“Take full advantage of your time at Fircroft. Don’t just see it as a way to move up in the world – see it as a foundation in learning how to work with people and identifying what you want out of life.”
Two friends, who met when they were students at Fircroft College in the 1970’s, gave us some of their valuable time in October to visit the college. Alex Pettifer and Steve Lewis brought many fascinating, amusing and interesting facts with them about their time at Fircroft and their visit included a talk to students and staff.
Although the college has changed considerably since Steve and Alex were students with us, it was clear that some of the values, ambitions and mission have remained. Read on to discover how the college helped both Steve and Alex to enjoy influential and successful careers and has helped them to continue to live full and meaningful lives well into their retirement.
Alex and Steve studied the one year Access course at Fircroft. Contrary to our current Access to Higher Education diplomas that lead to students going on to university, in the 70’s the Access course had the purpose of leading to work or improving a student’s chances in the workplace.
Steve and Alex have had highly successful careers and involvement in charity sector work. Read more here
What brought you to Fircroft?
I left school in Birmingham at the age of 14, which was usual in those days, with no qualifications. Expectations in those days were that we would go and work in one of the local factories but that wasn’t for me, but I did need a job. In those days many people went into work and most of their weekly salary went towards the family housekeeping. I got a job working for Birmingham Council helping to maintain Cannon Hill Park and I became involved in the MAC Theatre, which led to me being the stage manager. In the early 1970’s, the Government withdrew funding for many theatres and the MAC closed down. I felt I wanted to pursue the education route rather than go down to London to find theatre work, and I ended up at Fircroft. I had developed a love of literature over the years which gave me a thirst to learn, and I learnt so much academically but also about life, from being residential at the college for the year.
At 21 years old, I was one of the youngest students in my year at Fircroft. I had just completed an Apprenticeship and went on to join Birmingham Young Volunteers, where someone told me about Fircroft. I left school with no qualifications and saw the college as an opportunity to help me to get qualified and become a teacher, which became my ambition once I attended Fircroft.
How has Fircroft helped you in your career and personal life?
It wasn’t just the course – it helped me to shape and identify my morals, ethics and principles for life. There was a lot of debating at the college in my time – we were there for a year – with fellow students, and staff, who were passionate about what was happening in society at the time. I have carried my Fircroft experience with me throughout my life and it has shaped who I am as a manager and leader. Fircroft also opened my eyes to the bigger world. There were students and staff from other countries, other ethnicities, other cultures and living with them for the year really gave me insight into the wider world. All these things have influenced me to be a “good” employer. Over the years, I have introduced fairer working practices for staff, offered staff at all levels training (not always related to their job) and generally ensured a good workplace.
As a Head Teacher, the way I was taught and treated by the tutors, helped me to see each child as an individual with their own needs and abilities. One particularly memorable experience for me at the college was delivering a mini lecture as part of my course, to staff and students. The title of my lecture was “Why Comprehensive Education?” and writing that lecture helped me to focus on my future career, wanting to play a part in education in the UK and helping to introduce a cultural change. I eventually became a Primary School Head Teacher in North Wales.
Have you got a favourite place at Fircroft?
Our room. At the time we shared rooms and it was a place I could make my own. It was quite big and I remember we were not allowed to put up posters onto the walls so I created an elaborate wire system that I could hang my posters on.
I would say the same – our room.
What things did you most like about Fircroft?
I loved the tutorials, they were fantastic. I really enjoyed economics, social and local history, sociology, law, culture studies and English literature and some of the tutors were outstanding in the knowledge of their subjects and the way they taught.
The setting. Fircroft is surrounded by greenery and nature and living there for the year in such a calm, quiet place, in a city, was a period in my life that I will never forget.
What advice would you give to someone currently studying at Fircroft?
Take full advantage of it. Don’t just see it as a way to move up in the world – see it as a foundation in learning how to work with people and identifying what you want out of life. And then spread the word about what you’ve learnt, with other people.
Fircroft offers a caring environment, where everyone is supported and encouraged. Doing a residential course at Fircroft will give you much more than a certificate – you will learn from the whole experience.
Thinking back, where do you think you would be now if you hadn’t attended Fircroft?
I have no idea. All the boys in my school were expected to go and work in the local factory which isn’t what I wanted to do. Before Fircroft I had no understanding of how my life could be but the college helped me to reflect on where I wanted to go in my career.
No idea. When I came to Fircroft I had no idea what I wanted to do in the future but the college gave me the inspiration to work in education.