David Byrne, principal and chief executive, is determined to meet head-on criticism that the college has failed to open its doors and engage with the local community.
He told the annual meeting of the Barnet Society (20.6.2013) that the college had to do “much more” to ensure that the buildings and space it occupied were made more widely available so that the people of High Barnet could share in the “vibrancy of having thousands of students” in their midst.
A series of initiatives are possible which it is hoped will demonstrate the determination of one of London’s largest further education colleges to be far more outgoing in its relationship with the wider community.
Not least because it could be a two-way relationship, benefiting local people and also enhancing the employability and life time chances of the students.
Mr Byrne outlined an agenda for change:
- Using the square at the front of the Wood Street campus as a piazza for local exhibitions and events, perhaps in collaboration with students.
- Offering the historic Tudor Hall for hire as a venue for local functions.
- A gymnasium might be built at the rear of the college for use in sports science and leisure courses and this could also be made available for community use.
- Inviting members of the public to attend the students’ annual fashion and art exhibitions.
- Encouraging local businesses and employers to take advantage of the newly-established Wood Street Employment Zone (a collaborative venture between the college and employment agency Reed NCFE).
- Opening a shop front in the High Street or the Spires shopping centre where the college could promote its courses and services, and also engage with the public.
- A possible discount for High Barnet residents on the cost of adult education and language courses.
- Mr Byrne said considerable progress had already been made in engaging with the communities around the college’s four campuses within the boroughs of Barnet and Enfield. Students were already offering services to local people.
- At High Barnet, beauty treatments are on offer to the public at Graseby House in the High Street (next to the Red Lion public house) where thecollege has a commercial and student training spa with pool, sauna and steam rooms.
Other ventures include a restaurant operated in conjunction with the training kitchen for catering students at the Southgate campus (open to the public at lunch time and evenings in term time), and a hairdressing salon at the Grahame Park campus offering cut-price hair treatments carried out by students supervised by experienced teaching staff.
Mr Byrne was blunt about the challenge facing Barnet and Southgate College: it had to become more commercial, and one important way to drive income was to “work more consistently with the community”.
“One criticism of the college from the local community is that ‘You don’t engage with us, offer space or be open with us.’ These are issues we must take on board.”
He gave an impressive set of statistics about the college’s expansion: 16,000 students over the space of a year; 5,000 of the full-time students are under 19; an annual turnover of £46 million; a staff of over 800; and on its four sites, 50,000 square feet of space.
But the college realised it had to create something different.
But the college realised it had to create something different. The greatest challenge was to fast-track students into jobs, and the college had to find ways to encourage the students to undertake more employment activities as part of their education, hence the desire to open up the Wood Street campus to High Barnet so as to encourage the participation of the local community and local businesses.
“Providing a qualification is no longer sufficient. When we send people out we must make sure they are employable.
“High Barnet needs to take advantage of the vibrancy of the thousands of students we have here who could actively contribute to the community and improve leisure activities; we know the students could do far more to take part in local events.
“For example, we have a lovely square in front of the Wood Street campus and frankly we don’t do much with it. How can it be used?
“In the next couple of years we must show what we can do to enrich the local community. The progress we make will be a measure of my success,” said Mr Byrne.
Barnet Council is stepping up its efforts to try to encourage an increase in the number of apprenticeships on offer to youngsters in the borough.
For the next six months the Council’s apprenticeships officer Frances Errington, will be working with local businesses to help them establish apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year olds and to identify any possible funding.
In future years the college intends to do more to promote the students’ annual fashion shows at the Wood Street campus and encourage greater participation by the residents of High Barnet.