Mike Levy meets a head of design and technology whose innovative projects get everyone involved
What do Disneyland, catwalk fashion shows and design and technology have to do with a rural community college? Julie Messenger, head of food technology at Sawtry Community College, has the answer. This 11-18 technology college has more than 1,200 students drawn from the area between Peterborough and Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire.
It was a visit to Disneyland Paris that inspired Julie to launch the college's Fashion Cafe last May. This was a spectacular fashion-show-cum-cafe, involving the whole of Year 10 in a complete term's curriculum work.
The idea came to Julie as she took a party of all Year 10 Damp;T students to the famous theme park. "I wanted to look at how the company served and organised its food, how it designed its staff uniforms - everything from aprons to menus," she says.
The visit inspired her to run a project for about 100 Year 10 students that would involve many of the elements she saw in Paris. She organised a school fashion show encompassing many aspects of the Damp;T curriculum: meals were prepared and cooked by food students; the ambience was created by a team from graphics (with a little help from electronics). Textiles students made soft toys on the Beanie Slammer model and put together the corporate clothing. Product design students designed condiment sets and candle holders, which were then made by manufacturing students.
There were many Year 10 volunteers to help out each night - working as kitchen staff, waiters or Beanies sellers. And students from Years 8 and 10 discovered the art of catwalk modeling, so the project involved nearly everyone in the school.
How did Julie get the project started? "My first move was to approach Marks and Spencer in Peterborough," she says. The store offered to lend 30 outfits from its range for younger people."
She also negotiated a grant of pound;2,000 from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. "It was such an unusual schools project that they were keen to get involved," she says.
Staging for the catwalk itself was borrowed from a nearby private school.
The college already had a fancy lighting rig, and some of the students worked on a theatrical smoke machine. The overall effect, says Julie, was to provide a huge "Wow!" factor on each of the four nights.
Participation was the key to the project. Not only were the Damp;T students fully involved in creating the catwalk, the food and the uniforms, there was also a big input from dance and performing arts students.
Students also engaged with the project in a number of curriculum areas: customer surveys incorporated maths, and the production of publicity materials exercised their writing skills.
None of this would have been possible without what Julie calls "massive teamworkI the entire DT department, including technicians, were fully on board and there was full support from the senior management team," she says.
The college was so impressed by the project that it sanctioned this year's idea: American Diner. The theme is musicals, and students are working hard to plan and produce a real 1950s Grease experience, complete with milkshake bar, neon signs, special aprons and caps, and full cabaret entertainment.
Food will be appropriate - "hot dogs of course", says Julie, who has secured a supply of skins and a sausage-maker from a local butcher.
Students will also make and bake their own rolls, bread and American waffles.
The event will run from May 14-16 and Julie is still looking for help with the Diner project. "I would kill for a set of American chrome bar stools and a flashing 50s-style jukebox".
She also has one other tiny request: "Has anyone got an open-topped pink 1950s Cadillac?"