In a year in which we have been forced to change and adapt our daily routines, work patterns and personal lives in response to Coronavirus, Macclesfield College has more than risen to a unique and unforeseen set of challenges, and remained on course towards becoming officially ‘Outstanding’.

Even in the midst of such a difficult and unprecedented year, the commitment, hard work and dedication shown by the entire team at Macclesfield College has helped to ensure that 2020 will also be remembered as a watershed year, marked by the launch of exciting new initiatives, courses and  innovative re-workings of some of its key annual events.

Chief amongst these is the annual Dragon’s Den Challenge, devised and coordinated by the College’s Business Studies team to help encourage entrepreneurial spirit among students. Following a similar format to the popular TV show of the same name, this year’s event was a truly unique experience for staff and students alike, with strict social distancing rules across the whole campus and no fewer than 13 business pitches presented online.

Following some tough questioning from this year’s panel of ‘Dragons’, which included Managing Director of Arighi Bianchi, Nick Bianchi and Robert Smethurst, Owner of Pro Football Academy Limited and the newly-formed Macclesfield Football Club, there were two overall winning business ideas on the day. ‘Digital Dynasty’, an online marketing company offering a bespoke social media promotions service to small businesses, and ‘Ocean Jewels’, a unique jewellery manufacturer using recycled ocean waste to produce a range of high-fashion rings, bracelets and necklaces.

September 2020 was a particular cause for celebration at the College, as the Macclesfield FC U-19 Academy was successful in lifting the EFL CEFA National Champions Trophy in its debut season, after beating Swindon Town’s ‘A’ Team 3-1 in a nail biting final at St. George’s Park – England’s National Team training ground, in Staffordshire. The College established this fantastic Football Academy in 2019 in conjunction with its local side, enabling talented young players aged 16 to 19 to train with a professional club, whilst also earning a Level 2 Extended Certificate or a Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Sport.

This autumn saw the College strengthen this partnership further, by signing a new three-year agreement with Macclesfield FC to continue providing all theoretical elements of the BTEC Level 3 Football Academy courses – such as psychology for sports performance and sports nutrition, with professional-standard football training and participation taking place at the club’s highly successful Centre of Excellence.

To enhance its developing track record in sport, Macclesfield College concluded 2020 by introducing its trailblazing new ‘Golf Academy’ – the first of its kind to be launched here in Cheshire. Designed to complement the College’s existing, highly successful sports programmes, the new Golf Academy will officially swing into action at the beginning of Academic Year 2021-22. This new course – which will be delivered in collaboration with local clubs – will see a limited cohort of just 20 students being afforded an incredible opportunity to gain practical experience, theoretical, performance-related knowledge and first-class coaching by resident PGA Professional, Ben Stanier.

With the headlines being dominated by Coronavirus as we headed into the autumn, the physical and mental health of students and staff was seen as a key issue, leading Macclesfield College to pledge its commitment to Active Cheshire – a highly innovative charitable organisation dedicated to creating an active culture, promoting positive wellbeing choices and changing lifestyles and behaviours. Through this hugely worthwhile initiative, the team at College and their learners have been encouraged to get more active at work, at home and all points in between.

It’s safe to say that partnership was a central thread of activity at Macclesfield College during 2020. Another notable example of this was the announcement of a new and exciting collaborative partnership with the University of Derby, marking the next phase in the College’s ambitious plans for the expansion of its Higher Education curriculum offer. Initially, three of the University’s teacher-training courses – including the Foundation Degree (Children and Young People) – will be delivered on campus, with plans already in place to introduce a number of additional, degree-level courses in the near future.

Staying with academia, Macclesfield College was also successful this year in being confirmed as one of the third-wave of FE providers chosen by the Department for Education to deliver the new T-Levels across England, from September 2022. Designed to be the technical alternative to A-Levels, T-Levels combine theoretical, classroom-based study, practical learning and a substantial industry placement of at least 315 hours with a local employer.

The development of the College’s teaching and learning programme throughout 2020 wasn’t confined to further and higher education either, with adult courses also being enhanced and refreshed to encompass elements of online study, where appropriate. This exciting, new suite of adult courses will run as four-week intensive programmes, all of which can be tailored to suit individual skills sets. Course subject areas range from Adult Social Care to Accountancy, with all programmes targeted at those looking to change their career path, develop and sharpen their work skills or retrain following redundancy.

Throughout these exceptional months in which we have all had to learn to adapt and embrace an almost constant stream of essential changes to our day-to-day lives, the multi-platformed approach adopted by Macclesfield College has helped it perform a full organisational reset of its business. A clear example of this was the College’s first-ever ‘Virtual Open Day’, facilitated by a live chat platform, on Thursday 11th June, which was a huge success with a large audience reach. As a direct result of this, hundreds of new learners were recruited for starts at the College in November.

2020 has also been a year in which some of the College’s students have been recognised and rightly rewarded for their fantastic achievements – both academically and within the local community. Notable amongst these is Susan Johnson, who is currently enrolled on a Life Skills course. Susan was presented with the ‘Coronavirus Support Civic Award’ in November, by the outgoing Mayor of Macclesfield, Councillor Janet Jackson, in recognition of the sterling work she did alongside local charity, Cheshire Streetwise, delivering around 300 food parcels to struggling families during the first lockdown.

Two of the students enrolled on the College’s cutting-edge Whites Chef Academy course were also successful in receiving memberships from the British Culinary Federation. Dominic Bramwell-Rowe and Sam Chamberlain were formally both recognised for their hard work and innate culinary flair by this exclusive catering organisation, which is the UK’s only internationally accredited chefs’ organisation.

The College’s Creative Media students were also presented with an exciting opportunity to help design marketing and promotional materials for next year’s Macclesfield in May music festival, taking place over the May Bank Holiday weekend at the town’s iconic Christ Church, in support of the new Christie Cancer Centre scheduled to open in Macclesfield in late 2021. Briefed by acclaimed local artist, illustrator and creative media lecturer Suzi Su, working on behalf of Manchester-based music promotions company, PufferFish Press, the students were given their assignment online via the digital creative app Padlet, and the resultant designs have since played a central part of a very successful and high-profile social media campaign.

Lastly, the College also launched a two-page newsletter dedicated to its students and their parents or guardians. This highly informative, new monthly publication – the third edition of which will be released in early January – sets out some of the very latest developments on campus, and with regard to learning, new Academies and individual student achievement.

“All in all, it’s been a unique and unprecedented year for everyone connected with Macclesfield College,” concludes Principal and Chief Executive, Rachel Kay. “I would just like to pay tribute to my wonderful team, our fantastic students and our committed partners and employers, all of whom have gone that extra mile to keep our education and training  programmes on course in exceptionally trying circumstances. A merry Christmas to you all, and let’s look forward to a successful 2021 together.”