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Thoroughly modern milliner

WHEN Huddersfield Technical College began its courses in fashion and related crafts in 1991, one of its priorities was to reach the disadvantaged. The fashion department went out into the West Yorkshire community and worked in mainstream schools, in religious community centres and with the Asian and Caribbean communities.

Department head Pam Robinson knew that many of the people they met thought that formal further education, with intimidating written exams, was not for them. She chose to offer City and Guilds courses and now has about 300, mostly full-time students.

All the students do core studies in art textiles that concentrate on the creative aspects of colour, shape and form. They can specialise in a range of courses, including theatre costume, upholstery, interior design, hand knitting and millinery at foundation, intermediate and advanced levels. So successful are the courses that students have come from as far away as Birmingham. The department has won medals from City and Guilds and been promted by the Further Education Development Agency as a showcase of good practice.

Ms Robinson trained as a tailor and had her own business. She is part of the last generation to be trained before the recession cut through British manufacturing in the Eighties. One member of her staff is in his seventies.

Local enterprises send some students to the college but many find it difficult to cope with the expenses of training. Many larger companies provide no manufacturing training at all because they out-source their garment-making to countries such as Malaysia.

Many of the fashion students find that, by coming back into the education system, they are able to develop their creative talents and they can get jobs.

Some go on to work for other people but many go into business for themselves - that needs skill and confidence, which the courses give them.

So those people who see a route from social exclusion to entrepreneurship through creative crafts may not be talking through their hats.

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