Activate Alumni Case Studies

Find out what our students have been doing since they studied at an Activate Learning College.

What are they up to now?

Many of our alumni have gone on to do amazing things and we are proud to showcase their remarkable journeys. It’s a testament to the transformative power of education that these inspiring individuals have carved their paths to success. 

Join us as we celebrate their achievements, draw inspiration from their experiences, and discover the boundless possibilities that await those who have studied at Activate Learning. 

Want to share your story? We would love to hear from you too! Please get in touch via alumni@activatelearning.ac.uk 

Abbie Trussler Projects Coordinator for No5 Young People

Life at Reading College

Abbie Trussler completed her Media Level 3 Extended Diploma at Reading College, part of Activate Learning, in 2018. She is now a Projects Coordinator for No5 Young People, a Reading-based mental health charity. 

“College was a great experience and was quite different compared to secondary school. We were treated like adults, and I got to be in a room of like-minded people and have hands-on, practical experience,” she said. 

 

Life after college

Abbie shared what her role at No5 Young People consists of, and how she has managed to transfer the skills she gained at Reading College. 

“Part of my role is communications and marketing and I get to use my skills learnt in college, creating video content for campaigns, workshops, social media and our training course,” she said. 

“One of my most recent projects was a video launching the campaign for Reading Young People’s Hub. I got the opportunity to interview young people from all over the area, to make sure their voices are heard. 

“It is incredible to be able to provide this platform from the skills I learnt at Reading College.” 

 

Transferrable skills

Alongside her full-time career, Abbie has found a way to use her creativity and the skills learnt from college, by setting up her own business in another area she is passionate about. 

She said: “I also run a small business on Etsy, Abbie’s Attic Designs, where I sell crochet gifts, home décor and accessories. 

“I do all my own marketing for my shop as well. Most of my sales have come through social media, particularly my video content, which shows how valuable the skills I learnt at college have been, even in my own projects!” 

 

What inspires you

Abbie shares what inspired her to pursue this career path, and what drives her passion in her everyday work. 

“A mix of the friends I made at college and the experience I had at No5 as a teenager inspired me into my current career and taught me to always stay true to who I am and follow my passions. 

“I am also very proud of being able to use my skills to help improve young people's mental health and the profile of such an important charity,” she added. 

 

Advice for college leavers

Abbie shared some words of wisdom for college leavers as they take their next steps. 

“You don’t have to have it all worked out now. Very few people know exactly what they want to do after college. 

“Just follow your passions and embrace new opportunities. Sometimes the perfect thing you couldn’t have imagined will come up just for you!” 

Andrew Haydon Practice Educator for Oncology

Life at Reading College

Andrew Haydon studied Access to HE: Nursing at Reading College from 2014 to 2015. He now works for the Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust as a Practice Educator for Oncology, after achieving a first-class degree in Adult Nursing at the University of West London. 

Andrew said:College set me up really well for university, giving me the study skills that I didn't have. 

“The way the course is interlinked with your first year at university means you have a great foundation for when you start your degree. I felt like I was already ahead when I started university. 

“I left school at 16 with below average GCSEs, then trained as a golf professional and took a more practical route. So, to go back to studying was challenging as I had been out of education for 16 years.” 

 

Coming back to Education

Andrew shared his experience of returning to education later in life, and what led him down this unexpected path. 

“I'd never written an assignment with references or a bibliography or anything like that, so I had to learn a lot of new academic skills and life skills, which was daunting. 

“My wife was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer in the November of 2011. We also lost her mum in 2012 to lung cancer. 

“It was when my wife was going through treatment that I first felt the desire to become a nurse, as I wanted to learn how to better support her and others in similar situations. 

“She then encouraged me to go to college, and the support I received from the teaching staff helped me overcome my doubts about returning to education,” Andrew added. 

 

Life since college

Since attending Reading College, Andrew secured a place at the University of West London and achieved a first-class degree in Adult Nursing. 

“I qualified in 2018 and started working in A&E. Then I got a promotion and went to be a senior nurse in respiratory throughout the second wave of COVID,” Andrew said. 

“Now I look after education within Oncology. My title is Practice Educator and I look after all the educational needs of all the nurses and care support workers and support staff across the whole of Oncology. 

“I'm also doing a PGCert in healthcare education at the University of Reading, to develop my teaching knowledge and skills.” 

 

Proudest achievement

Andrew’s proudest achievement is completing his Access to HE course and degree with a young family and making the best out of a bad situation. 

“You'll never have a positive experience out of having a cancer diagnosis, but strangely, lots of positive things have come out of it, like me getting my degree and becoming a nurse,” Andrew said. 

“I think many adult learners tend to have a personal connection or an experience in the area that they want to study, and that gives them a greater drive and motivation to succeed.” 

 

Advice for changing career paths later in life

Andrew had some words of wisdom to share with others who want to go back to education later in life to change their career path. 

“Take the opportunity with both hands. Understand that it’ll be challenging but that the end goal is 100% worth it,” said Andrew. 

“My advice would be to fully immerse yourself in college life and university life. Test your boundaries and push yourself well outside your comfort zone, because it’ll teach you valuable skills for life and your career.” 

Anna Lumsden Freelance hair and make-up artist

Life at Guildford College

Anna Lumsden completed her Hair and Media Make-up Level 3 Extended Diploma at Guildford College in 2017. She now works as a freelance hair and make-up artist. 

“I loved my time at Guildford College. I made friends for life, learnt so much, and took part in many opportunities, such as national make-up competitions and lots of work experiences,” said Anna. 

“My time at Guildford College helped me build a solid foundation for my career, gain more confidence, and discover what I’m capable of. 

“I will always be grateful for my time there, especially the support of my course tutor Jaceyann Smith. She believed in me and always supported and pushed me to be the best I could be.” 

 

Favourite memory from college

“One of my favourite memories from my time at Guildford College was winning gold at the national final of the World Skills competition.” Anna shared. 

“I had worked so hard and put everything into my preparation. It was an amazing experience, and I learnt many valuable skills, including working under pressure and with a time limit. 

“These are skills I still use every day in my professional career. It meant so much to me to win, as it made me realise what I was capable of and pushed me to follow my passion and believe in myself.” 

 

Life after college

After college, Anna went on to study at London College of Fashion: UAL, and now works as a freelance hair and makeup artist across the UK and internationally.  

She said: “I’ve worked in a range of different areas of the industry, including: fashion, editorial, TV, music, beauty and commercial. I’ve worked for some major brands and companies, and had my work published on the cover of multiple magazines. 

“I love my job and still have the same passion and excitement for the industry that I did when I first started at Guildford College. I’m very lucky to do what I love for work, as it never really feels like work.” 

 

Proudest achievement

“One of the things I’m proudest of is achieving a first-class degree at university.” Anna said. 

“This was a huge achievement for me. I worked so hard, and it really paid off. I believe if you're doing something you love and you put in the work, you will succeed. 

“In my career so far, I am very lucky to have had lots of highlights, as I do such a variety of different things. Some of my stand-out moments have to be seeing my work published on the covers of well-known magazines, as this is something I always aspired to do.” 

See Anna’s work and magazine features here! 

 

Advice to leavers

Anna had some words of wisdom to share with college leavers: “One of the most valuable things I’ve learnt in my career so far is to believe in yourself and that anything is possible. 

“It’s easy to be self-critical, but you are your own worst enemy. Trust your gut and remember, someone has to do it and that person could be you. 

“It takes dedication and consistency, but passion shows, and if you are doing something you genuinely enjoy, it never feels like work.” 

Callum Welch Photographer

Life at Bracknell and Wokingham College

Callum Welch studied Level 3 Photography at Bracknell and Wokingham College from 2019 to 2021. He is now in his final year studying Photography at Nottingham Trent University.

“I have a real passion for photography, so when I found this course in Bracknell, I thought it would be great,” Callum said.

“I really enjoyed the course, and I had great tutors, Nick, Louise and Sue, who made me feel really supported if I ever struggled.

“I’m also not particularly academic, and while I did ok in school, college was the first time where I really enjoyed what I was learning and looked forward to coming in every day.

“Doing something a bit more practical and putting my time and energy into one subject that I am passionate about really suited me.”

 

College highlights

One of Callum’s most memorable moments from his time at college was when he was involved in a Remembrance Day photoshoot in Trafalgar Square.

The photos he took at the event were later published in the local paper, Wokingham Today.

He said: “It was really rewarding seeing my work publicly printed and credited for the first time. It was a nice feeling and motivated me to keep doing what I am doing.”

Callum also reflected on how his time at college influenced his career choice and what he has achieved so far.

He said: “The course helped put me on the right path to get into university and ultimately the path to start working in the photography industry.

“Coming to college helped me find my passion for photography and really inspired me to pursue it as a career.”

 

Life after college

Callum is currently in his third year at university, studying Photography. He has just returned from a six-month study exchange programme in Melbourne, Australia, where he also completed an internship at Magnet Galleries.

Callum said: “It was an amazing experience. Getting to live abroad but also get valuable industry experience was really rewarding.

“I worked under a guy called Michael Silva, who was a big photographer in England in the 60s and 70s, so it was great to pick his brains, ask him lots of questions and find out what it takes to make it in quite a competitive industry.

“The internship also taught me what goes on behind the scenes of exhibitions and allowed me to work with a lot of equipment that I’d never worked with before.

“It was also a great opportunity to network and meet other creative people in the industry.”

 

Plans for the future

Callum has big plans for the future. He hopes to make a name for himself in the world of fashion photography and has already begun working with a few local brands at fashion shows and events during his time in Melbourne.

“I’ve been trying to network and make connections within the fashion industry,” Callum said.

“I’ve done some behind the scenes videos for Instagram and TikTok, fashion shoots on location and things like that, that have been used by the brands.

“It’s nice to see your work being reposted or shared online, especially when it's credited, because it creates traction and noise around your work, which can ultimately come back to you and create opportunities.”

“As well as working in the fashion industry, my goal is to be able to obtain a level of freedom over how and where I work. Though I feel like I’ll have made it just by being able to do what I love for a living.”

 

Advice to college leavers

Callum had some words of advice to share with photography students that will leave college soon.

He said: “Always think about your future and where you want to go with your career. Keep looking for opportunities and network to open more doors for yourself.

“Just keep being proactive and make things happen instead of waiting for them to happen.”

Chloe Swain Architectural Technician at Bloor Homes

Life at Guildford College

Chloe Swain completed her HNC Construction and the Built Environment at Guildford College in 2023. She now works as an architectural technician at Bloor Homes.

“I was in the first cohort of learners after COVID-19, so it was an uncertain time for us, but I did enjoy the course,” Chloe said.

“I made quite a few friends that I'm still in contact with now and we all help each other out because we're all in the same industry. Overall, it was a good course, and it has helped me grow within my business and get to where I am now.”

“Because it was a higher education course, there was a really interesting mix of people with different backgrounds and experiences, and we learnt a lot from each other,” Chloe added.

“I loved being able to share my knowledge with course mates that were in earlier stages of their careers and learning from those more experienced than me.”

 

Proudest achievement

Chloe was most proud of achieving a distinction in two modules of her HNC.

“I was so pleased that I managed to get a distinction in both the planning law and construction law modules, as this was an area that I found quite challenging initially,” Chloe said.

“I use what I learnt from those modules all the time in my current role, so it’s really helped me get to where I am now and is a great thing to show to future employers as well.”

 

Life after college

“As an architectural technician, I'm basically a mixture of a project manager and an architectural technologist,” Chloe said.

“An architectural technician oversees the project from planning all the way to completion.

“So, I'll get involved with what goes on the site, how many bedrooms, which materials we use, even going on site and helping engineers with foundations as well.

“I also get involved with sales and hand over private plots to occupiers and shared or rented plots to housing associations.

“Every day is different, and it’s great because you get such an interesting range of experience, which is really valuable if you ever decide to try out a different area of the industry.”

 

What inspires you?

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Chloe said that trying to make the working environment more welcoming to women is one of the things that inspires her to do what she does.

“In my team of 12 people, two of us are women, and this is a trend that you can see across the other teams in my organisation, and in the construction industry as a whole,” Chloe said.

“I’ve spoken to many of my female colleagues about this and we’ve all found it quite hard at times, being a woman in this industry, as when people think of construction, they imagine a group of men on site.

“There is still a stigma, but we’re really trying to push for more women in construction jobs and to be on site as well, not just in the office. It’s important to show young women that they can be a bricklayer, a labourer, an electrician, they can be anything they want to be.

“We have noticed that having a more diverse team is making us more approachable and relatable to our customers and has created a better work environment for us. Having different perspectives makes our team work better,” Chloe added.

 

Advice for college leavers

Chloe had some words of wisdom to share with college leavers on kickstarting their careers.

“My advice would be to create a CV to outline your skills and qualifications and show that you are enthusiastic, passionate and willing to learn.

“Believe that you can achieve anything and don’t doubt yourself. You never know what kind of opportunities might come up and who is looking for someone, so keep an open mind and make the most of opportunities that come your way.”

Claire Brown Cat Welfare Manager at UK charity Cats Protection

Life at Merrist Wood College

Claire Brown completed her BTEC and National Diploma in Animal Care at Merrist Wood College in 2003.  

Claire then went on to study Animal Management and Welfare at the University of Lincoln, and now works as a Cat Welfare Manager at UK charity Cats Protection. 

“I loved college. Getting to mix practical skills, as well as academic skills, really helped develop my passion for animal welfare,” she said. 

“I made so many friends, who I am still in touch with today, and had some of my best years there.” 

 

College highlights

Claire shared her favourite memories from her time as a student at Merrist Wood College. 

“I loved getting to work in the farm, carrying out daily husbandry activities and being involved in breeding programmes,” she said. 

“My biggest highlight was when our goat had kids and we got to weigh them daily and be involved in their care.” 

 

Life after college

Since leaving college, Claire has climbed her way up the career ladder, and is now a manager at her company, covering South England and Wales. 

“I am one of two Cat Welfare Managers leading a team of ten Cat Welfare Advisors across the country, supporting our network of volunteer fosterers and cat welfare volunteers,” Claire said. 

“My role is to lead the assessment of local practice against policy, to support improvement and share best practice. 

“I line manage five Cat Welfare Advisors providing cat welfare advice and support to volunteer branches, particularly volunteer fosterers, and undertaking welfare support visits to fosterers and external sites used by Cats Protection.” 

Claire is also an assessor for the ADCH, the Association of Dogs and Cats Homes, using her skills and knowledge to support other charities to become members of the organisation. 

 

Following your passion

Claire has always been an animal enthusiast. She shared some insight on how she followed her dream and got to where she is today. 

“I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember and have always wanted to be able to make a difference in some way,” she said. 

“I suffer with essential tremor, which affects my hand mobility massively. I always wanted to be a vet, but I knew it would be hard with shaky hands. I started looking into other roles with animals, and came across a role at Cats Protection, which I joined in 2008. 

“Later on, I applied for my current role, as being able to improve and maintain the welfare of cats is a real passion of mine and I knew the role would be perfect. I also love working with and meeting the wonderful volunteers we get to support daily.” 

 

Advice for college students

Claire has some words of wisdom to share with college leavers looking to follow a similar path. 

“Don’t be afraid to work hard and get as much experience as you can in the field you are interested in. 

“Work your way up, take in all the advice and continue to learn as animal welfare changes so fast.” 

 

Dan Rule Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach at Activate Learning

Life at the City of Oxford College

Dan Rule completed his Fitness Instructing Level 2 course and his Personal Training Level 3 Apprenticeship at the City of Oxford College and University Centre in 2015. He later returned to Activate Learning and is now Lead Strength & Conditioning Coach at the Activate Rugby Academy.

Looking back on his time as a student and apprentice, Dan said: “My time as a personal training apprentice was really valuable. I gained a lot of useful academic knowledge through lessons, but also learnt working practices and gained industry experience by running the new gym at the college.”

 

Life after college

After completing his course, Dan secured a BSc degree from Oxford Brookes University in Sport, Fitness and Rehabilitation and a master's degree from the University of Northampton in Strength and Conditioning.

Dan gained valuable industry experience while doing his degree. He continued working part-time at the college gym and did an internship at Northampton Town Football Club while studying.

Reflecting on his experiences, Dan said: “Working at the college gym allowed me to further my academic insights and helped me build up a client base. The internship was also my first experience working in professional sport, which I really enjoyed.”

“After the pandemic, I was appointed Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach to the newly integrated rugby team that had joined the City of Oxford College and University Centre that was partnered with Wasps and have since moved up to the position of Lead Strength and Conditioning Coach.

“I am lucky enough to have worked with some exceptional players including Greg Fisilua, Asher Opoku-Fordjour, Pietro Turrisi, Archie McArthur, Lorenzo Casilio, Will Glister and Charlie Myall, who have progressed onto Premiership.”

 

What inspired you?

Dan shared what led him to pursue this career path and how his passion for sport and exercise science grew.

He said: “I’ve always been an active and sporty individual, enjoying all sports that I played as a youngster, but rugby was the sport that stuck when going through my teenage years.

“Having an interest in sport and exercise, I then pursued studies in exercise and human performance and absolutely loved it.

“Studying a subject that I enjoyed so much and was really passionate about helped me realise that it was what I wanted to do long term, particularly when I learnt about the various career options available in this field.”

 

Advice for college leavers

Dan had some words of wisdom to share with college students about to finish their course and take their next steps.

He said: “Once you have found something that interests you, be relentless with your actions to make your goals a reality. Take as many opportunities as possible that are presented to you to increase experience and development.

“But most importantly, enjoy the process and don’t forget your reasons for pursuing this path in the first place.”

Daniela Predescu Teaching Assistant

Life at Activate Learning

Daniela Predescu started her journey with Activate Learning in 2022, when she decided to return to education to study GCSE English online.

Despite having a full-time job as a teaching assistant and being a mum, Daniela found Activate Learning's online lessons easy to access and accommodating to her busy schedule.

Reflecting on her experience, Daniela said: "I had an amazing experience throughout the whole course. I had constant support from my tutor, and effective feedback, which helped me to revise and keep myself on track.

“English is my second language, so having such a great tutor and all the support they provided was really helpful.

“I was still working while studying and I'm a mum as well, but I found the course very interesting and easy to access in my own time, around other family commitments.”

 

Favourite memories

One standout memory for Daniela was meeting her fellow classmates and online faculty staff members in person at Reading College and University Centre, where she sat her exams.

Daniela said: “It was great getting to meet some of the other students from the course at Reading College. I also had the opportunity to meet Miko, Faculty Manager for Online at Activate Learning, who was extremely supportive and friendly.

“My tutor also held an online award ceremony to give certificates to students for their achievements. I was very proud to win a certificate for the Most Active Student,” she added.

 

Life after Activate Learning

Currently, Daniela works as a Graduate Intern at East Lane Primary School and is hoping to start her teacher training soon. Completing her GCSE English course has opened the doors for her to pursue her dream career in teaching.

She said: "The course helped me improve my English skills and to further my studies as well. Having English as a second language, I had to complete my GCSE English to be able to progress even further in my career.

“I have decided to get into teaching because I love helping and supporting children's learning so they can achieve their goals. Having an impact on their achievements and education is so rewarding.”

 

Advice to current students

Daniela offered some valuable advice to current students: "Don't let your anxieties control your life. This is something I have struggled with myself and has affected my ability to focus properly on the exams.

“But you have to push through and be proud of yourself and everything you’ve achieved. Don’t forget to challenge yourself to improve!”

Elin Weresch Children's book illustrator

Life at City of Oxford College

Elin Weresch studied Art and Design at City of Oxford College from 2016 to 2018. She has since become a published illustrator for a series of children’s books, Willy and Wally the Windscreen Wipers. 

“I loved my experience at college and really miss it. There was so much variety in my course. One week we could be doing metal work, and then we could go onto ceramic or print, and we had access to so many resources,” Elin said. 

“I’ve always been quite multidisciplinary, so having all of this at my fingertips really helped me figure out my skillset. 

“The people also made it what it was. I’m still in contact with many of my friends from college today. I love that I’ve built lifelong relationships from my time there.” 

 

Life since college

After college, Elin took a gap year to get some work experience before applying to university. She worked in one of the local pubs and was promoted to pub manager before going to Birmingham School of Art to study Art and Design. 

The pandemic had a big effect on Elin’s experience at university, but it also allowed her to discover her love for illustration. 

“Covid hit when I went into my second year. We were isolating and all of the teaching was online, so I taught myself a lot at home, and this is where my illustration style grew. I was thinking back to my favourite childhood stories and started doing illustrations based on that,” she said. 

“I then made the decision to drop out, which is a shame as I most likely would have been able to finish my degree if the pandemic hadn’t happened, but it wasn't sustainable for me to stay on, so it was the right decision for me. 

“I then went back to my work in the pub, where they greeted me with open arms. I came across my illustration job through one of the regulars at the pub, who had just won a children’s book competition and needed an illustrator, so I kind of fell into it.” 

 

Next steps

“The Willy and Wally books will be a series, and I’ve signed on to illustrate all of them in the series which is really exciting,” Elin shared. 

“While I don’t want to be a pub manager for the rest of my life, I do really love it, and it’s allowed me to make a lot of connections with my art. The customers all know me and really appreciate that I’m an artist, which has allowed me to do some freelance work, doing illustrations for people. 

“I’m still figuring out where I want to go with my career, but I don’t think I need to decide right now what I want to do. I don’t want to put all my eggs in one basket. 

“There’s so much I enjoy doing. I knit, I crochet, I paint, I make jewellery, I illustrate, I sculpt, I’ve even tried tattooing and have considered a business in that. But I love doing freelance work as it lets me take charge of what I do,” she added. 

 

Advice for Art and Design students finishing college

After her experience with university, and entering the world of freelance, Elin has some words of advice to share with those seeking a career in the creative industries. 

“University is great, but you don’t always need a degree to get where you want in life. My experience taught me that university isn’t the only option,” she said. 

“As long as you keep doing what you enjoy, keep learning, keep reading, and keep creating, you’re on the right track. 

“I also would advise people to not get too stressed about their career straight away. College is a really great way to start off on the outside world, but you can always go back and keep studying. 

“You’re never too old to learn. Whether you do that by yourself, or whether you go back to do another course at college, or go to university later in life, there are endless possibilities, even after you’ve left college.” 

Emily Prachar Training solicitor working in clinical negligence

Life at City of Oxford College

Emily Prachar studied A Levels in Sociology, Psychology and Law at City of Oxford College. She has since graduated from the University of Southampton with a Law degree and is now a training solicitor working in clinical negligence. 

“I transferred over from my secondary school where I had started my A Levels but wasn’t really enjoying it. I’m so glad I came to college, as I had a really positive experience there,” Emily said. 

“One thing that made my time at college so great was my brilliant law teacher, Saima Hussain. She really helped me throughout my course, and we’re still in touch today. I dedicated my university dissertation to her for all her incredible support and for sparking my interest in law! 

The support Emily received at college helped her secure a place at university, and a scholarship for her A Level grade in Law. 

“My teachers supported me a lot with my university application. There was also a time during university when I went back to them for help and they were happy to support me, even after I'd left,” she added. 

 

Most memorable moment

Emily’s most memorable college experience was when she got the opportunity to witness a real case and gain valuable industry experience with other students from her A Level Law class. 

“At college, my class had the chance to go to the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, in London to see a court case about an MP that was murdered,” she said. 

“It was a fascinating experience. It was our first glimpse of a real-life court case and what our future careers could be. It solidified my interest in pursuing a career in the legal profession.”  

 

Life since college

Since completing her Law degree at the University of Southampton, Emily has been doing her LPC, Legal Practice Course, to become a Solicitor. 

“I started working at Freeths almost two years ago now. I started on the Legal Assistant Programme. The idea is that you have regular reviews and after nine months, there is an opportunity to secure a training contract to become a solicitor,” Emily said. 

“I joined as a legal assistant and then I was offered a training contract which I started in September. We do four seats in total and I’m on my first seat, so I will hopefully qualify a year in September. 

"I started working in the Trusts, Estates and Tax team and now I'm working in our Clinical Negligence team. So, I’m getting a broad range of experience which I’m really enjoying. 

“The support I have had at Freeths has been really great, particularly around my studies. I started during Covid which was such a turbulent time for most, but I settled into working life seamlessly. It has been amazing to see all the things I learnt at College and University in working practice. 

“There are plenty of school leaver and graduate opportunities at Freeths, which I would really recommend looking into if you’re wanting to start a career in Law.” 

 

Proudest achievement to date

“I'm coming to the end of my LPC now, so I think doing the LPC alongside full-time work is my biggest achievement,” shared Emily. 

“It’s quite a difficult course, and to do that alongside working quite a demanding job, is something I’m really proud of. I've got my last exam in March and then I'll graduate. 

“For most law students, the training contract is the end goal after studying. So, feeling like I've made it there is quite nice.” 

 

Advice for someone leaving college

Emily has a few words of wisdom to share with students who are leaving college soon and embarking on their next steps. 

“Cherish your time, whether that be with education, your career, or spending time with friends and family,” she said. 

“Time goes by so quickly that it’s important to enjoy where you are now as it can be easy to get absorbed in what’s next and forget to cherish the experiences and opportunities that you have today.” 

George Cook CEO of Computers 4 Charity

Life at Guildford College

George Cook completed his Business Studies HND at Guildford College in 1977. He has had a highly successful career in business and the charity sector since leaving college.

George said: “I really enjoyed my time at college. It was years later that I began to reflect and realised how much I learnt and how much it influenced where I am today.”

“Some of my favourite memories include learning how to program in COBOL, a computer programming language designed for business use, on a main frame that filled a large room, using punched cards and paper tape with hard drives the size of a washing machine.”

 

Life after college

After taking a gap year to work on a ranch in Colorado, George began working as a salesman, eventually being headhunted by Mitsui & Co and becoming a commodity trader in the City of London.

George was able to retire early and decided to devote himself to charity work. He founded multiple charitable organisations such as Relief Aid Logistics, Voluntary Sector Centres and The Cook Foundation UK.

George has also dedicated much his time to inventing and has 17 inventions to date.

One of his most notable inventions is AirDropBox, which enables air delivery of humanitarian aid and logistics support to areas without transport infrastructure at low cost, using commonly available air transport.

He is now Chief Executive of Computers 4 Charity, an organisation that rebuilds and upgrades used computers to help people in need, such as young carers, homeless youth, unemployed veterans, bereaved forces children and local schools.

 

Proudest achievements

“There are many things in my career that I’m pleased about” George said.

“I am still surprised how I become a commodity trader in the city, and looking back I’m glad that I chose to change my career path and do something more meaningful by doing charity work.

“I have also had the privilege to work with His Majesty King Charles III as part of his Business Emergency Recovery Group (BERG) in Business in the Community (BITC). I like him as a person, I feel that he is genuine.”

“Another moment for which I am grateful was when His Majesty commended me and the Cook Foundation UK at the Business in the Community Responsible Business Awards on 8 July 2014 at The Royal Albert Hall in front of several thousand of the UK’s top business leaders.

“Best of all, when he invited me to tea with just him and his secretary on my birthday at St James’ Palace one year. A great guy.”

 

Advice for college leavers

After years of experience in the industry, George had some words of wisdom to share with college leavers.

“Remember to be open minded. If something isn't working, don't let it get you down,” he said.

“You can always change your path. Keep trying and something will come along and just click, like it has for me after several false starts.”

Haidur Asif Project Support Officer

Life at Reading College

Haidur Asif studied A Level Psychology, Sociology, and English Literature and Language at Reading College and University Centre from 2014 to 2016. He then went on to study at university, and later returned to Activate Learning to work as an Access to HE: Sociology tutor.

Haidur said: “At college, I learned a lot of the skills I needed for university. What I learnt in my A Levels prepared me for my undergrad and my master's degree.

“I also did my English Literature and Language A Level in one year, as I switched subjects after my first year, and wanted to complete all my A Levels at the same time so I could go to university.

“I got so much great support from all my teachers that I was able to pass in a year, and I’m really grateful for the support and that the college gave me this option.”

 

College highlights

Haidur shared some of his favourite moments from his time at college.

He said: “In college, you’re responsible for managing your own time and you’re treated much more like an adult. This helped me form really positive relationships with my peers, because we had a bit more independence.

“A particular memory I have is when we were revising for our A Levels, as the college was always open until around 10pm, and we had our own revision club, so we would be on site later than the teachers were.

“We made up these revision games to do together, so that revising was fresh and exciting instead of stressful.”

 

Life after college

After college, Haidur studied BSc Business Psychology at the University of Greenwich, and then went on to do a Master's in International Relations and Diplomacy at the University of Reading.

He then returned to Activate Learning to work as an online Access to HE: Sociology tutor, while also doing an internship at DEFRA (the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs on import policy).

“Returning to work at Activate Learning was really interesting. It took some getting used to at first, being a member of staff instead of a student, but I got loads of support from the faculty and my line manager.

“It was a rewarding job, particularly towards the end when you see how your teaching has impacted the students, especially when they come to you and say how much you’ve helped them.

“I had one experience where a student said to me that they hope they make as much of an impact in someone else’s life as a paramedic as I have made an impact in their life by helping them get to university.

“Working at Activate Learning has prepared me for my future, as it allowed me to try lots of different things and gain a broad range of transferable skills, such as leading on projects or stakeholder management. It was a safe space to try new things.”

 

Plans for the future

Haidur is now taking his next step into a new career as a project delivery fast streamer in the Civil Service.

“In my new role, I’ll be working in different government departments. It’s a four-year programme, so in my first year I'll be working for DWP (Department for Work and Pensions),” he said.

“My role will be about getting people with disabilities into work, making sure they're supported and ultimately trying to reduce the disability employment gap.

“I’m really looking forward to it, and I think my studies and my role as an Access to HE tutor has prepared me for this sort of environment and responsibilities.”

 

Advice to college leavers

Haidur had some words of wisdom to share with college leavers about taking their next steps after college.

“I think the biggest thing I say is to just try out different things to get experience. Whether you go to university, do an apprenticeship, or get a job, try and do extra things because it will really help you in the future.

“The main thing I've noticed with graduate employers is they want to know what you've done on top of your studies, so try and take as many opportunities as you can. If it's volunteering, if it's doing a little bit of extra work, if it’s doing a course on the side, it goes a long way.”

Harley Leyland Art Technician and Freelance Artist

Life at Bracknell and Wokingham College

Harley Leyland embarked on a unique educational journey at Bracknell and Wokingham College, where she completed her Creative Practice: Art, Design and Communication UAL Level 3 Extended Diploma in July 2023.

After facing health problems and being in hospital after completing her GCSEs, she was unable to complete her A Levels. She was also diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at this time.

When Harley was well enough to return to education, she decided she wanted to focus on art. Her decision to study at college was influenced by the art facilities and the support options available to her.

Harley said: “I’ve always wanted to study art since I was a child. I’ve always been creative and liked drawing. As I got older, I got more into painting, and when I got out of hospital I wanted to try and learn art again.

“I loved how big the art room was at the college and how they had easels. I'd never actually used or seen an easel in person before.

“This college was the best place for me as I could get extra support after my ASD diagnosis. Coming here was a good decision as it worked well for my needs."

 

Challenges and Growth

Studying art posed unique challenges for Harley, primarily rooted in perfectionism and the struggle to share some of her art pieces.

Harley said: “I can be quite particular about what I like about art and I'm very much a perfectionist. So, at the beginning, I would destroy a lot of work that I produced.

"I was challenged by my teachers to not destroy my work and to include it all in my books. They helped me see a different perspective and encouraged me to still write about the pieces I didn’t like and explain why I didn’t like it.

“I liked that they helped me understand why we need to do certain things and the structure we had in place, but that I was allowed to say when I didn’t like something I’d produced and why.

“I felt very comfortable coming into college and like I was able to express how I felt. The teachers were very nice and understanding about everything.”

 

Returning to College

After completing her studies, Harley returned to the college and secured a part-time job as an art technician.

She said: “The college is a safe environment for me with my ASD, and this is the type of work that is really suited to me.

“I like organisation and I like structure. My job is to help with lesson preparation, managing the stock and making sure the students have the equipment they need, which might not sound fun to some but it’s what I love doing.

“It’s also part-time, which means I can go at my own pace, and also have time to do commissions and exhibition pieces outside of work, so it allows me a lot of freedom. I’m really thankful they offered me the job.”

 

Commissions

Harley's journey also includes venturing into art commissions, particularly focused on oil painting.

She explained the process: “I started doing commissions in June and I’m currently in the process of building up my portfolio.

“They’re mostly animal based at the minute. So, people will show me pictures of their pet and we’ll have a consultation to choose what image would come out best as a painting, and then I'd turn that image into an oil painting of their chosen size.

“I find it interesting. Observing how people look at an image of their pet, and what really sticks out to them is their main characteristic, and then showing that through the painting.

“I also like being able to make people happy through my paintings of their pets. When I was growing up, I used to draw my dog and it always like made me happy. So, I like that I can do that for other people.”

 

Plans for the future

Harley's journey in art and education is ongoing, with a focus on maintaining a balance between personal art, commissions, and her role as an art technician.

Harley said: "Working here and doing my commissions is making me happy and I want to see where it goes."

“Painting is what I want to do in life, so I definitely want to continue doing what I do.”

Jack Lucas Smith Film Student

Life at the City of Oxford College

 

Reflecting on his time at City of Oxford College and University Centre, Jack said the relationships he made there are still strong today: "It was great, I really enjoyed it. I'm still very close to the people that were in my class.

Jack Smith completed his Creative Media Production & Technology Level 3 Extended Diploma at the City of Oxford College and University Centre in 2021.

“The course was fantastic, and the teachers were exceptional, and I still run scripts by my old college script writing tutor,” he added.

He credits the course for providing a unique learning environment that wasn't solely theory-based. Instead, it offered freedom and opportunities for experimentation in a safe space where mistakes were accepted as part of the process.

"College was quite a unique experience. I learned so much more through the experience of making mistakes and learning from them," Jack added.

 

College highlights

 

Jack’s most memorable moment from college was the end of year awards his tutor, Gary Force, held for the class.

“I won the ‘Best Director’ award and some of my friends won awards, too. It was a special moment and really nice that Gary did those things to bring us together and recognise our achievements,” he said.

“Another moment was in my second year, when we had a project to make a music video. I had this crazy idea to do it all in one shot, so we went for it and did a massive shoot in the middle of Oxford.

“I was walking down the street with the music blaring and felt like a bit of an idiot. But we made it happen and I was so happy with the result.”

This is still the project that Jack is most proud of, especially as after showing it to his parents it made them realise he could really make a career out of it.

“I'd told my parents that this is what I want to do, I want to be a filmmaker. I think they didn’t really know what that would look like, as a career.

“When I showed them this music video on the TV, my dad said he’d never really thought anything of this before, but seeing the video made him realise it’s something I can go and do and be successful.”

 

Life after college

 

Post-college, Jack decided to pursue a degree in film production at the University of Portsmouth.

“I decided University was the best place for me to kickstart my career in filmmaking, by moving to a new place, start networking in a place where there’s a lot going on in the creative scene.

“I’m now in my final year at university and working on my graduate film, Swan Song, which is a big project equivalent to a dissertation.

“After that, I plan on doing a film festival circuit, and then secure a job in the industry.

He emphasized the importance of work experience opportunities during his time at college and university:

"Doing work experience helped open up options for me. One of the work experience coordinators at the college helped me get some great opportunities to work with different companies.”

 

Proudest achievement

 

Jack shared some of his proudest moments since attending college. His films have received awards and nominations at film festivals.

“I’ve been to two or three film festivals for a film called Remain Seated, which we shot last summer. It was our first real crack at self-funding an independent film, so I’m really pleased with that.

“I just won two awards at Student World Impact Film Festival for a film that I made during a work experience with the University of Oxford that I got through the college.

“It was an opportunity where we had three weeks to produce a creative for their AI department, so of course I chose to make a short film,” he added.

 

Advice to college leavers

 

Jack advocates for networking and emphasizes its critical role in the creative industry. He shared his words of advice for other college leavers, about to embark on their next steps.

He said: “If you’re going to university, make sure it’s the right thing for you and that you’re doing it for the right reasons.

“I decided to go to university to gain some independence, be in a new place with new opportunities, and to network and gain contacts.

“I was speaking to one of my contacts the other day, who is an industry director, and she gave me some great advice that really stuck with me that I’d like to pass on.

“She told me everyone says it's not what you know, it's who you know, but really, it's not who you know, it's who knows you.”

James Scott Garden Designer

Life at Merrist Wood

“Without college, I don't think I could have done what I do now. We had some great teachers that I admired. They all took a lot of pride in what they did, and I looked up to them.” 

James Scott studied Landscape Construction at Merrist Wood College from 1986 to 1989. Since then, he’s gone on to establish his own highly successful garden design-and-build business in Hertfordshire, winning multiple national awards. 

One of James’ most memorable moments at Merrist Wood was the college’s involvement with the Chelsea Flower Show each year. 

“During our year, there was an internal competition running, where we had to design a garden for the London Association of the Blind, which would then be built for the Chelsea Flower Show,” said James. 

“I was fortunate enough that my design got chosen to be to be built. I spent a lot of time designing it, hoping it would get chosen and was thrilled when it was. I probably got offered my first job on the back of having that experience.”  

Industry knowledge

James’ course at college required pre-college work experience, and an industrial placement year in-between the two years at college. James spent his placement year working in the USA. 

James said: “Working for different companies before and during my time at college gave me a good foundation to build a career on. It allowed me to learn a few different ways of doing things, which was very valuable when I later set up my own business. 

“The college’s links to industry were also really important, especially its connection with BALI, the British Association of Landscape Industries. When I left college, I joined BALI as soon as possible and have benefited from my membership ever since. 

“College is not just about studying. You need to make the most of your industrial experience too, and continuing professional development once you have started work,” James said.   

 

Life since college

When James finished his studies at Merrist Wood, he worked as a designer/manager for Capital Garden Landscapes in North London. 

After a couple of years, James decided he wanted to take a more independent route and set up his own business, The Garden Company, in 1991 with his business partner. 

James said: “We set up a business in designing, landscaping and gardening. We slowly grew that business from one employee to a few employees and we now employ about 20 people. 

“Alongside our own talented team, we also draw on a strong network of professionals with specialist skills. We are a design-led business and alongside my BALI membership I am a fully Registered Member of the SGD (Society of Garden Designers). 

“We support our clients every step of the way through their transformation projects. Most of our work is for residential sites and we also work on commercial spaces, including business parks, corporate Head Offices, wedding venues and independent schools. 

“We are honoured to have worked with the Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew and at the historic Temple Garden in London’s legal district.” 

 

Proudest achievement to date

“I'm really proud of The Garden Company’s track record in winning many national awards over the years,” James said. 

“We were delighted to win a BALI Award in 2022 for Best Design and Build project, and around the same time I was voted as one of the 25 Most Influential people in the landscape industry. 

“I'm also proud that my business contributes to people's livelihood, providing employment and being a good place to work. 

“Winning awards is great, but it's quite fleeting. It’s having a business that operates at the highest possible quality standards that matters most,” James added. 

 

Advice for building a successful career in the landscape industry

The years of experience after studying at Merrist Wood have given James a broad knowledge of the industry. He had some words of wisdom to share with students that will finish college soon: 

“You need to join the best company you can, get stuck in and make the most of the opportunities around you. It’s worth working at more than one reputable business in your early career. 

“Get to know other people in your profession. Immerse yourself in the industry and build a network. Go to trade events, RHS shows and join relevant professional societies. 

“Finally, visit gardens!  When I’m interviewing job candidates, so many people talk about being inspired by garden design or landscaping, then can’t name a garden they have visited recently. 

“It’s really important to be able to demonstrate your genuine interest and passion for the industry, not only to prospective employers like me but to clients and business contacts too.” 

Jeremy Taylor Managing Director at The Company Connector

Life at Guildford College

Jeremy Taylor completed his Business Studies HND at Guildford College in 1982, and now works as a Managing Director at The Company Connector.

“My time at Guildford College was very enjoyable,” Jeremy said.

“As one of the few international students, as I'm from Jersey, I was placed in student accommodation at Malabar House on the Epsom Road.

“It was great meeting others from all over the world in that house, and I’m still in touch with some of them now.

“Living in and experiencing Guildford was one of my highlights, and socialising in and outside college with my college friends.”

 

Life after college

After college, Jeremy spent some time working in hospitality and retail management, then worked for Gatwick Diamond Business before setting up his own business.

“In the 90s I set up a marketing and business consultancy which focused on helping businesses use the very new World Wide Web, called Consider If,” Jeremy said.

“In 2004 I went back to Gatwick Diamond Business and drove it for 14 years to become the leading voice for business in the region.

“I now work at The Company Connector as a Managing Director, where I have two main responsibilities.

“Firstly, stakeholder engagement for planning and development, with Gatwick Airport as my main client. Secondly, business consultancy for clients and on behalf of the Coast to Capital Local Enterprise Partnership”

 

Proudest achievements

“I had no real plan, but I managed to make the most of opportunities that came my way and I’m very proud of how far I’ve come,” Jeremy said.

“My top three moments in my career so far are meeting Her Majesty the Queen Elizabeth II, creating the Gatwick Diamond Business Awards from scratch, and supporting economic growth and development to help businesses create jobs”

 

Advice for college leavers

Jeremy had some words of wisdom to share with college leavers embarking on their next steps.

“My advice would be, first and foremost, to gain experience. Say yes to new opportunities and make the most out of them,” Jeremy said.

“It’s also important to be interested and interesting, listen to and support others, and be prepared to take responsibility. If you can, fix things that may not be down to you, as this will set a good example.”

John Bowman Head of Blog and Education at PokerStars

Life at Farnham College

John Bowman studied Business at Farnham College in 1995-1997. He now works as Head of Blog and Education at PokerStars.  

John said: “It was an absolutely remarkable experience. The tutors were excellent and genuinely cared about you and your future, and the social times were equally impressive.” 

“Whilst you’re learning your chosen subject you also learn micro skills such as working in a team and learning to work with different people you usually wouldn’t, which is invaluable for life after education. 

“At college I was also lucky enough to get my work experience at IBM, one of the biggest Tech Companies of its time.” 

 

Life after college

John has been in his current company for 18 years. He moved through various roles, gaining experience in Marketing and Events, setting up departments, and is now Head of Blog and Education. 

“I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world through this company and meet some of the most talented people in the industry from Business, Marketing, TV, Events, SEO, Social Media, Ambassadors, Celebrities and more,” John said. 

 

What inspired you to pursue your current career

"What drew me to this career path was the idea of mixing business with strategy. I joined PokerStars when the industry was brand new, so have seen it grow from a start-up to a billion-pound industry,” John said. 

“It’s amazing to see a successful start-up grow, and very rewarding to have been a part of its growth. Start-ups can be risky to work in, but you also develop your skills much faster as you get to experience so much more.” 

 

Proudest achievement

John shared some of his proudest achievements and memorable moments since attending Farnham College. 

John said: “The confidence I gained from college took me on many adventures. I created a small ecommerce and affiliate business when I left which allowed me to pursue some other passions. 

“I was a Radio DJ for Glastonbury, I played Poker on TV in Las Vegas, beating a Harvard Graduate heads up for 1st place, Farnham College 1 – Harvard 0.” 

“I then moved from my small hometown to city life in London and grew my career further. I am immensely proud of how far I’ve come.” 

 

Advice for college leavers

“Even if you’ve not fully chosen your career path, don’t be afraid to explore new things, try to network and choose friends with similar goals and interests,” John said. 

“Knowing people with the same career goals really helps, as you can bounce ideas off each other and may even end up in the same company or sector. 

“Learn from each position in your career, understand what works well, what could be improved and what doesn’t work, because one day you may be in charge of those decisions. 

“Throughout my career I’ve found that people love problem solvers and there’s not one thing that cannot improved. If you’re the go to person to solve those issues, you’ll be the first person they will think of when a new higher role becomes available.” 

Kallum-Andrew Smeesters-Kirkwood MA Fine Art student and Art Technician

Life at Reading College

Kallum-Andrew Smeesters-Kirkwood studied Graphic Design Level 3 and then a foundation year at Reading College and University Centre from 2015 to 2018.

He is now studying an MA in Fine Art at Reading University and working part-time as an art technician at a school, while working on his own projects and publishing them to his website.

Kallum said: “Studying at Reading College was a great experience. It took me from being quite designer-minded to thinking like an artist, which is what I am now, and has helped put me on this career path.

“I went to college because I wanted to get out of the school mindset and to try and get some real-world experience.”

“One of my favourite things about college was having access to the workshops and having all the amazing equipment at my fingertips.”

 

Life after college

After college, Kallum took a gap year before going to university. He worked in retail full-time to gain some work experience, while building up his portfolio in preparation for university and a career as an artist.

He then went on to study a BA in Fine Art at Reading University and has now progressed on to his Master's course.

“I specialise in the practise of photography and filmmaking, in a style that’s between the boundaries of surrealism and post modernism,” he said.

“I was also the first in my family to go to university, which I’m quite proud of, because it's a big achievement for me.

“I've definitely matured after going to college and university. I've gone from being a bit of a class clown to now, feeling like an adult.

“Especially now, working in a school as a technician and taking a role of authority, makes me realise how much I’ve grown up, and I think college had a big influence on that.”

 

Motivation and Inspiration

One of the people who inspired Kallum was his tutor at Reading College, Mike Workman.

“Mike’s straightforward approach to my academic studies and photography really showed me how to be a photographer going forward and he taught me what I'd need to do to make it in the industry,” Kallum said.

Kallum shared how certain achievements at college motivated him to keep going and pursue a career in art and photography.

He said: “I'm really proud of getting a Silver Arts Award while studying at Reading College.

“The award is equivalent to an extra GCSE that's funded by the Arts Council. It’s a funded process that gives participants an additional qualification within the arts.

“To do it, I had to work alongside a tutor from the college with a group of five to 10 people, and we exhibited at the Modern Art Oxford, creating our own exhibition space and having an actual external exhibition. I got to work as the junior curator which was quite an honour”

 

Advice to college leavers

Kallum had some words of wisdom to share with college leavers who are about the take their next steps in the creative industry.

He said: “If you feel you’re ready, jump straight into it. If you’re like me and you felt a bit overwhelmed and unsure what you wanted to do after college, don’t be afraid to take a year out, practise and keep learning more in that break away because you can always come back to it.”

Lauren Davis Schools Partnership Executive

Life at Farnham College

Lauren studied her Childcare and Education Level 3 Diploma at Farnham College from 2012 to 2015. She has now returned to Activate Learning to work as a Schools Partnership Executive. 

Lauren always dreamed of working as a teacher and decided to study this course to pursue her career ambitions. 

She said: “I chose to study a Childcare and Education course to help me embark on my future career goal of being a Primary School Teacher for children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities.” 

 

College Highlights

Lauren shared some of her favourite things about studying at Farnham College and how it helped her personal and professional development. 

She said: “I really valued and enjoyed my experience whilst studying at the college because of its warm community and smaller learning environment. 

“This made me feel happier at college and helped me become more confident. I loved how I could tailor the college life and learning environment to how I learn best, which helped me achieve my own personal goals. 

“I enjoyed the experience of having many opportunities by attending lots of extra-curricular activities outside of class. 

“This gave me the chance to express myself to ensure I was achieving my true potential,” Lauren added. 

 

Life after college

After college, Lauren attended the University of Chichester and qualified as a Primary School Teacher with SEND students and worked as a teacher in various schools before returning to Activate Learning to work as a Schools Partnership Executive. 

“Working as a SEND teacher in Primary Schools allowed me to explore different career pathways within education and led me to join Reading College within Activate Learning as a Schools Partnership Executive, where I have been in post for over a year now. 

“I thoroughly enjoy my new role and feel very fortunate to help young people make their own choices about their options or goals when they leave secondary school. 

“This has become a very rewarding role where I feel my courses I have studied, in particular at Farnham College can help me transfer my skills and knowledge to Further Education.” 

 

Proudest achievement

Lauren shared her proudest achievement since leaving college:

"My proudest achievement so far is achieving my Level 5 qualification in Supporting Students with Learning Difficulties and SEND.

"Having this qualification helps me feel more confident in my current role and when supporting any student in their own personal journey."

 

Advice to college students

Lauren had some words of wisdom to share with college students that are about to embark on their next steps in their career.

She said: "My advice to current students would be to make the most of every opportunity within college and to ensure that they are proud of what they have achieved so far, as this can help them gain more confidence in their own decisions moving forward in their lives."

Molly Kelmová-White Horticulturist and Youth Worker

Life at Merrist Wood College

Molly Kelmová-White completed her National Certificate in Plant Production and a National Diploma in Amenity Horticulture at Merrist Wood College and University Centre in 2005. She is now a self-employed horticulturist and youth worker.

Her time at the college was transformative, helping her foster a profound love for horticulture and planting the seeds for a successful career.

Molly said: “I had a fantastic experience at Merrist Wood. I loved being in a small class with people from all different career backgrounds.

“The college campus was unique, with the facilities to allow us to try out lots of different areas of study. The course covered such a variety of skills so you could go into a range of different careers.

“The lecturers were also fantastic. All of them made my experience so positive.”

 

Life after college

In the 18 years since leaving college, Molly started her own garden maintenance business and has worked as a part-time youth worker for the last 10 years alongside her business.

She shared: “In my garden maintenance business I've built up a really nice customer base, some I've been with for almost 18 years.

“I've been to weddings, funerals and watch families grow and change. Some of my customers even came to my wedding this year. It's amazing that this love of plants has created this huge family.

“I also do lots of volunteering to get more involved in the horticultural community, which has presented some great opportunities.

“I volunteered for the RHS at Chelsea and Hampton Court for five years. The connections I made there are how I became part of a small team that build at the shows now. I was involved in COP 26, the RAF garden and the garden of Unity, all at Chelsea.

“I'm also a horticultural judge, ambassador for Surrey and trustee for South & South East in Bloom,” Molly added.

 

Path to success

Molly’s inspiration to pursue this career path stemmed from the support she received from her family and her studies at the college.

“My mother always gave me the courage to do whatever makes me happy. The lecturers at Merrist Wood were so enthusiastic and passionate about the career path, which made me realise it was a possibility.

“I was able to garden at home as a child, as my parents gave me a small area and a hoe and let me propagate plants. I loved it and still love it now.”

“My parents found out about the college and we went to an open event. It was like coming home. I had no idea something like Merrist Wood existed and I was just so happy.

“It was the best two years of my life, realising I could do horticulture every single day as a career,” she added.

 

Proudest achievement

Among Molly's proudest achievements is her first time working at the renowned Chelsea Flower Show. Sharing her fond memories, she said:

“It was always a dream to be at the Chelsea Flower Show and I was so pleased I got the opportunity to be part of a team.

“I remember that first day on main avenue, it felt like I was a kid in a sweetshop, all my dreams there in front of me. It was incredible.”

 

Advice for college leavers

Molly shared some valuable advice for aspiring horticulturalists:

“Anything is possible if you just believe in yourself. Have faith in your abilities and in the power and relevance of horticulture.

“Also, your learning doesn’t stop after college. There will always be something new that you didn’t know yet, so always be open to learn new things!”

Rebekkah O’Neill Owner - The Orchard Hair Salon

Life at Banbury and Bicester College

Rebekkah O’Neill studied Hair and Beauty at Banbury and Bicester College from 2014 to 2016. She has since made her way up the ladder in the beauty industry by setting up her own salon and successful hairdressing blog. 

“My first year at college was probably one of the best years of my life. I didn’t really enjoy school, so it was really refreshing when I got to college and had a lot more freedom and was treated like an adult,” she said. 

“The teachers were lovely, and I found myself really looking forward to going into college every day. I knew that I was going there to learn something that I was really passionate about.” 

 

Favourite memory

One of Rebekkah’s most memorable moments from college was her time spent with teacher, Sam Smith, and the skills she learnt through one-to-one teaching. 

“If it weren’t for her, I would not have the knowledge I have today. She always went out of her way to make sure we understood things and help us practice,” Rebekkah said. 

“Her help throughout college is what really stuck with me. For example, she taught me how to razor cut hair, and now I get people who specifically come to me because I razor cut. I learnt all of that from Sam, and now that’s one of my specialities.” 

 

Life since college

After working in a salon for a couple of years after college, and then in a home salon, Rebekkah found a space to set up her own business, The Orchard Hair Salon in Banbury. 

“I’ve been there for four years now, but in 2022 I finished my training to be an educator, so now I teach beauty and hairdressing courses as well,” Rebekkah said. 

“I also manage a hair and beauty blog which has been quite successful. I’ve been featured on sites like Buzzfeed, Bustle, and SheFinds.” 

While Rebekkah has been a hair enthusiast from childhood, she was surprised to discover her love for teaching. 

“I absolutely love it, it’s very rewarding. The training has opened my eyes in so many ways, for example how everyone has different learning styles,” she said. 

“I think I didn’t enjoy school because the way we were taught did not suit how I learn best. I now transfer that knowledge to my teaching and try to understand all my students’ learning styles so that I know my teaching is beneficial to each student. 

“I can definitely see myself wanting to teach more in the future,” Rebekkah added. 

 

Proudest achievement to date

Rebekkah’s proudest achievement so far was when her dandruff vs dry scalp blog post was feature in Buzzfeed last year. 

“I was blown away when it went live, and the amount of traffic that has come to my website from that one feature is just insane,” she said. 

“That experience made me want to do more, and that’s how I got to be on Bustle and SheFinds. I’m a content reviewer for SheFinds now, so it’s amazing how many doors it’s opened for me.”  

 

Advice for life post-college

Rebekkah shared some words of advice for those leaving college soon. 

“Don’t force things. Sometimes things don’t happen the way you want them to happen, but you have to remember that there will always be other opportunities,” she said. 

“I remember the pressure after college of thinking that I needed to do everything right away, but you don’t have a time limit. You can take it step by step. 

“Just because something doesn’t happen now, doesn’t mean something better won’t happen in the future.” 

Sam Skeates Production apprentice at BBC Radio Berkshire

Life at Bracknell and Wokingham College

Sam Skeates studied a Creative Media Level 3 Extended Diploma at Bracknell and Wokingham College and is now doing an apprenticeship at BBC Radio Berkshire. 

“I really enjoyed college. The course was great and I put a lot of work into it which paid off in the end, as I got a distinction,” Sam said. 

“I also had a brilliant group of mates who I’m still in touch with today, which is just as important for making college a positive experience.” 

 

My fondest memory

Sam shared his favourite memory from his time at college. 

“One day that I remember well was when we had to film a documentary. I decided to do a sport documentary as I’m a big Liverpool supporter, so I wanted to film a piece on Liverpool FC,” he said. 

“I contacted the sports department directly to see if one of the footballers wanted to come and be a part of it, and the guy they sent turned out to be an old friend of mine who I’d lost contact with! 

“It made the documentary a lot more meaningful for me, and  made the whole experience more special. It was great seeing the end product, after our reunion.” 

 

Life since college

Sam discovered the BBC Radio Berkshire apprenticeship opportunity through his tutors at college, who encouraged him to apply. 

“I've been a production apprentice at BBC Radio Berkshire since September, so, almost half a year now and I’m absolutely loving it,” Sam said. 

“As part of my role, I help produce shows and I edit the Reading FC podcast that airs on Saturdays. I'm also getting into the social media side of it, and doing some video editing and filming, too. 

“I'm really trying to do as much as I can to work out where I want to go next. The apprenticeship is helping me see what I find enjoyable and where my strengths are.” 

 

Returning to college to inspire current students

Sam recently returned to Bracknell and Wokingham College to speak to current creative media students. Sam’s former tutor, Paul Boddy, shared his praise. 

“We are extremely proud of Sam's achievements. He was a Distinction-level student at Bracknell and Wokingham College and always put in 100% effort throughout his course,” Paul Boddy, Media Lecturer at Activate Learning, said. 

“His visit showed what can be achieved by studying Creative Media here, and gave our current students a valuable insight into the process of applying for and working in an apprenticeship.” 

 

Proudest achievements

Sam reflected on his proudest achievements from college and the apprenticeship. 

“I was extremely proud of my final video project that I created at college. It was a music video for the song Let You by Iann Dior, and I think it was my favourite video that I’ve produced,” Sam said. 

“I am also really proud that I secured a place on the apprenticeship with BBC Radio Berkshire, and what I have achieved during the programme so far. 

“Just last week, I was listening back to the Reading FC podcast that I edit, and it hit me that it's on BBC Sounds. That’s something I've created is on there is a big achievement for me.” 

 

Advice after leaving college

Sam has some advice to share with students who are leaving college soon. 

“You’ve just got to go in and be confident! Don’t be afraid to talk to people and ask questions,” he said. 

“Building up a network is really important. When you’re meeting new people, pick up on an area of common interest and go from there. You never know what doors it might open for you. 

“It never hurts to be curious and proactive, particularly when you’re fairly new in industry.” 

Siobhan White Manager at Resource Productions

Life at Reading College

Siobhan White completed her Performing and Production Arts Level 3 Extended Diploma at Reading College in 2017 and returned in 2020 to do a Departmental Management Apprenticeship. She now works as a Manager at Resource Productions, a UK based film and TV production company.

“Going back to college as an older student was really great for me, especially doing something I truly love,” Siobhan said.

“It really gave me the chance to re-evaluate myself and understand who I was as a performer.”

“The apprenticeship was a new experience for me as well. I'd done an apprenticeship before, but the format was very different as it was online due to the pandemic. It taught me a lot, not only about management but also about learning online and adapting.”

 

Favourite memory

Reflecting on her time at college as a performing arts student, Siobhan shared her favourite memory of Reading College.

“When the class had the opportunity to perform on the big stage at Disney World was definitely a highlight,” Siobhan said.

“That experience has given me a lot more confidence and has boosted my acting CV as well.”

“It wasn't just the final performance, it was the rehearsals and the process of piecing the performance together with everyone, too.”

 

Life after college

“I'm currently working as a Training and Development Manager with Resource Productions,” Siobhan said.

“I love my role, and completing my Management Apprenticeship has allowed me to move up to a managerial position and advance my career.”

 

Career highlights

“I've always wanted to work in the Creative Industries. Working with Resource Productions in this new role allows me to do what I love, and help others start and move forward with their creative careers at the same time,” Siobhan said.

“There are lots of achievements that I am very proud of in my career so far, though I'm most proud of the professional acting jobs I secured, which included touring South China with the musical Animalphabet, and securing my first feature film role in Little English.”

 

Advice for college leavers

Siobhan had some words of wisdom to share with college leavers.

She said: “Performing Arts is such a wide avenue; it's not only performing on stage. Take time to explore your options and don't stress yourself out about not getting into Higher Education immediately; you have so many options and so much time.”

Stanley Franks Senior LSA at City of Oxford College

 

Life at City of Oxford College

Stanley studied a Performing Arts Level 3 Extended Diploma at City of Oxford College in 2013 and has now returned to his former college to work as a senior LSA. 

“I really enjoyed my course. It set me up well for university and I liked how I had a lot more agency over what I was doing compared to at school,” Stanley said. 

“The college environment is very different from school, even down to the student-teacher relationships. A lot more trust is put in you at college, and you’re really treated like an adult which I loved. 

"That sense of responsibility also helped prepare me for university and work life, as the way you manage your time is up to you.” 

 

Life after college

After graduating from the University of Gloucestershire with a degree in Drama and Performance Practice and being in the acting scene for a while, Stanley decided to pursue a career in education. 

He started working as an SEN teaching assistant at Cheney School, where they promoted him to a cover teacher after just a few months. Stanley then found out about an opportunity at his former college and got the role of senior LSA at City of Oxford College. 

“It can be a challenging role at times, as there's a lot of responsibility. It was a huge learning curve for me as well, particularly now that I’m leading a team, as I had never done that before,” Stanley said. 

“But the students really make it worth it and it’s such a rewarding job. I have a great team and I'm really fond of my peers as well. So, I feel supported with what I do.” 

 

Proudest Achievement

“One of my proudest achievements so far is definitely taking the responsibility that I have in my current role,” Stanley shared. 

Being able to manage a team of about 10 staff this early in my career is definitely something that I’m proud of, particularly when I’m one of the youngest in the team.” 

 

Advice for pursuing a career in education

Stanley shared some words of wisdom for people wanting to start their career in education. 

If you are looking for variety and different challenges every day, then being an LSA will definitely be a great position for you,” Stanley said. 

“My advice is to have fun with it. Your job will look different every day and you learn a lot, very quickly so, make the most of it and enjoy it. 

“It’s a really rewarding job. Seeing the impact you have every day, not just on people’s education, but on their confidence and self-belief too is unmatchable.” 

Torin Budd Junior Social Media and Platforms Journalist

Life at Farnham College

Torin Budd completed his A Levels in Graphic Design, Media Studies and Photography at Farnham College in 2020. He now works as a Junior Social Media and Platforms Journalist at The Times and The Sunday Times.

Torin said: “My time at Farnham College was quite transformational. I started college not knowing what I wanted to do long-term, but I knew I wanted to play music and I thought I didn't want to go to university.

“The teaching staff were fantastic in providing support but also inspiring me to push myself and continue into university.

“In my second year at Farnham, I was the Student Union President of the Guildford College Group, which is a role I took great pride in.

“I thoroughly enjoyed representing the students and raising their issues on their behalf, as well as attending the NUS Conference in Glasgow in 2019.”

 

Life after college

After finishing his studies at Farnham College, Torin went on to study Journalism at the University of Winchester.

“After studying at University for three years, I am now working as a Junior Social Media and Platforms Journalist at The Times and The Sunday Times,” he said.

“My day-to-day tasks include everything from tweeting to over a million followers, to doing voiceovers for TikTok videos.

“Every day at work truly feels like a dream and one I have worked for since my time at Farnham College, as many of the skills I learnt during my time at the college are still applicable in my role today."

 

Proudest achievement 

Torin shared his proudest achievement since attending college.

He said: “Aside from achieving a 2:1 in my degree and working in my current job, my proudest achievement was to work as a touring musician during the summer of 2022.

“It was a dream come true to go on tour with people who chose me based on my ability they had previously seen. I am also proud to have had my footage from my time at university used by ITV Meridian.”

 

Advice to college leavers

Torin had some words of wisdom to share with students that are about to leave college and embark on their next steps.

He said: “My best piece of advice to college students is to follow their passion and keep an open mind. I had no idea I wanted to be a journalist until I happened to hang around after a Media Studies talk which ran into a talk about the Journalism University course I would later devote all my time to.

“If you do these two things, you will come across new experiences that you never thought would be possible. I believe that any goals will be achievable if you follow what you're truly passionate about.”

Zach McLaughlin Owner and Bicycle Mechanic at 2Wheelies Limited

Life at Activate Apprenticeships

Zach McLaughlin, who completed his Bicycle Mechanic Level 3 Apprenticeship with Activate Apprenticeships in 2019, recalls his time at college with enthusiasm.

Zach particularly cherished the opportunity to connect with fellow cycling enthusiasts who shared his passion.

He said: "It was really good to meet like-minded people who enjoy the mechanics of bikes as much as myself. The apprenticeship also helped me find better ways of working to enhance my knowledge."

 

Life after college

When Zach finished his apprenticeship, he decided to open his own business and is now the proud owner of his own cycle repair shop in Derby, 2Wheelies Limited.

Zach acknowledged the challenges of managing a business independently, including long working hours, but he also finds it immensely rewarding to run his own repair shop successfully.

Reflecting back on his time as an apprentice, he said: “It gave me the confidence and knowledge to progress further. I enjoyed learning from others in my class and even helping some other mechanics grasp new skills.”

Zach shared what drove him to open his own business: “I have always been a keen cyclist, but I noticed the lack of bike workshops in my area and thought the city needed one.”

 

Proudest achievement

Zach’s proudest achievement is starting his own business, particularly after facing some obstacles on his path to success.

Despite suffering a serious cycling accident in his teens and having to undergo rehabilitation for physical and brain injuries, Zach overcame these challenges and was able to fulfil his dream of opening his own repair shop, demonstrating extraordinary resilience and determination.

 

Advice to college leavers

Reflecting on his journey, Zach offered simple yet powerful advice to college leavers: "Just stick at it and progression will follow."

This encouragement to current students and apprentices emphasises the importance of perseverance and dedication in pursuing their passion and career goals.

Adam Harries, Zach's former teacher and Head of Delivery at Activate Cycle Academy, adds: "I remember him saying in his enrolment that he loved fixing bikes and that a career in this would be a dream come true for him, and now he’s certainly achieved that. Well done, Zach!"

Zach's story serves as a testament to the transformative power of education and apprenticeships, showcasing the potential for individuals to overcome obstacles and achieve their dreams with the right support and opportunities.

Zoe Claymore Director at Zoe Claymore Garden Design

Life at Merrist Wood College

Zoe Claymore completed her Horticulture: Landscape Construction Level 2 Diploma at Merrist Wood College and University Centre in July 2023.

Since completing her course, she has gone on to set up and run her own award-winning Garden Design business, Zoe Claymore Garden Design.

She said: “I did a one-year City & Guilds course at Merrist Wood and thoroughly enjoyed it. The teaching was professional and flexible, and the course gave me the confidence and skillset to help me to grow my business and improve my offering to clients.

“My favourite memory was learning how to lay paving properly - so satisfying! Also exploring the behind the scenes at Kew Gardens - that was fantastic.

 

Life after college

The course has allowed Zoe to drive her business to success and said she has ambitions to grow it further.

“I'm the Director but at the moment I’m running it all. I plan on going to subcontract in one of my connections from the course to help with the installation.

“The course has also helped me diversify my offering, such as turning my show garden raised beds into a ready-to-buy range. I also now offer a consultation service. Now am working to grow the business to win commissions across London and Surrey.

“Going to college gave me much more confidence with the construction elements of the garden creation process and a greater appreciation for how my design decisions impact others,” Zoe added.

 

Overcoming challenges

Zoe’s journey into this career path is one of personal growth and overcoming obstacles.

She shared: “In all honesty, I was in a very difficult place with my mental health in my mid 20s and then I found solace and meaning in growing plants in my garden.

“Over time, this grew into a passion which became an obsession, and then I decided I wanted to pursue it as a career.

“After three years of saving money, compressing hours and exploring options in horticulture, I took the plunge to retrain as a garden designer first and then undertake the horticulture course at Merrist Wood.”

 

Proudest achievement

Zoe reminisced over the time she won an RHS Gold Medal at the Hampton Court Palace Garden Festival.

“One of my proudest moments was winning an RHS Gold medal for my show garden, called: The Wildlife Trusts, Renters' Retreat,” she said.

“My course mates helped me with the build and maintenance of the show garden. I also got a lot of support and encouragement from the others and my tutor throughout the year.”

“The support from the college helped me keep going when I was looking for the funding, as it was a long and frustrating process. I needed to find over £40k and it took months and reaching out via email to over 90 companies!”

 

Advice for college leavers

Zoe shared some words of wisdom for current students about to embark on their next steps.

She said: “Be proactive and don't give up. Email companies with a reputable background to look for work. The industry is crying out for competent people.

“Don't give up if people don't get back to you. Try again, as the likelihood is they are swimming in emails and just haven't seen it.

“It took me many months to win my first design commission, so just keep going, believe in yourself, and get as much work experience as you can.”