Lessons of impact: the importance of community in education

Four members of the Bridgend College operational team recently visited South Africa to develop strategic partnerships, aid in the implementation of digital technologies in local communities and create an exchange of learning practices.

The eight-day trip, funded by the Welsh Government, was undertaken by Vivienne Buckley, Deputy Principal; Matthew Rees, Assistant Principal; Catrin Sullivan, Pencoed Campus Director; and Scott Morgan, Head of Digital Innovation and IT Services. The team were based at Middelpos Farm, located near Malmesbury in the south west of the country.

A working farm, Middelpos is home to 13 families and produces olives and grapes. The team were involved in supporting the women and children in the daily operation of the farm and the after school club, which is run by Inspire Children and Youth.

“Despite numerous challenges faced by rural families, they work tirelessly to ensure that local children have the opportunities and resources to attend school, are taught skills such as academic organisation, gardening and judo, as well as simply being given time to play and develop social skills.”

Catrin Sullivan, Pencoed Campus Director for Bridgend College

A rural development charity which promotes female entrepreneurship as part of their mission, Inspire Children and Youth have been based at the farm since 2017. Their objective remains a simple one: to create safe spaces for rural women and children and to provide holistic educational support, health awareness and entrepreneurial training. Over the past six years, more than 40 jobs have been created for women at the farm, breaking the generational cycle of poverty and abuse for many. Their programme celebrates the possibilities of female entrepreneurs and helps provide women with the tools to both progress and succeed.

The Bridgend College team recognised that their visit was a fantastic learning opportunity. During a visit to the University of the Western Cape, they took part in discussions which considered key themes in rural development, including education, finance and green skills.These meetings not only provided the team with the knowledge to best aid the residents of Middelpos Farm, but also helped to consolidate key lessons learned during the trip. Sustainability and educational ethos will be two key themes used to enrich the College’s teaching practices and curriculum going forward.

“Many principles that we take for granted, such as reliable access to an internet connection and availability of information, are luxuries or simply don’t exist on rural farms, yet they still manage to thrive and provide vital educational and social programmes.

My main takeaway from this experience is the importance of community – how, even in an immensely difficult socio-political landscape, the people remain friendly, welcoming and truly driven to change their circumstances. We can learn a lot from their ambition – no matter how challenging their situation, they really believe they can change the world.”

Scott Morgan, Head of Digital Innovation and IT Services at Bridgend College

Having returned to Wales, the partnership between Bridgend College, Inspire Children and Youth and the University of the Western Cape is still going strong. The College will continue to support Inspire Children and Youth with their digital operations on an ongoing basis and have plans to create an ‘Inspire’ allotment onsite for staff health, wellbeing and sustainability. Additionally, the College aims to create ongoing volunteering opportunities for students and staff via Taith, Wales’ international exchange programme. Through this programme, members of the Bridgend College community will have the opportunity to work alongside Inspire Children and Youth in South Africa and contribute to the development of rural communities. 

“We know that this is just the start of a really special relationship with Bridgend College and we cannot wait to see how this visit develops into hope, inspiration and innovation.”

Ingrid Lestrade, Director of Inspire Children and Youth

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