Wirral Met College has served the Wirral community for more than 165 years. Throughout that time, there have been many historical events including the flu pandemic from a century ago – and once again, history is unfolding as we cope with the Covid-19 pandemic a century later.
FE colleges such as ours have been a constant anchor organisation for the communities we serve and, as the impact of the pandemic continues to unfold in our vocational college, we have embraced every opportunity to ensure that we continue to provide a wide spectrum of employability skills, citizenship and wellbeing, as we support thousands of students to continue their journey towards a dream career.
Ordinarily, our culinary arts team would now be engaged in lots of events, running our student restaurant, the Birches, and leading on civic events in the first term. However, the restrictions we have put in place to ensure Covid-19 safety, and the reality of cancelled large events, made this impossible.
From restaurant to takeaway
So, through the contacts we have with employers and third-sector organisations, our team came up with a great plan to turn our usual Birches Restaurant experience into a takeaway service for the most vulnerable and homeless people in our community. This required teamwork with our college designing, preparing and packaging hundreds of hearty meals for local charity Hope for the Hungry (Birkenhead) CIC to distribute.
This created a working environment in our training kitchens for high production meals, portion control, food safety through preparation to packaging and, just as important, how our students can make a difference in their community.
Teaching and learning in FE is much more than gaining qualifications and skills for work – our study programmes include the importance of being a good citizen, understanding and contributing to your own community, and the role that other organisations and charities play in making a difference through teamwork that is built on kindness.
Such was the excitement of this project that local Tesco and Asda stores also wanted to be part of this initiative and kindly donated the ingredients. Hence, the spirit of the season became a reality as Wirral Met College, two local supermarkets and a charity worked together to bring some comfort to those most in need.
Engaging students with community challenges
Wirral is an interesting and beautiful part of the country and, like most towns, we have areas of very high deprivation and the stark contrast between the West of the borough and the East of the borough highlights the significant challenges we face. East Wirral – Birkenhead, in particular – is where more than 68 per cent of our young students live.
The healthy life expectancy for these areas of extreme deprivation is above 22 years less than their peers in West Wirral. The household income is also less than half of that in the West of the borough and the most difficult challenge of all for us, as a college, is to tackle poverty of aspiration.
Engaging our young students in understanding the community challenges we and they face, and involving them in doing something that helps to make a difference for the most vulnerable people in our community, has done so much more than help those in need.
Students have embraced teamwork, partnership and taken part in the community spirit knowing that they can make a real difference, and we know that this aspect of their learning is every bit as important as their skills for work.
In answering the question: why do we get involved in this sort of community initiative? The answer is simple, our college is the heart of our community and, in more than 165 years, generations of staff and students have been involved in developing post-16 skills to enable them to go on to do great things in their lives and careers.
Knowing the importance of kindness and understanding the value of community is priceless. By bringing some comfort to those most in need, we have played our part in supporting them, all wrapped up in a learning experience that will equip our students with the emotional intelligence needed to understand the impact they can make in their chosen careers.
Sue Higginson is the principal of Wirral Met College