5 Minutes With…..The Artist Taxi Driver

Ahead of his scheduled Talk at Fircroft College on Thursday 18th January, we had a chat with  performance artist and YouTube vlogger The Artist Taxi Driver, aka Mark McGowan.

How did you become The Artist Taxi Driver?

It was kind of an intervention into media, an intervention into politics. It started around 2000 – 2001 with public performances. By 2007, after about 10 years of doing critical art pieces and trying to get into political news media, I switched from that. It was around the time of IPhone’s and video and the accessibility of uploading directly from your phone to YouTube. The way things were moving with technology, I started to create this online character whereas before it was public performance. I turned a camera on one day and that was it.

Where did the name Artist Taxi Driver come from?

The first video was outside Frieze. Well actually, I said I was outside Frieze which is a big art fair but I wasn’t.  I just made up this video where I wanted to go into the art fair but they wouldn’t let me in, it was on for about five days so there were five videos. I was talking about not being let into the art fair, about not being invited. During those 5 days, at one point someone said to me, “Are you a taxi driver?” I said no, I’m The Artist Taxi Driver. I had been a courier, a taxi driver and run a cab office as well. I taught MA Fine Arts at Chelsea for about 6 years, taught at Camberwell and different universities.

Is there anyone who influences you? Or whose work you admire?

I get really inspired by lots of important artists and performance people and the way they style themselves. You can see good in all art, you can get inspired by everything. People who inspire me the most are generally rogues. Alexander Brenner who’s like a very bad man; Frankie Boyle who’s a Scottish Comedian. At the same time I like Giggs, I like his attitude. He’s very roguish, he believes in his creativity.

I say to students, when you’re creating something, whether it’s an essay, whether you’re making the tea, whether you’re having a bath – just make it the best one ever. I mean if it’s a bath, put the candles on get the bubbles going and make it the best bath ever!

What did you think about the way in which Grime artists got involved in the last election?

That was very cool. That’s good. I really like the way that Stormzy is sticking it to the Daily Mail and is his own person. I think people appreciate that he engages in politics. It’s really important that young people have role models. It’s good that young people have a really strong social conscience, especially when they see things like Grenfell Tower. It’s good that you have people like Stormzy who are pro public services and try to contribute to community, that’s what you want people to be involved in. Sometimes young people feel left behind and discarded so they take it out on their own communities. I try to make people realise that this is ours, this is what we’ve got and we’ve got to make the best of it.

Have you always looked at society the way you do? Or is this something which began later in life?

Since around 2000, around that time.

What was the catalyst that changed your way of thinking?

Before that, when I was about 35, I was a heroin addict on the streets, homeless, in institutions. I stopped using and they sent me to Art College. Got taken into care by the local council after going to rehab and therapy groups. I was in a house where you weren’t allowed out, like a recovery house. It changed me. Now they’re shutting services like this and we need more not less. I know a lady whose daughter had to go to a centre in Edinburgh as there were no spaces for her locally at all.

Does print media still have influence over the public?

A lot has changed. People are more aware that in a general sense, 90% of the media is corporate media. They have set agendas, they are not going to tell you the truth, it’s not an unbiased organisation. What they do, instead of blatantly lying, they control narratives. So the narrative is whatever they want it to be.

Activism, Politics and Social Media with The Artist Taxi Driver takes place on Thursday 18th January from 1 – 3pm.

To register for your free ticket visit our eventbrite page







Student Voice: Living Faith by Alicia Cheshire

What is FAITH without awareness, confidence, trust, certainty and belief – a sense of knowingness, surety and peace?

It’s an empty shell yearning to be filled, a vessel waiting to carry you to the other side, to a brighter world where dreams are realised.

Faith is not denying reality  but facing it with certainty. Knowing that what ever you’re going through is just temporary.

Regardless of how things may appear, there’s nothing to fear.
YOU are in the drivers seat, just focus and steer.

Shift your attention from where you are to where you want to be. Feel it and see it internally.

And as you journey in that direction,  following the signs that have been purposely designed to guide you towards your destination.

There’s NO DOUBT in your mind that you’re getting closer, the road becomes clearer, the environment in line with your imagination.

You feel yourself relax as you allow things to unfold in a wonderful way.
Come what may, when you have faith, peace is here to stay.

There’s no panic or urgency, you’re enjoying the ride, taking things in your stride.

Excited by what’s to come,
Doubt and fear have been replaced by a sense of joy and fun.

So ultimately faith is about believing in YOU!

Leaving behind anything of hinderance in your rear view,
Trusting that what you focus on will eventually come true.

The timing depends on how quick you let go and let the universe carry you through!


New Year New Website Coming to Fircroft

We are excited to confirm that after much consultation and development the new Fircroft website project is well underway. Staff, students and other stakeholders have been consulted during the website development process. Firstly, through a survey and most recently through a short consultation on use of language on the website during a student induction session. During this session, students told us that:

‘The term social exclusion is used more now’
‘It is about social inclusivity and that everyone is welcome’ ‘good to have a positive focus too on inclusion’
‘Yes the current website looks very dated, the images and graphics feel old but the words are still relevant’
‘It’s not just about learning, you make friends at Fircroft and keep coming back’
‘I think of it as a hospital for the soul’
‘People feel inspired to come back’
‘It’s a community at Fircroft’
‘Life begins at Fircroft’
‘Use of language feels right to me’
‘It’s open to everyone to learn here’.

This positive feedback is very useful and we look forward to sharing initial designs with colleagues on w/c 4th December and with students during the next digital evening on 12th December.

We have advised students to feedback to tutors or any staff members if they have any further thoughts about language.

If you would like to have your say, speak to a member of staff or email marketing@fircroft.ac.uk.


Fircroft College Ofsted Results 2017

PRESS RELEASE –Published on 10th November 2017

Following our recent short inspection we are happy to announce that Ofsted have confirmed that Fircroft remains a “Good” provider. This reflects significant progress under the new Ofsted framework whilst working with learners with increasingly complex lives and needs in line with our mission. Our newly developed vision ‘Learning to create a better world’ informs our ethos, the ways in which we work and the impact on the lives of Fircroft staff and students.

We deliver transformative education which changes lives. Our model of residential education and support delivers very successful outcomes for our students. We are a specialist and niche provider and put students at the heart of everything we do. We are pleased that Ofsted recognised this, stating that we:

• ‘maintained the high, and very high, achievement rates for learners on
Short Courses… including the recruitment of a higher proportion of learners with multiple barriers to learning’
• ‘used [our] strong links with partner organisations to ensure that [our] new
programme of community learning courses meets the needs of learners with a clear focus on those who are most disadvantaged ’
• ‘recruited support staff with good knowledge and experience of working with learners with barriers to learning’
• ‘[Leaders and managers have] ensured that safeguarding arrangements are fit for purpose and take highly effective action to safeguard learners, both residential, and non-residential. Learners feel safe.
• ‘place a very strong emphasis on involving learners in self-assessment’.

Melanie Lenehan, Principal and CEO of Fircroft College said, “We are delighted that Ofsted have recognised the progress that the College has made since our last Inspection and that our focus on transformational adult education results in successful outcomes for our students.”

Cheryl Turner ‘Chair of the Fircroft Governing Body’ today said, “The Governors are delighted with the outcome of Fircroft College’s inspection and its recognition of both the value of the transformational learning that takes place, and the progress being made in providing the most positive experience possible for the students.”

Vicky Higgins, President of the Fircroft College Student Union added, “I enjoy getting out of bed in the morning knowing that I am coming to Fircroft. The environment is so positive and everyone is really supportive. It’s good to see the college getting the recognition it deserves.”

Our Ofsted report can be read in full here.


Student Voice: Choice – By Michelle Quigley

So, you really believe I got up one morning and said “You know what? Today, I think I’m going to become addicted to something. Something destructive, something damaging!”

That’s my goal in life, to be the worst person I can possibly be.

My addiction was to alcohol.  To me it was a slow form of suicide, I drank to the point of oblivion; black-out!  Does that sound like the choice of a rational mind to you?

You see, there is a very fine line in social acceptance, where alcohol is concerned and that’s where recovery can be hard.

Alcohol is legal, it’s cheap; it’s socially acceptable. If you tell someone you have quit smoking, you may get a pat on the back, a “well done”!  Tell someone you’ve quit drinking and you have to explain yourself; you’re looked at like you’ve grown a second head! You’re seen as unsociable. “Well, one won’t hurt you!”, “Why don’t you drink?”. Yet you wouldn’t necessarily ask the same question to an ex-smoker!  It’s now socially acceptable to be an ex-smoker, but not an ex-drinker, that is seen as shameful – “Oh, so you have a problem?”

One of your gang is seen as someone who can hold their drink – they are idolised, the cool one; the good laugh; the life and soul of the party.  The one in your gang, who can’t hold their drink, is seen as weak, a wimp, totally uncool, taken the mick out of.

Then you take it a step further – to an addiction.  In comes the judgement, the stigma.  Let’s isolate them from society.  The very society that led me to believe it’s socially acceptable to drink.

Kind of a contradiction, don’t you think? That this same society then tells me it’s a lifestyle choice of only my doing.  The only lifestyle choice I see, is when you realise that you have a problem and you then choose to do nothing about it, to stay down, to not choose recovery and life over continuing and dying.

My choice was to stop drinking. To stand up to social acceptance and its fine lines; its stigmas and its judgements. Because my choice is to be me! Not what society chooses me to be!

I choose a life of substance, not substance misuse.


By Michelle Quigley


If you or someone you know has been affected by addiction or substance misuse, there are a number of ways in which you can find help. Try visiting your GP or taking a look at the NHS Website.

There are also many charities which offer a variety of different services; visit  Mind, Addaction or Aquarius for more information.

This year, Fircroft College will be hosting Black Voices: A Spoken Word Event. A celebration of black excellence through the art of poetry. We invite established local poets as well as up and coming wordsmiths to share their thoughts and opinions on black history and culture.

Join us on Monday 23rd October from 7 – 9pm. Tickets are FREE and can be booked here.

Black History Month was launched in UK in 1987 – a campaign led by Akyaaba Addai Sebbo who worked for Greater London Council at the time. GLC selected October as the Black History Month to coincide with the Marcus Garvey celebrations and London Jubilee.

From the London boroughs, the interest in Black History Month soon spread to other cities. Bristol, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Birmingham actively participated in promoting and publicising its philosophy.

The aims of Black History Month are to:

  • Promote knowledge of Black history, culture and heritage
  • Disseminate information on positive Black contributions to British Society
  • Heighten the confidence and awareness of Black people to their cultural heritage


Black History Month fundamentally highlights the history and contributions of Black communities and Black individuals, past and present.




Health and Wellbeing; make up your own mind at Fircroft

By Michael Conway-Jones

In July a number of students tried out a new questionnaire before and after their short course at Fircroft. This uses the Warwick-Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale (WEMWBS) to measure changes in 14 different areas.

One person’s score went down slightly and we know that returning to learning can be very challenging. All the others went up. From an average score of 36 out of 70 at the beginning, to 47 at the end, which is just under the national average.

We’re used to students feeling more confident when they leave Fircroft and more supported by each other. This is reflected in the WEMWBS scores. The biggest improvement was in response to the statement  “I’ve been able to make up my own mind about things”. Some people jumped 2 points up the 5 point scale.

This fits with some academic reading we’ve been doing which says that learning changes our “frames of reference”. This year we’ll be carrying out our own action research into the transformations which happen at Fircroft. As well as progress in their subjects, we’ll be seeing if students are more aware of their assumptions, more open to other perspectives and take the risk of changing their mind.

 Meanwhile on Friday we’re bringing together representatives from every local authority in the West Midlands to use WEMWBS or a similar “social metric” with 1500 learners, supported by the Learning & Work Institute.    We look forward to developing this further and better documenting the difference we make to learners’ health and wellbeing this academic year.



Partnership Opportunities with Fircroft


Fircroft College is looking for partners to support in delivery of education, training and employment outcomes for learners across the West Midlands.  

Providers must have a proven track record of successful support and progression opportunities for disadvantaged learners/beneficiaries. Minimum requirements for insurance levels and financial health plus suitable references will be required as part of the due diligence process. If you would like to find out more or complete an expression of interest please email andria.birch@fircroft.ac.uk

I Was My Own Worst Enemy

I was just like you. I was filled with self-doubt. I was a glass half-empty rather than a glass half-full kind of person. And yet deep down I knew I was capable of so much more than I dared to let myself believe.
I enjoyed school. I did quite well, I worked relatively hard and always thought I’d go to university someday. But then life happened, as it does. It cast my plans aside and led me down a path I had never imagined I would end up on.

I’m sure you know how the story goes; wrong crowd, led astray, missed opportunities, the usual stuff. I was unemployed for a few years, trying out jobs and never really liking them, trying to go to college but never actually completing the course and just generally banging my head against a brick wall. I didn’t know how I was going to turn my life around, or how I was going to get things back on track. Then I found Fircroft.

I applied and was accepted for the Access to Higher Education Diploma. For the first time in years I felt like I had a plan, a goal, something to strive towards. The college was just what I’d been waiting for all these years. It was hope.

Fircroft is a place that changes lives. It builds you up when life has ground you down and sends you back out into the world a stronger, more confident, more knowledgeable person. Before long I started to feel like me again. But not the old me, a brand new me, me 2.0. I was confident, I had self-belief and I was raring to go. Excited to see where this new road would lead me.

Sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. We can talk ourselves out of doing things which we know may be challenging. We start to think about everything that could go wrong, we focus on the negatives and fail to see the wealth of possibilities that are on the horizon. Fircroft helps you to rise above, to look at yourself from a different perspective and to begin to believe in your own capabilities.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m back at Fircroft, this time as a member of staff. Working to make sure that people like me, people like us, are aware of the fantastic opportunities that the college offers.

This is my journey. It may be similar to yours, it may be completely different, but one thing that we have in common is the desire to transform our lives. I did it and you can too, start your journey today, apply for the Access to Higher Education Diploma at Fircroft College – dare to believe.

For more information on the Access to HE Diploma at Fircroft College please visit our website.

Or apply now.




The First Ten Minutes – Nervous Heartbeats In The Gardens

I am very pleased and excited to present to you all the very first Fircroft College student blog post. I hope you enjoy it and please don’t hesitate to submit work of your own to be featured.

This weeks offering is by Mr Raymond Howell.

I heard about Fircroft on the air of wishes sent into the ether by an acquaintance. The information about Fircroft arrived via the ping of an email that beseeched me, begged on bended knees almost, to try a Creative Writing course. On reflection I think they were really trying to say DONT SEND ME ANYMORE Scribbles to read… until you learn to write better. Take this course at Fircroft, please, you will like it, it will help you and they have a good reputation, the food is not bad either.

I was not quite at the find me a noose stage, but I had too many doubts to be comfortable with the idea. At my age returning to school after a 47 year absence without a suitable note from my parents, which I haven’t forged, is almost certain to invite the cane. On top of that I have never been classroom material. I’m not good with groups of people either. I’m also dyslexic and a general mess. What could Fircroft offer me, or I them come to that? I am certainly not student material but, I must admit, I do like to cover pages in ink tattoos, it is how I keep sane.


What to do? I’ve been dumped at a strange crossroads without a pelican or a crossing button. Thanks friend. Unusual for me I had no control over the situation. Apparently the booking was already made and I was politely told to attend. By nature I don’t like waste. Reluctantly I packed a bag, a week before time because I worry about being late, and on the day I set off early to brave the outside world. This was the first time I had ventured forth on an unfamiliar undertaking on my own for a long while, years in fact. It was not an easy journey, trepidation dogged my footsteps, billboard ads mocked, apparently I stink and need deodorant that lasts for days and how can I live without life insurance; the bus was late and newspaper headlines boded ill, chocolate was going to cost more because of the Brexit sleeping pill. Within twenty minutes I was stressed enough to think about returning home. Why shouldn’t I, I am neither an academic, nor a writer and neither did I wish to move on to take a degree. I had no aspirations, expectations or even hopes other than the one I expressed as I boarded the bus, please let me get off at the correct stop. On my arrival I was nervous, doubtful, maybe even a little defensive, as well as a tad agoraphobic. So, with all that clutter filling my suitcase that afternoon I fell nervously through the doors of Fircroft College, flash-backs to 1966 when the world had less need of a social fix, we had won the world cup and I was a new boy in the big school.

I worried before the receptionist, who turned out to be brilliant, she eased my discomfort and a small flake of nervousness slipped from my shoulder. From nowhere other attendees came and queued up behind me, too many, I suddenly needed air. I grabbed the paperwork and throwing out a backward, thanks, I immediately dived through another set of doors and fled out into the grounds, where I stumbled upon a sunhat bobbing low and slow in amongst the flowers of a busy border.

“It’s a great day, isn’t it?” A fox glove seemingly inquired of me. Wow thought I, immediately beguiled, I felt a little like Alice in her wonderland, when she met bright dancing plants which spoke with wit and knowledge and sung at the queen’s command.  Plants that talk, I smiled. Well, why not? This was to be a creative writing course.

“Don’t mind me on my knees” the voice continued, where a rustle and a bustle grew a lady in gloves, who continued to unfold until she stepped forward and offered me a jolly smile. Again I couldn’t help feeling a little beguiled. She sighed a little but not sadly, more with a fondness for the task ahead.

“It’s a lovely garden but such a battle to keep things in order,” she confessed wistfully as she looked across the flower beds like a doting mother at her happy mud splattered child. Her soft tone and words made a confederate of the nervous orphaned learner stood by her side. “I’m sure it is” I lamely replied.

She continued as if my words had been profound; “I need a hand really there’s a lot to do in the garden”. She paused to let the seed settle to the ground and then she added a splash of water, “We might be looking for volunteer garden helpers…”

Another pause and glance, I guess to gauge my reaction, then like a general in the pre-dawn light surveying her battle-lines she scanned the gardens for a moment, as if walking through her visions of the one-day-soon-put-to-order grounds. Then buoyantly she explained her grand plan, she ended by saying. “I’m sure you’ll enjoy helping. Give it a thought” she lightly breezed “but now I must dash, I have lots to do, interviews for a gardener… Ah, and here’s the first one; nice to meet you. Don’t forget, think about it.”

I tottered in the rustle of her departing wake, a little bemused and suddenly I slipped through the door of the esoteric; Why me? Had she sensed I was scared and diffused…, in need of a comfort blanket, my confusions defused? Rationally I guessed my fears must have shown, but the esoteric thrill of the encounter would not be blown.

“Ah. I see you met the principle”, a student said humorously as he joined me. “Watch it,” he laughed, “she’s on the hunt for helpers. I’m John by the way, I’ve been here loads of time before, and I’m sure I’ll return again for more.” He looked at me as he prophesied, “and something tells me that you’ll be returning here too. See you later, I’m off to meet the happy band of hardcore regulars gathering inside.”

Even as he spoke the place began to hum like a hive, out from which greetings shrieked and noisy hugs replied. This was not what I expected to find. Where for a start was the black billowing gowns, the stern faces, the strident stomps across the quad, and thankfully there was not a cane in sight either, other than those needed to prop up the Clematis of course. Why had I ever worried?

Looking around the garden at the bodies lazing on the lawn as they carelessly sprinkled light laughter around like dandelion parachutes, I considered Fircroft; this place is just a relaxed meeting of like minds and hearts beating with the same purpose. The only threat here is self doubt; then I smiled inwardly as I thought, I bet Fircroft has a course on how to turn my doubts into an asset. ‘Don’t mock’, my inner voice scolded, ‘you are now a part of this too.’ A sudden burst of warmth came from nowhere and nudged more of my nervousness to one side, I was a part of this. A smile tugged at my face as I hovered by the half tamed bed listening to a frolic of happy voices issuing from inside the lounge. I have to admit I started to people-watch the promenaders inside and when one female voice much clearer than the others shouted enthusiastically, “Welcome to Fircroft.” I peered around to see where her words landed.

“Yeh you,” The voice laughed as the owner poked her head out the door, “Creative Writing, right? Don’t just stand there on your own, come in, we’re on the same course.”

In a mere ten minutes, 600 seconds, time enough to drown twice or to plant a flag at the peak of a personal summit, I was not cured of my various self doubts, it’s true, but in that brief time they skipped from me and went off to enjoy a spot of sunbathing out on the lawns. I think one or two of them might still be lying there somewhere amongst the daisies and dandelions. Its rude to say good riddance, but, sometimes… it is nice.

I met some curious, idea-provoking and fascinating down to earth people here, and my tutor was, well, I think she deserves her own chapter, but suffice to say, she was interesting, inspiring at times, fixed of purpose and VERY keen to teach, but that is enough of that we must get on, mustn’t we? The most important idea I took away with me at the end of the course is that, what I have to say matters, and the style of the telling can be whatever I want it to be, there are no rules. I liked that, a lot.

Everyone has a story to tell and I believe stories grow from inspiration enriched by enlightenment and confidence. Welcome to Fircroft College with its rambling gardens, its confidence building curriculum, the colourful, naturalness of the ‘we are of the people’ tutors, and an excited welcome to the humble beginnings of many new wonderful stories.

Written By Raymond Howell


To write for our blog, please send submissions to – marketing@fircroft.ac.uk and include the phrase “blog post” in the subject line.

Access to Higher Education News & Views

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