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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Doubt and fear have been replaced by a sense of joy and fun.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


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.


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.




Yom Kippur 2017

Yom Kippur is probably the most important holiday in the Jewish calendar and will be observed from the 29th – 30th September 2017. Many Jewish people will refrain from work, fast and/or attend Synagogue services on this day. Yom Kippur occurs on the 10th day of Tishri  (The seventh month of the Jewish year, during which many important holidays occur.)

The name “Yom Kippur” means “Day of Atonement”. It is a day set aside to “afflict the soul,” to atone for the sins of the past year.  This day is essentially your last appeal, your last chance to change the judgement, to demonstrate your repentance and make amends.

No work can be performed during Yom Kippur and followers are obliged to refrain from eating and drinking (even water).  It is a complete, 25-hour fast beginning before sunset on the evening before Yom Kippur and ending after nightfall on the day of Yom Kippur.

Much of the holiday is spent in the Synagogue, in prayer. The services end at nightfall, with the blowing of the tekiah gedolah, a long blast on the shofar (an ancient musical horn made of ram’s horn).

There are two meals associated with Yom Kippur: the pre-fast meal and the break-fast meal. The pre-fast meal is known as seudah ha-mafaseket ( “meal of separation” or “concluding meal”). Some traditional recipe choices for the meal include: rice, kreplach (stuffed dumplings), chicken, or fish. Meals are usually prepared with minimum salt, as this could cause dehydration during the fast. It is important to drink plenty of water, of course. The break-fast meal usually consists of hi-carb dairy foods like sweet kugel (noodle pudding), bagels, quiches, soufflés, eggs and cheese.


Giving in the U.K – International Day of Charity 2017

As a nation, the UK ranks highly for charitable donations, we give more in overseas aid than most other developed countries. But as individuals, how much are we really willing to donate to charity?

The Charity Aid Foundation’s (CAF), latest survey suggests that despite growing economic uncertainty, we are still giving more than we have in previous years. The study also shows that women are more likely to give than men, the young are less likely to donate than the old and our favourite causes to give to are religious organisations, followed by overseas/disaster aid and medical research.

For some of us, counting pennies is a way of life and giving to charity takes some consideration. Worry not, because there are many ways to give that don’t include parting with cash.  Volunteering is a great way to help others by donating your time rather than your resources. Could you spare an hour a week to work in a charity shop? Or help out at a food bank? As well as bringing a little bit of hope into the life of a  stranger, it has been proven that charitable giving actually makes us happier! The same parts of the brain which light up when we are doing pleasurable things (e.g eating chocolate or watching Game of Thrones), also become more active when we give to others.

Giving can include simply donating unwanted items like that patterned tie you were given for your birthday but never wear, or the old baby clothes you have stored in the loft. What may be of no use to you could make the world of difference to someone else.

We can even give by simply buying the right products when we go shopping. By spending on Fair Trade products we are inadvertently giving by ensuring the third world farmers/producers are earning a fare wage for their work.  Similarly we can buy clothing from reputable manufacturers who don’t use underpaid factory workers to produce their items. By making small changes and doing a bit of research it’s amazing how big of a difference we could collectively make.

The CAF survey highlighted the fact that giving in the UK peaks in November. The run up to Christmas makes us all feel more generous and the big push on charity marketing campaigns also plays a role. However, it’s important to remember that like a dog; giving isn’t just for Christmas.  We can actively change lives during the other 11 months of the year too. If not for the disadvantaged, do it for the warm fuzzy feeling you’ll get inside!





Scott Lucas’ Trump Talk – A Guide to Critical Thinking

The Trump Talk held at Fircroft College on 4th July was a great success and our thanks goes to Professor Scott Lucas for a stimulating and thought provoking session.  


You can find out more about Scott’s work through his journalism at EA WorldView (, covering US politics and foreign policy and also international affairs, notably in Iran, Syria, and the wider Middle East, or by following him on Twitter (

In this era of ‘Fake News’ and an ‘Age of Uncertainty’, the talk and discussion highlighted the ongoing and increasing importance for students and citizens to develop critical thinking and critical reading skills in order to navigate the ‘mediascape’ and mountains of misinformation.  

The importance of triangulation, ie getting at least 3 reliable and different sources of information, was highlighted by Scott and discussed in reference to the current American and Global political landscape with the audience. 

Staff and students were buzzing at the end of the evening, one student said ‘It was fantastic, I could have carried on for hours!’ 

Here are a couple of resources that Scott finds valuable for his work.

On US politics: FiveThirtyEight (, RealClearPolitics (, and individual journalists like Maggie Haberman of The New York TImes or David Fahrenthold of The Washington Post.

On checking some of the stories in the media, BellingCat (

On Syria and Iran (with apologies for a lack of modesty), EA WorldView!

And the day always starts with a review of some of the most reliable outlets, such as The New York Times and The Guardian.

Perhaps most importantly, talk to each other and compare your thoughts. Scott says, “Please get in touch with me to discuss ideas!”

Student Contributors Needed!

Are you a writer at heart who would like to see their work featured on the Fircroft blog and social media accounts?

Or maybe you’re a photographer/artist who would like the opportunity to have their work displayed on our digital platforms as well as around the college?

Or perhaps you’re a budding musician who would relish the chance to perform at one of the college’s many events?

Whatever your talent, we would love to work with you. Get in touch with for more information.