Written by Pat Crawford
Hadlow is one of the UK’s leading land-based colleges, yet less than fifteen years ago it was ‘failing’ and threatened with closure – at best, amalgamation.
The Turnaround that followed was massive, innovative and comprehensive and contained elements that have since been used as a blueprint by other institutions. At the end of 2016 the success was recognised when Hadlow was awarded the Institute of Fiscal Turnaround Public Company Award – a massive achievement for an FE college.
The Turnaround began in 2002 – and it commenced from an incredibly low ebb. The college was bankrupt – a turnover of £5 million recording annual losses approaching half-a-million. Mismanagement of policies, procedures and finances had been letting the college down for a long time but throughout that very black period, the central core of the institution – teaching and learning – maintained a good standard. A tribute to the commitment of first-class lecturers who had been let down by disastrous management.
Setting the scene in relation to Hadlow’s importance: today there are 325 colleges in England, including 14 specialist land-based institutions. (The figures were very similar in 2002.) A sector term, ‘land-based’, is applied to institutions that offer education and training for rural industries such as agriculture and horticulture. Hadlow was – and still is – the sole land-based college in Kent, 85% of which is designated ‘rural’. Farming and food production are economically and socially important to the county – and strategically important to the entire country. The impact of Hadlow ‘going down the pan’ would have been disastrous.
The fact that a Turnaround was vital didn’t make it any easier to accomplish. By 2002 the state of the college was worrying the entire county. Stakeholders had lost confidence and turned their backs and, unsurprisingly, every single scrap of media reportage was negative! Not a good place from which to effect a drastic change.
First things first – start with the fundamentals. The inadequate management team was replaced and Paul Hannan was appointed acting principal and Mark Lumsdon-Taylor – on secondment from City accountants and auditors MacIntyre Hudson – was appointed to lead the financial and business turnaround. Paul’s background was in education, Mark’s in corporate finance, acquisitions and turnarounds. These individuals turned out to be ‘the right people in the right place at the right time’. They shared a vision that united the entire staff: ‘Save Hadlow College’ was on its way.
Despite requests for ‘extra miles’ being commonplace, the culture was positive. Everyone smiled and ‘mucked in’. No task was too large. No job was too small. The philosophy was ‘We’re all in it together’. Determination began to move mountains.
‘The balance sheet was in free fall’ – Mark’s description. You cannot run a business on an empty tank and getting the bottom line right – or at least persuading reluctant stakeholders that it could be got right – had to be the starting point. Mark juggled and re-juggled finances and, despite starting from a seriously ‘in the red’ situation, succeeded in bringing millions into the college via partnerships and corporate deals. Barclay’s, with whom the college continues to enjoy excellent relations, demonstrated help and support by lending £1.5 million. Paul, meanwhile, was restructuring the curriculum and restoring the confidence needed to rebuild external relations. Tough going.
Not so very long before the crisis Hadlow had been a respected and well-liked college but now many stakeholders turned their backs and ran in the opposite direction. A lot of farming’s ‘big names’ were ex-students and their disquiet was mixed with sadness – an institution they loved was in big, big trouble. Industry links had declined in number and the steadfast few were seriously concerned.
When things are at their lowest ebb the only escape route has to be in an upward direction. Strategies were developed to produce some quick results but at the same time policies needed to be sustainable and take account of the future. Once upon a time the perception was that public sector institutions were ‘rich’ – money ‘grew on trees’ and ‘you only had to ask’. That state of affairs no longer existed and government was tasked with making money stretch to cover vastly increasing demands.
The public sectors continue to be largely dependent on central government funding and very early on Mark and the team recognised that it was important for the college to develop an independent revenue. Private sector practices were adopted and what has been termed ‘the 1/3, 1/3, 1/3 strategy’ developed. This way Hadlow derives its income in roughly three equal segments – higher education, further education and commercial activities. If one segment has a turndown the other two redress the balance. (Since the early days of the Turnaround Hadlow has had one of the FE sector’s lowest dependencies on government funding.)
The money derived via the commercial arm directly supports curriculum and apprenticeships – in addition, it affords opportunities for students to obtain paid work. As well as benefiting them financially, the ‘real life’ work experience makes a positive addition to CVs – something that makes Hadlow students stand out at job interviews.
Breakthroughs began to build and the momentum speeded up dramatically in 2005 when the college was re-inspected by Ofsted and awarded Grade 2 – Good – believed the first time a college was elevated two grades in a single inspection period. This attracted the attention of the national media and the college received positive reportage in a number of papers and journals. The ‘good news’ stories spread wider in 2010 when Hadlow was inspected again and awarded 1 – Outstanding –with 14 out of 17 inspection categories being graded Outstanding, the other three Good. In addition, the seven finance-related areas were all graded Outstanding. The college’s profile and reputation had suffered disastrously during the grim days but the media, recognising the good work being undertaken, responded with glowing reportage. Today Hadlow continues to enjoy excellent relations with press and media.
Hadlow College thinks ‘differently’. One of the college’s great strengths is never to rest on laurels – to be ‘pleased’ but never totally ‘satisfied’. Always to seek new goals. Perpetually aim to inspire – and to be inspired.
The college continues to expand and diversify its commercial activities and the revenue derived grows accordingly. The commercial arm has direct links and associations with the rural industries. As an example, the college’s Broadview Tearoom (winner of major awards) maximises the use of seasonally available ingredients produced on the estate or sourced from local farmers and growers. Likewise, the Hadlow Farm Shop stocks meat and eggs produced on the college’s farms or bought in from local Farmers.
Linkage is further strengthened by the fact that the college owns half ‘Produced in Kent’, a trade organisation dedicated to promoting Kent food, drink and crafts; the other 50% is owned by Kent County Council with management overseen by the college. A considerable percentage of the Hadlow Farm Shop stock is purchased from Produced in Kent members. This all adds to the 360 degree strategy for which Hadlow enjoys a significant reputation. The standard maintained throughout the college’s commercial enterprises is endorsed by the fact that they are popular and well supported because they are perceived to offer exemplary services and excellent value. Hadlow firmly believes that loyalty should be built on quality – not on ‘sympathy’!
The UK education sector’s first PassivHaus structure was commissioned by Hadlow. Known as the Rural Regeneration Centre, it was designed and built by Eurobuild in 2009-2010. Constructed for less than standard building costs, artificial lighting is barely used during daylight hours as a result of effective daylighting-design strategy. Ground source heat pumps help to keep overall running costs well below the norm. A very positive bonus: one of the things that staff like best is the consistency of the temperature. No draughty, poor insulation air currents that create hot or cold spots!
Determined to ‘make differences that matter’ and ‘change people’s lives’, Hadlow broke new ground by embarking on a series of substantial and highly innovative initiatives of a type never before associated with a college.. As an excellent example, Hadlow initiated the Betteshanger Sustainable Parks project (BSP) – a £40 million scheme to regenerate an area of east Kent that had suffered severe economic and social setbacks ever since the last coalfield was closed in 1989.
The closure of the coalfields had affected 1,500 miners and their families, most of whom had relocated from traditional mining areas in other parts of the country. The local authority – Dover District Council – aware that people in the Betteshanger area were suffering from a shortage of suitable job opportunities – approached the college to discuss training programmes designed to develop the skill base. When Paul and Mark went down to evaluate the situation they were amazed to discover it wasn’t the relatively small site they had envisaged! Instead it was 121 hectares of seemingly derelict land covered by shale from the mines. A veritable wasteland.
Small scale’ wasn’t the answer – it had to be something big and dynamic. Mark Lumsdon-Taylor commented ‘We needed a sustainable plan that would benefit today’s communities and safeguard the needs of future generations’. Thus began the ground-breaking BSP regeneration project – almost undoubtedly the first time a further education college had attempted such an innovative scheme. Backed by £40m investment, the project was launched in partnership with Dover District Council, the Homes and Communities Agency, East Kent Spatial Development Company and private investors.
The miners and their families had waited a very long time – more than twenty-five years in fact – for a regeneration plan that would produce multiple benefits for the immediate and wider communities. The site was officially acquired by the college in 2012. Richard Morsley, ex Turner Contemporary in Margate, joined as director with Mark remaining as executive director. The scheme includes a visitor centre, a mining museum and incubator space for start-up businesses, a global laboratory for green technologies, education and training provision to meet the needs of existing and emerging business – and quite a lot more.
Tourism has always been important in Kent. The county has two cathedrals, numerous castles, more listed properties than any other county and a long and diverse coastline. Betteshanger is rurally located; Dover Castle, Walmer Castle, Deal Castle and fascinating Sandwich are just a stone’s throw away. Canterbury Cathedral – the Mother Church of the worldwide Anglican community and seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury – is a few miles distance.
The Betteshanger mining museum and heritage centre will make significant additions to the important tourism attractions already on offer in this part of Kent and hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments will benefit accordingly. Despite being ‘the Garden of England’, until recently Kent had not enjoyed much of a reputation as a ‘foodie county’. Things have changed and today the county has several excellent Michelin-starred restaurants plus pubs and tearooms predominately offering menus based on fresh, seasonally available ingredients. The county has had a range of good hotels for a long time but the recent addition of smaller ‘boutique’ hotels is significantly adding to the choices available. Changes to the county’s profile are encouraging visitors to stay in the area rather than ‘pop down for the day’ thus creating employment and boosting the economy.
Hadlow – in partnership with the Royal Borough of Greenwich – was responsible for what has been described as ‘one of the most important 2012 Olympic legacy projects’. The Royal Borough of Greenwich Equestrian Centre, opened by HRH The Princess Royal in 2013, fulfils the Legacy ideals by giving young people life-changing opportunities. In this case, by providing education and training for sought after qualifications in the equestrian industry. The centre offers further education programmes, training for British Horse Society qualifications and a BSc (Honours) in equine sport therapy and rehabilitation. The latter is one of the few such programmes available in the UK.
The Hadlow Rural Community School (HRCS) is the only free school with a dedicated rural ethos. Opened in temporary accommodation in 2013, students follow the national curriculum and, in addition, spend half-a -day- a-week involved in land-based studies including agriculture, horticulture, floristry, equine and fisheries. In order to make time for the additional subjects the school day is extended.
Students have the opportunity to undertake an Extended Diploma Level 2 from Year 8 and some progress to a Level 3 – the equivalent of an A-level – before leaving thus putting them well ahead of pupils in other schools.
Assessed by Ofsted as Good in 2016, Hadlow Rural Community School is thus one of the most successful free schools in the country. The school moved into state-of-the-art new premises on the main college campus in time for the start of the 2016-17 academic year. The official launch of the new build will take place this year.
Unlike some Free Schools, HRCS was planned in depth. It stemmed from recognition that the land-based sector needed a foundation that would encourage new entrants to the rural industries. As an example, food production is vitally important but many parts of the industry are failing to recruit skilled entrants. One such is commercial/production horticulture which, for several years. Has been recording a global shortage of graduate entrants.
The UK – the world – must establish better plans for food security and in opening HRCS Hadlow College has made a significant step in the right direction. Proof that the policy is working; the first cohort of sixteen-year-olds left HRCS in July last year and the majority elected to continue their studies at Hadlow College with the intention of making careers in the rural sector industries.
Another vast project was the take-over of K College which was formed by the merger of West Kent College (WKC) and South Kent College. WKC had enjoyed community respect and support for many years but the merger with South Kent College – which had been experiencing a long period of mismanagement and financial issues – resulted in ‘problems’ and not long afterwards things began to go wrong at K College.
This got steadily worse and in November 2013 K College was graded 4 – Inadequate. In light of this the Minister for Skills and Enterprise advised the FE Commissioner in line with the intervention policy set out in Rigour and Responsiveness in Skills. A number of formal processes were undertaken at the end of which K College was put up for offer by other institutions. As in the case of many other ‘Failing’ colleges, parts of K College were excellent – including the superb new campus. There were over forty bids for K College but Hadlow was finally selected as ‘the preferred provider’ to take over the major portion.
‘Getting the money right’ had to be the basis of the restructure Mark’s previous turnaround experience was the single most vital element. The official takeover was in August 2014. The much-loved name – West Kent College – was restored to the community and that part of K College located in Ashford was renamed Ashford College. Seemingly simple changes but ones which delighted the communities and strengthened their affection and respect for the colleges.
Both West Kent and Ashford College are making massive strides forward. Students and stakeholders love WKC’s ultramodern campus close to the town centre and this September Ashford moves into wonderful new-build premises. Located right in the middle of the town and very close to the international rail station, the area will shortly have a new theatre, multiplex cinema, numerous bars and restaurants, boutiques and shops.
Ashford is one of the most ambitious growth areas in the south-east. Businesses are relocating to take advantage of the many benefits the area offers, existing businesses are expanding and new set-ups are running at a very high rate. The diversity of career options is expanding accordingly – excellent news for young people seeking progressive careers in town and around.
All three Hadlow Group colleges are well aware of the importance of working closely with industry to ensure education and training offers fulfil existing and emerging needs. The latest research indicates the vital importance of preparing young people to achieve a job that fulfils their aspirations. Examination results are crucial but careers advice, opportunities to network with industry and stakeholders – plus individual mentoring- are increasingly significant.
Hadlow firmly believes that regarding itself as a business – a ‘Business’ – is fundamental to its success. ‘Realism’ is key – and that commences with recognition that it is impossible for government to stretch the public purse to fulfil ever-expanding public sector needs. Mark Lumsdon-Taylor comments ‘The happiness and success of students – in all three of our colleges – will always be the central and by far the most important core part of the business but in order to fulfil their ambitions – and our aspirations for them – we must build and extend our business portfolio. Our commercial revenue must grow so that we can continue to promote and achieve excellence in everything we undertake. We will never be happy with less’.
Nowadays Hadlow is targeted by potential partners on an almost daily basis – everyone wants a slice. The Department of Education promotes the importance of colleges building beneficial alliances and partnerships. Mark comments ‘We totally endorse these views. The world has changed – and is changing. In order to keep abreast of these changes – some of which are very rapid – we as a sector must be visionary and very, very – very – proactive’.
Further information regarding this report can be obtained from Pat Crawford: firstname.lastname@example.org 07771 635684