Education is something I’ve been passionate about since I began my career more than 20 years ago. I believe you never stop learning and everything you learn stays with you your whole life, so it’s something that can never be taken away from you.

Looking back, I’ve been involved in further education ever since I was a college student in 1997, which changed everything for me. Leaving school with one GCSE to my name, I had a choice between college or going straight into work and paying rent, which I definitely didn’t want to do!

Although I didn’t really like school, once I had the power to pursue something I loved doing (which at the time was horse riding) and I was able to make the decision for myself about to what to study and where to study it, I thrived. I ended up staying at college for four years and progressing onto an HND in Equine Science and Land Based Technologies. I’ve actually never worked with horses or in the equine sector, but I really enjoyed learning and I gained so many transferable skills and people skills that I’ve been able to take with me all the way through my career. 

I think that shows just how powerful education is, particularly further education, which really empowers young people for the first time in their lives to make their own choices and be treated more like an adult. That’s the real difference between school and college and it’s important to remember that our students are choosing to be here. As educators our role is to develop them as people and to develop their skills, but also to make sure they have a positive experience, so that they’ll keep making that choice to come to college and learn.

I started my career working for a private training provider specialising in apprenticeships in the land-based sector, progressing over ten years from an administrator to Director of Contracts and Business Development, before moving to FE colleges in 2011. The various roles I’ve held in colleges across London and Hertfordshire have eventually led me here, to my new role of Principal at Lewisham College.

I’ve always been aware of Lewisham College and have closely watched its journey over the past 15 years. It is integral to the local community and though it has been through a lot of change it has really begun to stabilise since it became part of NCG, one of the country’s largest college groups. The staff here are a real part of the Lewisham community and are very passionate about what they do, so the college has always had a very strong foundation in its staff.

Out of all the London boroughs, Lewisham is yet to realise its full potential, so I believe there’s a real opportunity to take the foundations of the college and work with that existing team of dedicated colleagues to develop it to the next level for our students, for our local community and for the businesses and employers here. To have the chance to come in and be a real part of that journey really drew me to this role.

One of my biggest priorities is to ensure that Lewisham is the provider of choice for employers locally. There’s a historic perception that colleges don’t really engage with employers – that we have always focused on getting students through the doors and back out again with their qualifications. That’s why the Local Skills Improvement Plans (LSIPs) are so focused on bringing employer engagement to the forefront. But we know that’s not true – whether its masterclasses, work experience, or supporting our curriculum and assessments, we have really positive engagement with employers and we always have done.

Now I want to make sure that we’re working with employers from the very beginning, to set the curriculum and the vision. It’s not just about understanding the skills that our students need; its understanding what development our teachers need to stay relevant, and understanding what sectors our local community needs us to be focused on.

My vision is for Lewisham College be recognised as a centre of excellence in some of those priority areas and to be known as the place to study if you want to go into a sector such as green skills, digital technology, or the health and life sciences. We know that these are priority areas because of external factors like the NHS staff shortages, or the work I’ve done in my previous role to set up training academies for low-carbon green technologies.

In London alone, we need more than 600,000 installers for green facilities like EV chargers and solar heat pumps, as well as the big task of retrofitting our homes. The government may have moved the goal posts for our Net Zero targets, but these are still absolutely skills that we need to focus on. Similarly, with the rise of AI and how fast paced digital transformation is, we know that area isn’t going away either. The London LSIP that has recently been published really aligns with that too.

Most of all, I want to make sure that we’re doing right by the Lewisham community and that we’re a real community asset. Although we’re classed as in inner London borough, I think that our tight knit community and our small, independent businesses means it can often feel more like outer London. People who live in Lewisham also want to work here, that’s part of its charm, but currently two of the largest employers are Lewisham College and the NHS trust.

Lewisham is evolving, it currently has a 10-year regeneration project and this is a prime opportunity for it to develop and find its place in London – to attract more people and commercial ventures into the borough. Lewisham College is very much part of that conversation, working with civic stakeholders and developers to help ensure that the plans are right for Lewisham; that we can respond to the skills needs that come with the change; that our students and residents are going to benefit from the jobs that the regeneration brings.

Our primary focus is very local because this is where our students, our staff and our community are. But looking outside of the borough, being part of NCG brings a lot of opportunity for us. I’ve always considered NCG to have a very different and diverse model compared to a lot of other college groups. Our national footprint can only be a good thing, giving our staff and students access to expertise from different areas of the country and attract partnerships with employers who work beyond our individual regions. We may live and work in very different areas, but we all have the shared mission of ‘enabling social mobility and economic prosperity’ and I am very much looking forward to working with colleagues up and down the country to share best practice and help turn local impact into national impact.

So yes, you could say I have big ambitions for Lewisham College, but it’s easy to forget I have only been here a few weeks! In many ways I feel as though I’ve been here forever. I’ve tried to spend a lot of time with staff and the community, and I’ve found a culture here is that is very open and supportive. So, before we get stuck into those big goals, I want to take it back to basics and make sure we’re getting the fundamentals right; that our students are attending, that they’re showing up on time and they’re progressing while they’re here. It goes back to that ethos of giving our students a positive experience that they will keep choosing.