Changing lives is part of the day job at Stockton Riverside College. No one knows that more than newly appointed Campus Principal Lesley Graham.
As a former stay at home mum she says that retraining at a further education (FE) college changed her life. Now she has built her career on helping to do the same for others.
This week as colleges across the UK are celebrating all that is great about the sector as part of Colleges Week, the new Principal has been sharing her own experiences to help inspire others.
She said: “Without FE I wouldn’t be where I am today. When I walked into that college for the first time after 10 years as a stay at home mum, I didn’t know where it was taking me. I just knew I was ready to do something different.”
Signing up for a NVQ Level 3 Business Administration course, she found that she loved college life and 20 years later continues to be a strong advocate of lifelong learning.
It was her tutor at the time that suggested she consider teaching, and the rest, as she says, “is history”.
Now taking the top spot at Stockton Riverside College, Lesley’s message to students, both current and future, is: “FE changed my life and I don’t think I am any different to anyone else. If I can do it then you can too.”
She says it takes hard work and dedication, of course. A former musician she likens the road to success to learning to play an instrument.
“At first you can’t play, but you have a go, you learn the notes, you apply yourself and have to be disciplined and practise every day.”
She said to achieve anything is all about having that staying power and resilience.
She said: “Stick at it. Don’t think anyone is any more clever or better than you. If you stick at something you will succeed.”
“We often see people with a skill, for example the latest big footballer, and think they are just naturally talented. We don’t always see the hours and hours of practice that goes in to making them look so brilliant.
“We might think it is easy for some people, and maybe there are a few that can achieve effortlessly, but most of us have to work at it and that is a real life lesson.”
Describing Stockton Riverside College as “a hidden gem”, Lesley who is originally from Liverpool and has worked at FE colleges across the Midlands and South-east, said: “Here at the college students have so many avenues to support them and help them achieve but ultimately, it’s the student who has to do the work in order to be successful.
“The key is to never give up, there’s always an answer and they will come out stronger at the other end.”
Working alongside the Chief Executive of the wider Stockton Riverside College Group, Phil Cook, Lesley is looking forward to helping to open up further opportunities to potential students in Stockton.
She said: “I am excited by the College. I feel we are on the cusp of something really special here.
“I’m very much about ensuring we build on our links with local and regional employers to make sure we are equipping students with the skills they need both in the short and long term to sustain businesses development and growth both regionally and nationally.
“The majority, if not all, students coming to the College are at a point that they want to thrive. They ultimately want a decent job with a decent salary.
“I see the role of the College as providing employers with the skills they need. There is a lot of growth and regeneration in this area which is really exciting. With that comes opportunities for our learners. We want to give our students the skills to go on, be successful and flourish.”