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How Barking and Dagenham College keeps the entrepreneurial spirit alive

Here Cathy Walsh explains, as London develops eastward, how Barking & Dagenham College is keeping that East London Entrepreneurial spirit alive and well.


 “We all know that jobs are hard to find and whether students work for themselves or others, an entrepreneurial spark – something that has always been associated with East London communities – will stand them in good stead.  Entrepreneurialism is fostered, encouraged and integral to the delivery of the curriculum and the College business, with many of our students already running their own web based businesses.” 


Cathy is passionate about the power of learning and training and how it can transform lives.  A strong set of values drives her leadership and entrepreneurial ethos. At its heart is her commitment to create real (paid) work opportunities for the College’s students, so giving them the best chance of economic independence.


Start-up High Street
“As part of a major redevelopment of our Rush Green campus we have built retail units at the front of the College – so members of the public access them easily - which are given over to students to run their own businesses. Student teams pitched their business ideas Dragons’ Den-style to a panel of senior BDC staff and the winning ideas where given the green light. Our current student business tenants include:


  • 2 Fix Solutions – run by our IT students offering servicing, maintenance and repairs  to PCs and mobile phones, plus a free drop-in advice centre
  • Pop Pic – a mini photographic studio
  • Blooming Delicious – a floristry business
  • Bits ‘n’ Bobs – stationery, office equipment and hand-made cards.


“It is important for the College to give students the space to make mistakes, and to learn from them. The experience that these students get from running a real business, and for being responsible for every aspect of that business, is something that just can’t be taught.”


Commercial experience in a training environment
As well as giving students the space to develop their own business ideas, the College has a number of commercial and training businesses where students work directly with members of public to provide a service as part of their training. These include beauty and hair salons, on-campus restaurants and most recently a garage.


Real work for students through the Entrepreneurs’ Academy
BDC is passionate about instilling a culture of entrepreneurialism amongst learners and staff.  With this mind the Entrepreneurs Academy was born in 2009.  The idea was to provide “real work for learners” – a phrase coined by Cathy.  Within a very short space of time the Academy has helped embed an entrepreneurial ethos into the fabric of the College.  Students are commissioned to work on live client briefs. To date the Academy has literally taken hundreds of commissions from businesses of all types. The College is also a client. 

“This is not cheap labour”, states Cathy, “Many of the tenders and commissions the Entrepreneurs Academy has won have not been the cheapest price.  An example of this was during the run up to the Olympics when the Entrepreneurs Academy won a tender to design the sporting logo for an Olympic Training Park in East London. 



 “There are so many examples of students creating opportunities for themselves – media students joining the Michael Jackson’s costume tour and creating a business opportunity that resulted in them being invited out to LA.  They are now investing their earnings from that venture into their first feature film. 


“It never ceases to amaze me what our students can do when they are inspired and encouraged.  It is why I do this job.”


Colleges at the heart of the local economic community

“Embedding enterprise education throughout the curriculum is not about displacing local businesses. Rather, it is about enhancing the local economy. It is about developing those T-shaped skills that we Gazelle Colleges recognise are essential for the 21st Century.  It is about developing our student’s self-confidence, initiative, resilience and business acumen - and when they graduate from college they can create their own work opportunities.


“Over 2 million* adults study or train in colleges. 99.9%** of businesses in the UK are SMEs and these businesses account for 47%** of private sector employment and 33.1%** of turnover. These SMEs are the key employer market for colleges, and it’s our job to give students the skills that are in demand by the UK economy.” (*Source:  Association of Colleges, College Key Facts, 2013/14. **Source: FSB website)