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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.

Birmingham Conversations: Faith in the Public Sphere

The third ‘Birmingham Conversations’ took place recently on the theme of ‘Faith in the Public Sphere’ and explored the issue of how faith communities engage in all areas of public life.

The Conversations were attended by Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, Humanists, Muslims and Sikhs as well as people involved in local politics, business and education.

The group met once a month for six months which enabled friendships to grow and for trust to be built up so that difficult or controversial topics could be considered.

Under the heading of ‘Faith in the Public Sphere’ they discussed what it would mean for faith communities, and by extension all communities, to flourish in the public sphere. Can everyone flourish or does the flourishing of one community necessitate the diminishing or restricting of another?

They then went on to consider how what this flourishing might look like at work, in places of education, in political life, in the media and in the street during festivals or demonstrations.

A Policy Report of the findings was written by Dr Andrew Davies from the University of Birmingham which includes specific recommendations and can be downloaded here faith-in-the-public-sphere-policy-recommendations

A Summary of the conversations was produced which includes questions for discussion and is written with members of the public in mind to enable different groups to join in the conversation. A copy of the summary can be downloaded here. map-of-birmingham-conversationland

They invited two local artists, Jake Lever and Mandy Ross, to be artists in residence and reflect on what they heard during the conversations. As well as creatively facilitating conversations they produced artworks at the end as a response to the conversations.

Eid Mubarak!

Join us at Fircroft College to celebrate the diversity in our community on Monday 3rd July. With a number of workshops and exhibitions as well as deliciously authentic food,  it promises to be an event not to be missed.

Break bread with us as we get to know each other and find ways to better understand the differences and similarities in our cultures.


Black Feminist Protest – Mary Prince’s Slave Narrative by Ifemu Omari-Webber

Mary Prince’s autobiography – The History of Mary Prince (1831), was the first account of the life of a black woman to be published.

On Thursday 22nd June at the John Lewis Community Hub, Ifemu aims to share some of these stories in her seminar, and argues that Mary Prince is indeed one of the first black feminists to actively resist the dehumanisation process of West Indian slavery, ensuring that her life experiences continues to be passed on almost two centuries later.

We hope you can join us for this interesting and informative event.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas… by Chantelle Maguraushe


It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas. With the Christmas holidays fast approaching, you can visibly see the thirst for a reprieve on many a student’s face. For some, life at college has been a breeze, but for others, a struggle. As mature students, the return to education has taken some adjustment. The work has undeniably reached a new level of difficulty with the progression from ungraded to graded units. We are being tested, yet prepared for university study.

Since my last post, we have cultivated our intellectual minds, broadened our knowledge and received our grades for several assignments as well as feedback for improvement in future projects. Socially, we went to the Glee Club and had a Christmas party. The opportunity to relax and unwind was greatly appreciated by all the students and attending staff.

Living away from home, meeting new people, or learning something new does not come easy for all and unfortunately, some students have succumbed to these struggles of college life and have left us for other projects. Change is indeed an acquired taste and sometimes the unsuccessful outcome of a task or goal can leave us disheartened and despondent. Even so, there is hope. If we only stop stumbling in the dark and turn on the light, we may just find that path that leads us to our goal. So to those students, I/we wish you good luck and great success in the future.

Aspirations are not always easy to attain and if we keep this in mind, then the struggle will be worth it. With that in mind, I leave you with the following quote:

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.” (Napoleon Hill)

To all, warm greetings. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!