event held at the college’s Victoria Centre.

A host of culinary and clinical luminaries, including Chef Albert Roux OBE; restaurateur, chef and broadcaster Prue Leith CBE; Dr Sophie Park from UCL Medical School; and the crossbench Peer, Lord Bilimoria, came to the college’s Victoria campus – home to its highly-regarded School of Hospitality and Culinary Arts – to celebrate the success of the programme so far and to urge others to adopt it.

The programme, called Culinary Medicine, is a unique partnership between Culinary Medicine UK (a non-profit organisation) and Westminster Kingsway College. The programme teaches doctors and medical students the foundations of nutrition in the context of a patient’s case history, as well as how to cook. By educating medical professionals in this way, clinicians gain a much greater understanding of the vital role that nutrition plays in general health, as well as enabling them to speak to their patients about changes they can make to their diet based on their medical condition – be that obesity, gut health, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.

The programme has been running for the past two years and following a small scale pilot with Bristol University students, has trained over 400 medical students of the UCL Medical School in London. According to Dr Sophie Park (Director of Medical Education at UCL Medical School), the programme is hugely useful. The students, in the 5th year of their studies, have overwhelmingly enjoyed and valued the course, and Culinary Medicine UK hope to get more teaching hospitals and universities on board in the near future.

Westminster Kingsway College provides vital culinary expertise to the programme, as well as the top-quality kitchen facilities that are essential to provide meaningful training to the course’s participants. WestKing Chef Lecturer Vince Kelly tutors the course’s students – many of whom have no previous cooking or nutrition experience – in cooking skills and works with a dietitian and nutritionist on modules covering weight management and portion control, protein and veg diets, and fats.

Gary Hunter, Deputy Principal of Westminster Kingsway College said: “We are delighted to have been the first UK Culinary Medicine Academy and work with the Culinary Medicine programme for the last two years. It has been an inspiration to work with Dr Rupy Aujla and his team to deliver such a unique programme of education and inspiration to the next generation of GPs, Doctors and Chefs. We look forward to continuing this unique partnership, so that the programme can expand and benefit thousands more people across the country.”

The college’s involvement in the programme began when Professor David Foskett – the internationally-renowned hospitality educator and author – connected the college with Dr Rupy Aujla – an NHS GP and the founder of Culinary Medicine UK.  Dr Rupy, who has long been an advocate of better nutrition and its impact on health, had been working with Dr Timothy Harlan and the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine at Tulane University in New Orleans whose Culinary Medicine programme started in 2012.

As Dr Rupy explained: “The UK has been exceptionally slow to adopt this idea. So I decided to use some of the materials from the USA and bring it to the UK and introduce it into a programme with the help of Gary Hunter from the college and Professor Foskett. The programme brings different disciplines together, such as professional chefs, dietitians, and registered nutritionists, and when you get this incredible mixture of specialists, incredible things can happen. I really hope to see Culinary Medicine becoming the standard across all medical schools.”

Elaine Macaninch, a Registered Clinical Dietitian, works for both the NHS (with women who have diabetes in pregnancy) and for Culinary Medicine UK as their Lead Dietitian and Educator. She explained “As health professionals we have an enormous influence over the health of our nation, but research is telling us that, within everyday practice, there are hardly any conversations about food.  That’s a real missed opportunity. For example, diabetes, blood pressure, gut health and general health, there’s so much opportunity for good nutrition to support people’s health and for doctors to have the confidence to have conversations about food with their patients in a way that is sensitive to their background, their culture and their medical condition.

Also at the launch event was the chef, restaurateur and Great British Bake-Off judge Prue Leith. She has followed the Culinary Medicine programme since its launch, is a great advocate of it and has recently been tasked by the Government with overhauling hospital food.  She was very dismissive of the current food offer in many hospitals (where she feels that food is just seen as a drain on budgets, rather a vital input for patients that must be invested in) and wants them to place a much greater priority on the provision of high-quality, delicious and nutritious food, that “really lifts patients’ spirits”.

Lord Bilimoria of Chelsea, is the founder of Cobra Beer and a crossbench Peer in the House of Lords, Lord Bilimoria is also the Patron of Culinary Medicine UK and has been instrumental in raising awareness of the programme among Government departments, as well as securing vital funding for the programme, including from Charles Wilson, the CEO of Tesco’s Booker business. Celebrating the partnerships that have enabled the programme to prosper, he said: “This programme would not be happening without the collaboration between the college, academics, doctors, dietitians, nutritionists – all of us making it happen. This great initiative is going to save lives and make us a healthier country.”

To find out more about the Culinary Medicine Programme, visit the Culinary Medicine UK website.

Sixth Form Student Charlie is Tearing up the London Music Scene

“College was hard for me at the beginning. I ended up repeating my first year as I struggled with mental health issues and chronic pain after a spinal operation. A wave of depression started off my passion for song-writing and in my second year at college I met two of my band mates, who helped me grow tremendously. I left college with a band, a promising music career, great friends and, despite everything, ‘ABC’ in my results.”

At 20, recent sixth-form grad Charlie Raphael-Campbell is already making waves as an independent artist. At the end of 2019 we caught up with the young creative to talk fame and fortune ahead of the release of her debut album.

Charlie doesn’t take breaks. Having self-released an EP entitled “Julian” in 2018, she spent the summer recording an album with her band, “Charles and the Big Boys,” and is currently piecing together another four-track solo record. She says: “The response so far has been really lovely. I have had streams all over the world and have received messages from strangers on Instagram about how much they love it. It means so much to me that my art is received with love around the planet. The leading single, ‘Lemon Moon’, was even played on the radio!”

Music has been integral to Charlie’s life since day one. From writing “little poems” and putting them to music on a toy keyboard at five, the singer-songwriter tells of the cathartic experience of producing music into the present.

“I cannot think about an alternative to music. It’s what makes my life enjoyable. If I wasn’t doing that I wouldn’t be me.”

In 2014, Charlie told the Islington Gazette that her life was “turned upside down” by scoliosis, curvature of the spine often associated with chronic pain and other medical complications. Scoliosis affects between 2-3% of the population and has a number of causes. Surgery can be offered in some cases, but presents its own risks.

Charlie is now looking for ways to collaborate with the national charity Scoliosis Awareness UK to help steer the conversation on scoliosis.

“College was hard for me at the beginning,” she explains. “I ended up repeating my first year as I struggled with mental health issues and chronic pain after a spinal operation.

“I missed a lot of classes due to personal issues and changed my courses entirely. I ended up studying Film, History of Art and Fine Art. My second year was really fun. I left college with a band, a promising music career, great friends and, despite everything, an ABC in my results.”

Her current collective, she says, “sounds like Arctic Monkeys had a kid with Nirvana and their grandparents were David Bowie and The Blues.” She describes her solo work as “very indie-alternative… with a sprinkle of Radiohead and Courtney Barnett.”

“I feel like my music grows with me. It’s influenced by the people I see, the world around me, my vivid dreams and experiences. A wave of depression started off my passion for song-writing and my personal growth from there kept it going.”

“It’s important to have something positive to channel my feelings into,” she wraps up. Over the years, Charlie has made a clear impact on the community through her work, using the platform to give air-time to good causes.

Back in August she appeared in The Guardian, offering support for the threatened Tileyard Impact inner-city music education project.

Tileyard Impact “borrows space from other recording, dance and fashion studios to train young people, many from deprived communities, in all aspects of the music industry.”

Charlie told The Guardian: “It would be nice to bring stability to the course, to give the project its own home, because when you do it you go all over the place to get trained up on different aspects of music production,” she said.

At present, the young singer-songwriter is preparing for an upcoming concert in London on 7 March at the Amersham Arms.

You can purchase tickets at

Helping Young Students Be Career Ready

Career Ready are a charity that offers a combination of group activities and employer engagement opportunities to prepare young people for the world of work. CONEL have worked with Career Ready for seven years, offering students who successfully apply for the programme a mentor who works in the sector they are interested in. The mentors work for household names including Lloyds Banking Group, Santander Bank, HMRC, Pertemps Recruitment, Kaplan Financial and HM Treasury.

Emily, David and Rodjin are second year Level 3 Business Extended Diploma students who achieved top Distinction star grades. They have loved their time at CONEL studying business and reaping the benefits of the Career Ready programme. Here is what the three of them thought about the CONEL and the Career Ready programme so far:

Transforming the Story Garden

With Westminster Kingsway College’s help, a desolate patch of wasteland in the heart of London has been transformed into a vital and beautiful space for the whole community. In the process, more than 150 young college students have gained invaluable work experience working on the site.

The 1-acre site, between the British Library and The Francis Crick Institute to its north, was derelict, unused and unloved until The British Library (the site’s owners) and the developers Stanhope worked with the charity Global Generation (a charity that specialises in ecological education and urban food growing as a foundation for connecting people to nature) to plan a temporary urban community garden, while The British Library consults on its longer-term redevelopment of the site.

The garden is somewhere for people to come and plant and cook together; a space for people and the natural world. The garden has growing space in planters, an orchard, a community kitchen and office in converted containers, a supported community allotment, a straw bale roundhouse and a MAKE space (in partnership with UAL Central St Martins and Somers Town Community Association). The garden enables both Global Generation and teams from the British Library to deliver projects for the local community of Somers Town.

Kim Caplin, Westminster Kingsway College Principal, explains: “Our involvement in this fantastic project started when Georgia Jacob from the University of the Arts London contacted me to see how the college could support the garden’s creation. The college is always looking for real work opportunities for our students and this provides an amazing opportunity for students to demonstrate the skills they have learnt on their courses. We are delighted to be able to participate in such a worthwhile community project.”

It became apparent that a lot of work was needed to get the Story Garden fit for use by the public, including new paths; fully plumbed-in sinks, both inside and outside; lights and other electrical installations.

Enter Dean Gibson, the Programme Manager for our Plumbing, Electrical Installation and Construction courses for 14-19 year olds. He decided to harness the skills of his Construction Skills Level 1 students to help get the Story Garden up and running for the local community.

Around 150 young people are on the college’s Construction Skills courses and Dean and his staff put the students into teams, each with specific skills. For example there were construction teams (painters, carpenters and bricklayers) and teams of plumbers and electricians. The work that was carried out included: ground work (paving and concreting), plumbing appliances into the toilet areas, painting rooms, sanding and varnishing floors, and fixing fence panels.

Each team of students did a two-week rotation at the site, which is just a 15-minute walk from the college’s King’s Cross campus, where they usually study.  And, just like on any other building site, the construction team did their two week rotation first, and only when their work was complete, could the other student teams like plumbers, electricians, and painters and decorators, do their work.

Westminster Kingsway student laying a path

The college was careful to ensure that the students got the maximum benefit from their time on-site, with the minimum possible disruption to their studies. As Dean explained: “We made sure that each team’s two weeks of work experience fitted into the timetabled practical elements of their course, so they could do their work experience around their usual studies. It’s been great for the students to be able to use the skills that we’ve been teaching them, in a real practical situation, and to benefit local people.”

The college’s work is now complete and the Story Garden is ready for use. As Kim Caplin says: “The result is a beautiful garden that everyone can enjoy. The students and Dean’s team have done a wonderful job and I know they learned a lot in the process, as well as gaining really useful work experience.”

To find out more about the Story Garden, please visit their website.

Do you have what it takes to be our new Executive Principal?

We are one of the UK’s largest college groups with 37,000 students and a turnover of £113m, and we’re looking for an Executive Principal, to establish a culture of high aspiration, outstanding pedagogy and exceptional learner experience across our group.
To be the successful candidate, you’ll be an inspiring leader both internally and externally, as you will need to enhance our reach, reputation and influence, create an innovative curriculum, lead outstanding performance and build relationships for successful growth.
You will also have a proven track record of impact on student performance and student experience in a relevant education and training environment, while leading large-scale, successful change and innovation.
The closing date for application is 9am on Thursday 5 March 2020.

International Adventurer Levison Wood Visits CONEL

Six-time best-selling author Levison Wood visited the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) on Wednesday 5 February to deliver a talk about his experiences in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

Organised as part of the national Reading Ahead Initiative, and with the help of the Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation, Levison talked a full lecture theatre through his journey from schoolboy to soldier and entrepreneur to explorer.

The Wilbur and Niso Smith Foundation is a charitable organisation, providing opportunities for young writers and the advancement of the adventure writing genre.

The nationwide Reading Ahead challenge (formerly Six Book Challenge) run by the Reading Agency is designed to encourage adults and young people to read a variety of literature. This is the seventh year that the college has run the challenge and this year, students from all different curriculum areas participated.

The explorer and writer recently signed a two-book deal with publishers Hodder, the first due for release this spring.

“I was always interested in the idea of exploring ‘because it’s there’ – not having to explain yourself but just going,” he told an audience of staff and students. “At 19, my dad took me to a painting exhibition by David Shepherd, who used to paint elephants. I was amazed that somebody would pay for him to travel around the world and paint elephants.

“The next day a careers advisor came to my school and gave me a psychometric employment test. I was told I should be a librarian! So I went to the library and started reading and it just so happened that all my favourite stories were the biographies of explorers – Amelia Earhart, Lawrence of Arabia, etc.”

Levison has brought his story full-circle, now working closely with non-profit organisation Tusk to aid in the conservation efforts of elephants, promoting awareness through talks about his time spent on Safari in Africa.

The author of ‘Walking the Nile’, ‘Walking the Himalayas’ and ‘An Arabian Journey’ told how travel to Thailand, Australia and India had inspired his decision to join the army, seeking the same military experience that united his heroes.

“I took £500 after university and decided to travel to India, hitchhiking and walking. What travelling on foot – rather than by plane or car – forces you to do is interact with people. You’re invited into homes, or in for a cup of tea, and you get to know a bit more about that culture. It reminded me of the goodness of humanity. You see a lot of places in the news that are remembered for the wrong reasons. But it was that sense of hospitality that really stuck with me.”

Experience in the army would lead Levison to carve out a career working in dangerous places, offering unique experiences to western holiday-makers, like skiing in the Kashmir.

Eventually, he would get attention from filmmakers looking to capture the unseen side of warzones. Most recently, Levison has appeared on film in ‘Arabia with Levison Wood’ (2019); ‘From Russia to Iran: Crossing Wild Frontier’ (2017); and ‘Walking the Americas’ (2017).

Students and staff were finally invited to ask their questions about the author’s career, picking up on training regimes and overcoming obstacles.

“When I’m out on an expedition, whenever I’m feeling low or out in the middle of a desert thinking ‘what on earth am I doing here?’ I just remind myself how lucky and privileged I am to be able to do this for a job,” he told us. “Because the alternative is a real job. My main driver is the fact that I’m doing something that people often dream of doing but don’t get the chance to do.”

Levison concluded his talk with a simple message, urging students to go out and “above all, read books!”

‘The Last Giants’ is available for pre-order on Amazon here and is due for release on 2 April 2020.

Learning for a Future that does not Cost the Earth: our Climate Change and Power Themed Learning Week

On 10 February, students and staff from the five City and Islington College centres came together for the launch of this year’s Themed Learning Week. The event, which has run at the college for the last six years, aims to unite different college faculties around an academic or political idea central to our life and times. This year, students tackled the ever-relevant issue of ‘Climate Change and Power’.

The multidisciplinary event crossed over with the Tate Modern’s Tate Exchange programme and hosted guest speakers including Leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, John McDonnell, and Campaigns Coordinator for Campaign against Climate Change, Claire James.

Kicking off on Monday morning, the launch, which took place at the Centre for Lifelong Learning in Finsbury Park, saw poetry recitals by students of the Centre for Business, Arts and Technology, as well as an emotive interpretive dance routine by students Joanna and Allana. The latter featured the experiences of the Rwandan genocide recounted verbatim to Joanna by her mother, who endured its brutality 26 years ago.

Event organiser Sean Vernell spoke at the launch of the inception of the Themed Learning Week, saying: “A few of us teachers got together and thought ‘what can we do just for one week of the year where we all get together and act collaboratively and see if we can teach an interesting thing?”

Mr Vernell continued, adding that staff are “now more confident to teach these issues and integrate into their teaching.” As well as raising general awareness, the Themed Learning Week allowed staff to share resources on the college’s VLE, headed ‘Learning for a future that does not cost the earth.’

ESOL student Tsjang Fei Liu was awarded for winning the library’s writing competition, which asked students to contribute their experiences and reflections on climate change and society
ESOL student Tsjang Fei Liu was awarded for winning the library’s writing competition
Performing Arts students with John McDonnell (centre) and teacher Tim Chaundy (right)
Performing Arts students with John McDonnell (centre) and teacher Tim Chaundy (right)

With the support of education publication TES and the University and College Union (UCU), the event is recognised today by over 100 schools, colleges and universities, who also participated in their own projects throughout the week.

Mr Vernell was happy to see the event grow within City and Islington College’s borders, reporting that the newly-involved Maths department had brought with them “fantastic teaching resources” and praising the efforts of staff to integrate themes into classes.

The college also welcomed support from the Centre for Health Social and Childcare, who ran initiatives to promote use of public transport and walking throughout the week.

Capital City College Group CEO Roy O’Shaughnessy attended the launch and used the opportunity to motivate students to work together on tackling global issues: “The challenge today is to take the greatness within each of us and combine that to find a way to move forward with purpose. As we think about climate change and power today, we have to ask: what action is enough?”

John McDonnell continued the thought, speaking frankly about the perils of ignoring the climate change conversation. He said: “To people who deny climate change, I say, ‘that’s fair enough, that’s up to you, but I don’t want to take that risk’. It is better therefore to ensure that we take the actions now that could possibly protect us in the future.”

Mr McDonnell went on to stress the importance of the upcoming COP 26 summit in Glasgow this November. The talks will aim to deliver “meaningful” emissions reductions in all areas of the economy, with The Economist reporting that as many as 200 world leaders are expected to attend. He suggested that it was the role of citizens to pressure the government to embrace change, following the success of phenomena like Greta Thunberg’s Skolstrejk för klimatet (School Strike for the Climate).

“Our role as individuals is to convince them that they need to act alongside us, not on our behalf. We need to make sure that when those world leaders come together they make the right decisions and sign up to an agreement and then they go back and implement it.

“Up until now we’ve allowed politicians to go away and have these discussions and, to be frank, it hasn’t really delivered that much. The way in which our economic systems and our political systems are made undermine our ability to tackle climate change, so this meeting in Glasgow is key to saying ‘we need systemic change’. The way in which we change the system is to make sure that we don’t just leave it to politicians, but actually we all participate in solving the problem.”

Around London, other City and Islington College sites supported the mission with their own initiatives; the Sixth Form Centre in Angel hosted talks by young environmental activists including SFC alumni Ummi Hoque and Yusif Ibrahim (both My World My Home), and GCSE student Elijah McKenzie-Jackson (UK Student Climate Network). The centre also ran a number of competitions and educational talks on reducing food waste and environmental impact.

A Thrift Sale in aid of Oxfam further aimed to “combat fast fashion” and “put the money towards climate poverty”. Earlier this year, Sixth Former Maria Silva made headlines when she exhibited her work at the London Fashion Week, developing a sustainable wardrobe that challenged the fashion industry’s “contribution to pollution”.

Throughout the week, Centre for Business, Arts and Technology students presented their work at the annual Tate Exchange exhibition in Southwark. The programme allowed students of all levels to make a statement in a shared space at the Tate Modern, with topics ranging from The Power of Freedom to the imbalance of power in relationships, the nature of online debate and ‘What Empowers You?’ 

Over 100 Performing Arts, Music, Art and Design, and Fashion students (and their teachers) worked hard to share their art with the public, during the college’s three-day residency in the Tate’s Blavatnik Building. Students created and staffed artistic installations, ran workshops, told powerful and intensely personal stories, danced, played great music, acted, and provoked the public, to think about power in its many forms.

As Kevin Hope, Lecturer in Visual Arts, explained, the college’s relationship with Tate Exchange dates back to before the Blavatnik Building had been completed in June 2016. In fact, Kevin was able to go inside the building shortly after construction finished. The students were great ambassadors for the college and their courses, and engaged with the public who visited the gallery in their hundreds to find out more about the students’ work and engage with them and their art.

On Wednesday, City and Islington College hosted a Question Time Climate Challenge debate, featuring panellists from Arsenal football club, Islington Council, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU), and the college.

Thursday saw the spotlight fall on the Camden Road’s Centre for Business, Arts and Technology, where students put on an unforgettable show for staff, fellow students, Chief Executive Roy O’Shaughnessy and special guest, Labour Leader and Islington North MP, Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Corbyn, who has been coming to the campus regularly since 1975, watched performances from the college’s talented performing arts students, all with the themes of climate change or power. In a speech to the students after the performances, Mr Corbyn said that, unless the UK changes its ways, “we will not meet our target of net carbon zero emissions until 2099.” He urged the audience to “be out there, demand, demonstrate … and force companies, government and councils to change their ways.”

Students painting portraits of each other
Students painting portraits of each other
Jeremy Corbyn addresses students
Jeremy Corbyn addresses our students

Mr Corbyn was very popular with the students and staff and posed for selfies and photos after his speech.

Afterwards, Mr Corbyn also had the time to take in an exhibition of photographs and essays by staff and GCSE English students, called Utopias or Dystopias – Voices from the Future. Some of the students’ essays imagine a bleak dystopian future where climate change has spiralled out of control; while others are more hopeful and describe a world where humans and nature live in harmony.

The week successfully brought together the college’s five distinct centres to think about tackling the main issues of a generation. With the Themed Learning Week now a national phenomena, City and Islington College students can be proud to have sparked an invaluable conversation around not only climate and power, but on how much can be achieved through collaboration and education.

Sean Vernell has also written an article about the Themed Learning Week for Tes, the leading education magazine, here.

‘Looking beyond’ the traditional view of apprenticeships

The annual National Apprenticeships Week #NAW2020 (a week-long celebration of apprenticeships across England) ran from Monday 3 to Friday 7 February. The theme of this year’s Week was ‘Look beyond’ – encouraging people to look beyond the traditional stereotypes around apprenticeships.

What is an apprenticeship?

It’s a real job, with hands-on experience, a salary and the chance to train while you work. If you’re an apprentice, just like in any other job, you work for, and are paid by, the organisation that employs you. You’ll have a contract of employment and get holiday leave too, but the difference is that you do training or learning (typically at a college, university or another training provider) for at least 20% of each week.

Apprenticeships are for everyone, not just young people or those in blue-collar jobs. Look beyond the old stereotype that apprentices are all teenage brickies or car mechanics – you can be an apprentice at any age or educational level (example: the Group’s Director of Marketing has years of experience and she’s recently started a high-level apprenticeship!) Hundreds of different types of apprenticeships are available, in a wide range of industries and organisations, from small local organisations to large national brands. Your training is funded by contributions from the government and your employer, and you get paid a regular salary.  What’s not to like?

As one of London’s leading apprenticeship providers, delivering over 1,250 apprenticeships in 2019, we were at a range of events across our colleges and London, to promote apprenticeships and to inspire Londoners of all ages to find out more about apprenticeships.

On Monday 3 February, current and prospective students at the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London (CONEL) were invited to learn more about the Group’s impressive apprenticeship training provision. Around forty students asked staff from the Group’s training arm (Capital City College Training) about apprenticeships at the CONEL’s Tottenham Centre. For many completing their Level 2 course in summer, a Level 3 apprenticeship will be the perfect next step towards a fulfilling career in plumbing, IT or construction. Overlapping with Monday’s open evening, the stand also gave prospective CONEL students a taste of the diversity of experience on offer at the college.

The NHS are key partners of the Group and we’re currently providing training to over 200 NHS apprentices in non-clinical roles including Business Administration, Pharmacy, Project Management, Team leading, Healthcare Support Worker, Customer Service and Accounting. So, also on Monday, we visited Ealing Hospital, to chat to staff members there about our range of apprenticeships opportunities for them.

On Tuesday 4 February, Lloyds Bank visited City and Islington College’s sixth form college with ex-student and apprentice Francisco, to talk about the apprenticeship programme in the bank’s Audit Department.

Staff from Capital City College Training (CCCT) also went to events at Northwick Park Hospital in Harrow and Chelsea and Westminster NHS Trust’s West Middlesex Hospital, where they spoke to people interested in apprenticeships in Business Administration, Team Leading, Project Management and Pharmacy.

Wednesday saw us at City and Islington College’s Centre for Business, Arts and Technology (CBAT) campus on the Camden Road, where students turned out for an apprenticeship fair supported by local businesses. As well as networking opportunities and the chance to talk to staff from Capital City College Training, students met representatives of the London Fire Brigade, White Hat, the Association of Accounting Technicians, Islington Giving and Park Theatre.

Patricia, a City and Islington student, told us: “I think apprenticeships are really useful for a lot of students. Different people have different needs; some people may go to university and some might do apprenticeships or go into work. I think these kinds of events are really important for them to know better their options and the different routes they can take.”

We were also at Westminster Kingsway College’s King’s Cross campus, where we welcomed apprenticeship providers and employers including White Hat, BT, Goldman Sachs, Willmott Dixon, BDO and others, to another Apprenticeships Fair. At the Fair, students and Camden secondary school pupils had the opportunity to talk to all these employers about their apprenticeship programmes.

The Fair also included an interactive panel session, with five apprentices from amazing companies in a range of industries. The apprentices (Harvey Baker from law firm Herbert Smith Freehills; Keanu Brouard from VFX experts DNEG; Andrico Zacharia from the global finance firm Goldman Sachs; Harvey Morton from the media communications agency Starcom; and Sofija Venckute from BT, the global telecommunications and broadcasting company) told the student audience about their experiences and shared some nuggets of wisdom on how to handle interviews and assessment centres. Advice ranged from “Look smart and get there early” to “Know the company: be prepared and practice beforehand” and “Smile. It relaxes you and you perform better”.

We ended the week with a bang on Friday, with events at Camden Council, CONEL’s Tottenham site, and a joint Bectu (the Broadcasting, Entertainment, Communications and Theatre Union) and Westminster Kingsway College Creative Industries Apprenticeships Fair at the colleges’ King’s Cross campus.

Not to be left out, apprentices from Accenture (the multinational professional services company) visited City and Islington’s sixth form college on Friday, to help our Computer Science A level students consider their next steps after college.  Accenture run a Technology Degree Apprenticeship programme, so maybe some of our A level students will ‘look beyond’ the traditional A levels-to-university path and choose that – or another degree apprenticeship – instead?

An image of an Accenture Apprentices Tweet

And finally, Friday also saw us on national television, as the BBC’s Alice Baxter interviewed CONEL’s Curriculum Manager for Construction, Paul Oatham, at a BAM Construction building site in Birmingham, for a piece shown on the BBC News Channel on National Apprenticeship Week.

CONEL Curriculum Manager Paul Oatham being interviewed on BBC TV

National Apprenticeship Week has been a great opportunity to celebrate apprenticeships and raise awareness of this – still misunderstood – career path, but we’re providing apprenticeships all 52 weeks of the year. To find out more about our work and to see the latest apprentice job vacancies, head over to the Capital City College Training website

Catching up with Labour Councillor and CANDI alum, Gulcin Ozdemir

Gulcin Ozdemir is the new, optimistic face of Labour in Islington, having being appointed as Councillor for St George’s Ward at the end of last year. A champion of education and early intervention programmes, the City and Islington College alumn spoke in January about politics, identity and the role of Further Education.

Born to Kurdish immigrants, Gulcin talks proudly of her heritage, but finds it a complex topic: “Growing up as a Kurd in London was really difficult. People would ask me what a Kurd was and I would struggle to answer that question. I did not really know what my identity meant – why we did not have a formal identity, why people did not know who we were.

“I grew up like my parents, who migrated from Turkey; they were proud of who they were. I learnt about the injustices against Kurds and grew up in an automatically political home.”

The Islington native started her political career when campaigning to save the Whittington Hospital where she was born. Today, she lists her priorities as establishing a safe community and providing affordable housing on the former Holloway Prison site.

“I think the main thing for anyone considering politics is to find something that makes you feel passionate and focus on that. Find a campaign or an injustice that means something to you and get engaged with your community. Support a party or don’t – but either way I think it’s important to realise how you can affect the things you care about through politics.

“I went to secondary school in Camden and studied Citizenship. My teacher was very enthusiastic; he taught Politics at A Level, too. He told us that politics was everything, that everything was ultimately political and that by learning about it we could do something about it. It was an important moment. All of us from that class went on to study Politics at A Level.”

But life took a new direction with the birth of Gulcin’s daughter. Gulcin always intended to return to college eventually, but says she struggled to find balance between work commitments and a new addition to the family.

“There was a point where I thought I would have to choose between college and a job, but it was the support of my teachers at the Centre for Lifelong Learning that helped me to keep my job and carry on with the course.

“I retook my Maths GCSE first. It was done as evening classes, which made it a lot easier to balance. I was already at college and still wanted to study politics at university at the time. It made sense to stay on and complete my Access course there.

“I had a really good time. A lot was down to the friends I made, but also the teachers went above and beyond teaching the course. I received a lot of additional support through my History teacher, Saffia, who is still at the college. I was struggling and she helped me access additional learning services, which helped me with deadlines and let me sit down and talk to somebody. Having a careers advisor who can provide not only career advice but offer personal advice as well I also think is vital.”

For Gulcin, this is the sentiment she wants to try to foster in the broader Islington community.

“Having that opportunity to try again helped me to realise that it was the circumstances at the time that had got in the way – not my ability. Being able to return to education was really one of the best decisions that I have made.

But not everybody has the same privileges, she says. “Young adults going into Further Education face so many factors affecting whether or not they can access education such as rent and the cost of living. I know from experience that university isn’t for everyone and things like debt may be an obstacle for a lot of people. But for people coming from working class backgrounds, it’s so important to have these additional support services to help with the cost of study.”

Gulcin feels for those who are unable to access such opportunities. For many, a full-time education may appear unviable due to financial concerns. A recent report by Islington Council found that nearly 35% of the borough’s children are living in poverty and that 33.6% of secondary school students are eligible for free school meals – much higher than the 13.2% national average.

“I remember what it was like to be a young person lost in Islington and thinking ‘what am I going to do?’ I think that’s when people who are a bit older have a responsibility to share their experience and to provide that advice and encouragement for different paths. Many people in Islington do not have that. They may not know people in different positions in life. They should still have access to them. Young people need mentors and role models.”

Gulcin’s first-hand experience of the borough’s troubles motivates her words. She talks about direct experiences of knife-crime and violence in Islington and surrounding boroughs. “It starts with the mentality of the individual,” she says, and places education at the centre of tackling that.

“Early intervention is key to avoiding the same cycles. It’s the small changes, like teaching children that if you accept money from a stranger, it often comes with the expectation that you will commit a crime for them. Local schemes are finding that young people are also starting to open up about other problems that are going on when you start that conversation. So I think there is value to starting in primary school and then continuing with this as they grow up. Throughout their life, people will come across a lot of different challenges. Knife-crime doesn’t discriminate, and all young people should have a space to talk about it and learn how to keep safe from it.”

Tracking back, the councillor talks about the role of community identity in helping to build a safer Islington. We talk about political apathy and the new wave of young voters turning out at the polling stations. “Engagement,” she says, “is important and I don’t think that’s going to be an easy task. It’s that community spirit I want to see again. It’s about building trust with police and councillors and creating a dialogue with young people. To make people care, it’s about having people everywhere – not just teachers – who are dedicated to community engagement.

“In my experience City and Islington College did a good job of that.

“On the other hand, we as councillors have to be as accessible to everyone as possible – that people can have a say in the issues that matter to them in the community. It has to come from the grassroots. We have to build that bridge.”

Ahead of National Apprenticeship Week, Gulcin rounds off with a look at the issue of non-traditional routes into work. At the end of last year, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn pledged to create 320,000 green apprenticeships as part of a larger apprenticeship reform.

“I think the current system makes it really hard for people who want to do apprenticeships and who want to do more vocational courses to go to university. Vocational courses don’t receive enough investment.”

Many looking at careers still find themselves in need of a university degree, despite the fact that 31% of graduates are reported overqualified for a graduate role. An apprenticeship offers an alternative way of gaining experience on over 400 unique courses, but some universities still prefer traditional A Levels.

“It’s a problem because not everybody wants to follow that one path towards university. If that isn’t valued, then the people who are doing them aren’t going to receive what they need to in terms of being employable.”

Gulcin ends the conversation on a reflective note. A piece of advice for 16 year olds starting their way in life? “Prepare for the disappointments.

“Just know that it is not the be all and end all of everything. I wish I knew that a lot of it is down to my perspective. A lot of the disappointments in life were stepping stones, not failure. When you are young it often seems like ‘this is it’, ‘everything is over’ – I wish I was just a little bit kinder to myself. I wouldn’t change anything though.

“Even though we lost the General Election, what came out of that movement was that a lot of young people cared about politics for the first time because there was something on offer that was directly going to affect their future for better or for worse. And that’s a win. So I wouldn’t change anything.”

CONEL Holds Inspiring (and Musical) Maths and English Fortnight

Proficiency in Maths and English is vital for anyone who wants good qualifications or paid employment. For example, to take A Levels or go to university, you’ll almost certainly need GCSEs in Maths and English. And it’s a requirement for getting practically any job too.

At the College of Haringey, Enfield and North East London, we run an annual Maths and English Fortnight where we focus on these key subjects and give learners opportunities to explore them beyond their usual curriculum and acquire new skills. This year’s fortnight ran from 13-24 January 2020 and during it, our Enrichment team held a number of workshops for students.

During an English creative writing session our students got an insight into what creative writing is and how to develop their own creative writing skills. Based on an English language paper that was relevant to their classes, the session encouraged learners to explore their creativity and broke-down step-by-step how to write a story. The students used objects and pictures to tap into their imagination and worked in groups to form ideas.

The maths workshop aimed to teach students the subject through the use of African art and music. The session gave students a different perspective on maths and how they can solve problems by using drums and images to count and create memory prompts for maths methods. The students were very active during the lesson and were encouraged by their tutor throughout.

Organiser and Learner Engagement Officer, Louise Webber, said: “The students were really engaged in all the sessions.

“Maths and English are both such vital skills in day to day life as well as being a requirement when applying for most jobs. During Maths and English fortnight we aim to help our learners develop new skills that they can use throughout the year as they aim to get their qualifications in the summer.”

The Benefits of Having Maths and English Skills

Having a strong grounding in Maths and English is vital for young people in today’s job market. These subjects act as basic filters for employers. Here are four reasons why Maths and English are so important:

  1. Further Study Opportunities
    Many further education and university courses require a good level of Maths and English – regardless of the subject. Typically, Level 2 is the minimum required. Level 2 is equivalent to GCSE grade 4 or higher (old grading system A*-C). 
  2. Employment Opportunities
    Employers want applied and practical maths skills including approximation, mental arithmetic, capability with visual data, a solid grasp of units of measurement, the ability to check their own calculations and simple problem-solving. A major survey of skill levels among adults in work found that, for employers, English skills are of greatest concern, in particular communication skills (listening and speaking) such as good writing, spelling, grammar and vocabulary could be improved.
  3. Income
    Employees who achieve good GCSE grades are likely to be earning at least £2,000 per year more than those who do not. 
  4. Health
    There is even evidence to suggest that people with higher skills in Maths and English have a longer life expectancy.

So, with good English and Maths skills, you can access Higher Education, gain rewarding employment, earn more and potentially live a longer life.

Queen's Award for Enterprise