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Posted 15.05.19

Hidden Talent in Devon – Increasing access to Higher Education

By Phillip Buchan
Participant Yvonne Mousley at the Making Change exhibition
Plymouth College of Art is celebrating the success of our first transformative Making Change programme, a 12-week course fully-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) and offered as part of Hidden Talent in Devon, a £5.8 million project to drive up employee skill levels across the South West of England.

Hidden Talent in Devon enables people from a diverse range of backgrounds to access higher level skills through short courses and creative workshops to support their employability, self-employment or progression to Higher Education. The scheme aims to improve participation for people of all ages who are currently the least likely to engage in higher level skills, boosting employee qualifications and addressing skills shortages across the region.

Eleven people from a wide range of backgrounds took part in the first Making Change course, acquiring skills including drawing, painting, sketchbook documentation and sculpture techniques. Culminating in a final exhibition for participants, who varied in age from their twenties to their sixties, the course was developed by internationally exhibiting artist and maker Graham Guy-Robinson.

"I’m in the process of applying for a four-year Extended Degree at Plymouth College of Art, something I never thought I’d have the confidence to do.”

– Making Change participant Yvonne Mousley

Following Making Change, more than half of the participants have chosen to return to education. Three have made applications to four-year Extended Degrees with us, one has applied to our BA (Hons) Textile Practices and two have applied to study on our MA programmes.

Making Change exhibition - Nicola Ellis with our Employability Officer Jack Viant

One participant, Nicola Ellis, relocated to Plymouth a year ago after taking early retirement from her career as a midwife. Speaking of her experience on the course, she said: “One of the things that attracted me to the city was the creative community here. I’d been attending some local art groups when I heard about Making Change. I already have an unrelated degree, so didn’t think returning to Higher Education would be something that would be possible for me, until I attended this course. While I was at the college I met Dr. Majella Clancy, the Senior Lecturer and Programme Leader for BA (Hons) Painting, Drawing & Printmaking at the college. I thought she’d let me down gently, but instead she told me that with the right portfolio and proposal I could study a Masters here, which was a revelation!”

“I’m preparing now to apply for MA Drawing at the college, starting next year. Without Making Change I know that I wouldn’t have the confidence to come in and talk to tutors about something like this. I first wanted to go to art college when I was 18, but couldn’t go for various reasons. Everybody that I met at Plymouth College of Art during the Making Change course has been so supportive, they’ve given me the confidence to apply. It feels like I’ve come full circle.”

Another participant, Yvonne Mousley, said: “I’ve had mental health problems in the past and struggled with self harm. Making Change has been an amazing journey for me. Over the course of 12 weeks, I’ve found a healthy way of expressing my feelings. I’m in the process of applying for a four-year Extended Degree at Plymouth College of Art, something I never thought I’d have the confidence to do.”

Making Change participant Bridget Bimha with Graham Guy Robinson

“After my children grew up and left home, I started experimenting with different types of art and craft but never really believed in myself. When I began visiting Hamaoze House, a centre for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Plymouth, they encouraged me to open an arts space to help other people be creative. That led to me applying to the Making Change course, and I’m so glad that I did. All the organisers have been so supportive and have given me the confidence to start believing in myself and tell my own story of recovery through art.”

Bethany Pyner, Project Coordinator, said: “It's been really rewarding to watch the Making Change participants grow in confidence and develop as artists and makers from week to week. In running Making Change, we knew we were doing something positive, but I've been overwhelmed by the feedback we've had and the difference the programme has made to people.”

Speaking of the impact that the course had on the lives of participants, Graham Guy-Robinson said: “Making Change demands that we question the past, challenge the present and, for some, reimagine the future. I’m happy that the experience has had such an impact on those who attended.”

Developing work by Making Change participant Tracy Clarke

Hidden Talent in Devon is led by University of Plymouth, with other partners including Bridgwater & Taunton College, City College Plymouth, Petroc, South Devon College, Strode College, the University of Exeter and Yeovil College.

Oli Raud, Strategic Funding Manager at Plymouth College of Art, said: “The Hidden Talent in Devon project is an opportunity for us to support the progression of individuals into higher education or the workplace, by providing innovative short courses in a range of skills, everything from 3D digital fabrication and design in the Fab Lab, to subjects like photography, illustration and graphic design. These are the kind of skills that can really make you stand out when you’re looking for work or looking to secure a promotion within the workplace.”

“But the most exciting part is that the college’s role in the project focuses on reaching out to people across Devon who aren’t normally targeted with opportunities like this. Through courses like Making Change, we’re creating new routes into employment, by supporting access to creative education for people in age groups and life situations who might not typically feel like higher education is an option. The transformative effect that Making Change has had on the lives of participants, thanks to the hard work of Project Coordinator Bethany Pyner and artist Graham Guy-Robinson, has been incredible.”

Find out more about the next free, fully-funded Making Change course, which runs 26 June to 1 August 2019.
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