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

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 – and include the phrase “blog post” in the subject line.

Fircroft Garden Party & Awards 2017

It’s been just 5 days since this years Garden Party and Awards Ceremony and we still can’t quite get over what a great day it was. Not only did everyone have a wonderful time, the rain stayed away until the event had reached an end – shocking I know!

We celebrated the achievements and successes of our 2016-17 students in style. There was a huge marquee erected in the gardens, purple and green balloons blew gently in the wind, whilst the sound of Indian Dhol Drummers lifted the atmosphere and got everyone in a celebratory mood.

       Dhol Drummers getting the party started.

There was a fantastic spread of canapes and cakes provided by our dedicated kitchen staff, a performance by Mitch Mitchell (former The Voice contestant and West End musical extraordinaire) and a beautifully written piece by Fircroft student Raymond Howell.

The event also saw the launch of our brand new Friends of Fircroft Ambassadors scheme.  Our distinguished presenters on the day and valued Friends of Fircroft – Roger Cadbury (Fircroft College Patron), Scott Lucas,  Charmaine Burton, John Holford and Catina Barrett – have been invited to become the first wave of Friends of Fircroft Ambassadors. Awards were also presented by Cheryl Turner (Chair of Fircroft Governing Body) and senior members of the Fircroft staff.

    Scott Lucas presenting award to Melanie Starkey

The award winners were overjoyed. There were a few tears, lots of smiles and laughter filled the air as one after another the winners were gifted their prizes and certificates. Click the picture below to view the full list of awards, winners and presenters.

We have received some amazing feedback from attendees and we are happy that the event was genuinely enjoyed by our guests.

“It was brill, I was so happy that Roger Cadbury presented my award,I can’t stop smiling”.

Roger Cadbury Fircroft College Patron & Kim Cartwright

“The event maintained elements of the old e.g. Student recognition and a relaxed tone. Listening to the creative writing piece was great and the drummers created a fantastic mood to the event.”

               Guests enjoying the day.

“I felt the community atmosphere it generated was really enjoyable.” Can’t wait ’til next year’s!”

We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who attended, from the students to the partners, from the governors to the ambassadors, we appreciate you and your continued support of the college.

If you would like to have your say about the Garden Party, please complete our survey and let us know your thoughts.