East Anglia: Successful first year for Easton and Otley College

Easton and Otley staff celebrating the launch of the new college a year ago

Easton and Otley staff celebrating the launch of the new college a year ago - Credit: Archant

Easton and Otley College, which was formed on August 31, 2012 through a merger of the land-based colleges for Norfolk and Suffolk, is today celebrating its first anniversary. JOHN NICE spoke to college principal David Lawrence about its progress so far.

Collectively, the Otley and Easton colleges have been around, in one form or other, for more than 100 years.

But how is the combined Easton and Otley College doing today, one year on from its formation?

Since David Lawrence was officially unveiled as principal of the new college last year, he has received an OBE for his services to education and agriculture and completed a year-long term of office as president of the Royal Norfolk Show.

“It’s been quite a year both personally and professionally,” he says, “but it’s not a case of being complacent. The hard work continues.”

Reflecting on the highlights of the last 12 months, Mr Lawrence says that one of the most pleasing outcomes is that student satisfaction and performance has improved, and overall the amount of students achieving better grades has increased.

“Recently we did some research into a specific level three horticultural programme for example and we discovered that 87% of those who completed the course went straight into employment or progressed into higher education,” he says. “Our aim is to try and reach these levels in all the courses that we teach.”

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He says that, through the merger, two “smallish” educational establishments have become the fifth-largest landbased college in the UK, with more than 900 staff across the two counties.

“By being able to pool our resources, we have been able to become a place with more expertise,” says Mr Lawrence. “The collective working relationship we have developed has definitely added to what we can offer students and industry.

“The fact that we have almost 1,000 staff makes us one of the larger employers in this region. Overall the transition has been relatively smooth and I would like to thank all of the staff at Easton and Otley College for helping to make that happen.”

Working more closely with industry is a massive part of the ethos of the new college. “If we don’t provide the right levels and standards of training that suits the needs of industries then we might as well pack up now,” he says.

“We have certainly made a good start and we have had a great deal of support in both Suffolk and Norfolk. We know we are not there yet, but we are making good progress.”

Another key reason for joining forces was to help improve the facilities that are available to students across the region. Apart from the fact that learners now have access to two campuses, a capital investment plan has seen new facilities opened at both sites.

At Easton, in April last year, the TV vet Steve Leonard came along to celebrate the launch of a new £1.5million animal studies centre.

At the event, Steve Leonard, said, “I wholeheartedly support the college’s efforts in providing first class training facilities to students of all ages in this region.

“A career working in this wonderful industry can be tremendously fulfilling. Every day is different and it can allow you to travel the world and learn something new every day. I’m very much enjoyed this occasion; it was a great day for the college.”

At the Otley campus, industry leaders from the horticultural industry were invited to attend the cutting of the red ribbon at the “Wishing Well” gardens.

New greenhouses will also be opened at the Otley campus later in the year as another of the missions since merging is to encourage more people to study not just agricultural courses, but horticultural courses as well.

In addition to this, a total of more than £3million pounds will be used to improve other facilities in agriculture and animal studies at Otley.

“The investment at both campuses hopefully shows that we mean business when it comes to delivering on our promise of supporting students across both counties and beyond, by providing an excellent place of study to industries that need our support,” says Mr Lawrence.

The Suffolk and Royal Norfolk county shows have become increasingly more important to the college due to a renewed agricultural focus and it marked its first appearances as a combined organisation by claiming a number of awards.

At the Suffolk Show, the college picked up the awards for best trade stand, the best stand representing environmental or educational issues (winning the Russell Faulds Memorial Trophy) and the stand that made the best use of floral decorations.

Agricultural learners took part, and won awards, in livestock competitions, floristry students picked up honours in the floral hat and handbag design contest, and construction learners received first prizes for their efforts in bricklaying and carpentry skills competitions.

At the Royal Norfolk Show, agricultural learners paraded livestock and picked up best heifer in the Holstein category. They also received reserve champion in the same competition and won best pairs in a separate Holstein class.

Floristry learners won a gold medal for their stand in the flower tent and students also received first, third and fifth in an arranging competition based on stars of the stage and screen.

As last year’s show president, Mr Lawrence met the current president, TV presenter Jake Humphrey, at the college’s main marquee which also hosted an industry and educational competition co-ordinated by the Norfolk Young Farmers.

Three young entrepreneurs went head to head to win a £5,000 prize to help advance their agricultural businesses, with the eventual winners being Laura Potter and Lawrence Brown who have set up a veal company.

As well as continuing to work closely with the University of East Anglia and University Campus Suffolk, the college’s commitment to supporting apprenticeships has also been a main priority this year.

As part of this, the college is part of an industry-led apprenticeship programme to boost training opportunities in food and farming and help young people develop careers in agriculture.

The EDGE Apprenticeships in Food and Farming scheme brings together a number of leading organisations to Educate, Develop, Grow and Employ (EDGE) young people in agriculture.

The first academic year together ended with a series of prize day celebrations for both campuses.

The Otley campus hosted two events at Trinity Park where guest presenters Chris Bushby, chief executive of the Suffolk Agricultural Association, and Stephen Cobbald, this year’s president of the Suffolk Show, handed out certificates of achievement to students. The Easton campus held three events that were supported by Christine Tacon, a director of Anglia Farmers, Henry Cator, chairman of the Royal Agricultural Society of England and the Association of Drainage Authorities, and David Hunter, chief executive of Fakenham racecourse.

“The prize day events were a great way to conclude our first year together,” said Mr Lawrence “and now we are looking forward to the year ahead.

“We are right in the midst of post GCSE and A-level results so this is a busy time for us. We have open events to support those who are not sure what to do next and we look forward to welcoming some new faces to both campuses whilst also saying hello again to those who are part way through their courses.

“We certainly can’t wait to begin our second year together, but overall, I would like to say a big thank you to our many supporters, students and staff who have helped us positively progress during the last 12 months.”