Enterprising former student returns to college to teach and inspire

In the latest in a series of posts about enterprising students, former Soft Furnishings student Linda McKay explains how Ayrshire College inspired her entrepreneurial side and encouraged her to start up her own business doing what she loves.

About to return to the College to embark on a lecturing career, Linda is taking her skills to the next level, sharing her knowledge on the Soft Furnishings course which starts at the end of January. Here’s what Linda said about her creative career, starting up her own business and returning to college as a lecturer.


I was always creative at school and enjoyed art, fashion and fabrics. In Higher Art I submitted a design in Appliqué using fabrics on canvas and that’s where my love of textiles began. I have used these techniques in my designs by knitting fabric and wire and experimenting with texture. Soon after I started making curtains and cushions for myself, family and friends were putting in their orders.

Working for myself I am lucky enough to choose my own hours and work them around my lifestyle and family. My day usually starts by settling down at my sewing machine to work on a client’s project, or to do some sample work or research. It may also include a trip to the fabric shop with a client or visiting clients in their own homes to measure a job and discuss designs or to fit a completed job.

The highlights for me are meeting new and interesting people and turning a piece of fabric into something that transforms a client’s room into a home – whether that be a pair of curtains, roman blind, chair cover, cushions or bedspreads.

My learning experience at Ayrshire College was a positive and exciting one. I was slightly nervous going back into education as a mature student, but I was put at ease from the very first day I started. It was a relaxed atmosphere and the support and enthusiasm, not to mention the knowledge and skills, of the lecturers was inspiring. The support from both lecturers and fellow students was invaluable and it was great to be in an environment where people were interested in the same subject as myself. I also learned life skills such as prioritising jobs and how to meet deadlines.

The biggest challenge was believing in myself and my skills and if I was good enough to compete in the marketplace. That’s why college was so important to me and gave me the confidence and support to take the next big step. It made me realise that there are plenty of people out there offering help in areas like marketing and business set up, and not to be afraid to ask for help.

Be prepared to work hard, sometimes with unsociable hours to suit your customer’s needs. If you are self-motivated, prepared to put the work in and believe in yourself and most of all passionate about what you do then I would absolutely urge you to give it a go.


Tourism insights from Ayrshire & Arran Tourism’s Ros Halley

Ayrshire College works with many partners to ensure our courses are relevant to employers and students develop the skills necessary for the industry sector they will work in. Tourism is a key economic sector in Ayrshire and we invited Ros Halley, Tourism Manager at Ayrshire & Arran Tourism to share her views on the benefits of working in the industry.

Image by Guy Hinks. Ayrshire Tourism Event at the Marine Hotel Troon

What is the main purpose of your job as Tourism Manager?

My role as Ayrshire & Arran Tourism Manager covers the geography of three local authority areas, including the islands of Arran and Greater Cumbrae. Even more challenging is the fact that the role is also wide ranging in terms of involvement of different sectors operating locally and nationally.

Working with a range of partners can mean one day advising accommodation providers on the latest research or social media opportunities to the next day helping to identify the best walking routes or pulling together a legal framework for a new golf company.

The range of work spans all project management roles, from team management to building partnerships, preparing action plans to managing budgets and developing creative solutions to often complex issues involving many different partners. Essentially a product development role, as Tourism Manager I am responsible for product improvement, improving local service levels, enhancing the quality of our tourism experience, developing partnerships, improving business to business communications and engaging communities.

How has this role developed/changed since you started?

Since starting in this position in 2012, the role has changed quite considerably. At the beginning there was a great deal of effort required just to open minds to the possibility of organising tourism on a pan-Ayrshire level. Many of the businesses had felt let down and there was a general reluctance to accept change and participate in working groups or develop meaningful activities across different industry sectors (accommodation, visitor attractions, transport, food, etc).

Today, we are in a very different position with over half of all tourism businesses in Ayrshire registered with Ayrshire & Arran Tourism and a high level of participation at all of our events. My focus is now on ensuring that the momentum and support is translated into real and lasting improvements and that these are all ultimately targeted at bringing in additional visitors to the region.

What is the best thing about your job?

The best thing about my job is the variety and the opportunity to meet so many different people, learn about different aspects of tourism and help others to be able to make the most of the opportunities.

What would you say to encourage people to consider a career in tourism? 

As someone who has been fortunate to have spent many years working in this industry, I would encourage anyone with an interest in people, a love of culture, a passion for the outdoors or hospitality to consider tourism as a good career path!

The skills required are varied and transferable and, whilst an understanding of the local area can add huge value to the visitor experience, much more important is a passion for the area and an ability to make the experience come alive! Working in tourism is about making connections, building relationships and creating experiences.

Do you think the sector still has an image of temporary employment, low pay and unsocial hours or has this changed?

I am aware that for some people the idea of tourism as a career is still somewhat unattractive. However, things have really moved on and there are real possibilities to experience many different aspects of tourism, to travel, to meet new people and continue to learn.

Depending on the sector, location or position you may have to work long hours at certain times of the year, but more often than not businesses nowadays are adopting work-life balance policies in order to attract the very best staff, so conditions are greatly improved.

Today, there are many opportunities to work in permanent, all year round positions that offer real career progression for those with skills and ambition.

How can we encourage young people to consider tourism as a profession?

The best way to encourage anyone to change their opinion of tourism in Ayrshire is to create opportunities to experience the area as a visitor, to travel, to see, to do, to stay, to eat and to share with friends and family. Only by experiencing what we have to offer can we really sell this onto others.

How has the tourism sector in Ayrshire been performing and where are the growth areas?

Since the recession, tourism businesses in Ayrshire & Arran have had to work hard to regain some of the lost business. In 2014 we have started to see the most significant patterns of growth since 2008. Although encouraging, it will be necessary for the area to truly restructure to offer a more joined up visitor experience. Our tourism experiences need to be organised and easily accessible to reach a modern, value driven and quality conscious market.  We need to be able to reach out and grab attention, and then ensure that every step along the way we offer a quality service and maximise the opportunities to sell-on and encourage repeat visits.


How college course inspired award-winning Ayrshire business woman

2015/01/img_0856.jpgAfter taking up a part-time jewellery design course at college, Sheila Kerr discovered she had an eye for detail and a natural ability for design.

She decided to completely change her career and now specialises in the design and manufacture of handmade bespoke designer jewellery for her national and international clientele.

Read Sheila’s story.

In 2007, I was demoted as a result of restructuring. I needed to continue to work but was devastated at this news. My husband Tom noticed an advert for the Silversmith evening class at Ayrshire College and suggested I do something just for me after many years of staff development and academic study. I had always been creative but had never tried jewellery making, although it was always something I had wanted to do.

I enrolled onto the evening class and quickly realised just how much I enjoyed working with metals. I loved it! I learned all the basics of metalworking and silversmith, as well as how to sketch out a design and work to scale. The tutor was great and taught me all I know. I discovered that I had an eye for detail, but I also discovered that I seemed to have a lot of design ideas – this was surprising as I didn’t realise I had this talent until I started jewellery making!

Sheila’s ‘Ailsa’ collection, inspired by the beauty of Ayrshire’ landscape

I originally took up jewellery making as a hobby and at college I enjoyed meeting other students, learning new skills, making mistakes and learning from them. Around this time I was asked by a colleague at work if I would sell one of my own pendants that I was wearing that day. I was slightly bemused, not believing that anyone would want to buy my work. This pendant was created with copper in a scroll design with a silver spiral swirl. I took it home and polished it to a high finish and sold it for £15 – my first sale!

I continued to attend the class while working. I began attending craft fairs, church fetes and any local fairs. I worked mainly with beads and semi-precious stones as I didn’t have a workshop at home. I began to sell my work ever so slowly and then decided to create my own website.

I also started to create bridal tiaras and headpieces – this was self-taught using my skills from previous hobbies of dressmaking and knitting. Next I focused on the bridal market and have exhibited at many wedding fairs, including the Ayrshire Wedding Show and the Scottish Wedding Show at SECC. I began to build up a customer base and thoroughly enjoyed working with brides and creating special pieces for their big day. Finally, In August 2011, I decided to give up my job to dedicate myself full time to my business. I am now based at a design studio in Irvine.

I pride myself in my customer service as well as the quality of my work. I like to get to know my customer, especially for bespoke commissions. This type of work involves stages in the design process and the customer should feel that they are your only customer (even if you have a full order book!) I have also developed my social media marketing (follow me on twitter and facebook) and receive orders this way from as far away as Italy and the USA. My website was created by a professional web designer and I have recently added an e-commerce section.

One of the challenges I face is that it is important in a creative business to always be developing and improving your skills and ideas. My advice would be, always be aware of your market but be confident to create designs that you like yourself and would wear. I try to offer something different from the rest as there is always competition, regardless of your field.

On a day to day basis, life is hectic! I am the designer and maker as well as the business owner. Although I have great support from my husband, I juggle all aspects of the business. I would say that, if you decide to start up a creative business, make sure you seek support and help through a number of agencies. I contacted Business Gateway. I’m a member of the Ayrshire Association of Businesswomen, a member of the Ayrshire Chamber of Commerce and an alumni of Entrepreneurial Spark where I received amazing support and mentoring. I also applied for grant funding from North Ayrshire Council and was successful.

If you want to set up in business reach out for all the help you can get, research your market and customer, work hard and never give up!

I will be exhibiting at the Jewellery and Watch Trade Show, NEC Birmingham from 1-5 February in the Launch Gallery – my first international show. I’ll be showcasing my ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ Collection inspired by Robert Burns, which won a Mumpreneur Silver Product Award last year.



Working in tourism opens your eyes up to the world

Wilson Raphel is a Tourism Lecturer at Ayrshire College. College Marketing Manager Shelagh McLachlan asked Wilson to share his passion for travelling and how it led him into an unexpected career.

Since leaving school, what has your career path been?

IMG_0795.PNGAfter leaving school I had various temping jobs, from manufacturing mobile phones to antibiotics and then telesales. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a career, so when an opportunity to travel to the USA came up I jumped at it. I began working two jobs – the first as a landscaper’s assistant which was labour intensive and kept me in great shape, the second was in an ‘all you can eat’ crab restaurant in the resort town of Ocean City in Maryland.

The off season was slow at the restaurant so I took on another job as a kitchen hand with the nearby Ocean Pines Association. Here, I became a short order cook during the day and wedding banqueter by night, where I worked as part of the team performing various duties like bartending, serving, cleaning and later supervision of staff, banking, opening and closing.

The hours were long but the money helped pay for extended road trips around the USA. I lived in Boston and Seattle for a time where I learned how to make a mean omelette! I got to live great experiences like getting lost in the Grand Canyon, driving on route 66, drinking in the bars in the Bronx after taking in a show on Broadway, the Cheers bar in Boston, watching Miami Heat vs Chicago Bulls in Miami – the list goes on.

Next, I spent a year in Ireland and then went to Australia for a year where I stayed for a while with relatives in Adelaide. I took a job as a bus driver and soon knew the city like the back of my hand. With the money I made as a bus driver I bought a Commodore estate, changed out the power steering, the radiator, the thermostat and the exhaust, packed up my gear and drove to Alice Springs in the middle of the country. I advertised in one of the local hostels for travel companions to share the gas and two travellers took me up on it. We drove through great places like Coober Pedy, a strange little town known as the opal capital of the world, where houses and hotels are built into the rock face. One man who owned an opal store said that whenever he needed a new room he just dug one out. We also visited Uluru and Alice Springs before heading back south. I then took a job moulding the rubber seals for car doors before returning to Scotland, where I worked for O2 as a call centre advisor before starting at the Scottish Agricultural College in Ayr.

What attracted you to the tourism sector?

I was attracted to tourism as I had really enjoyed my travels and it was the one thing that was able to hold my attention. Do you remember the feeling you get when you’re in the airport at six in the morning just as you’re waiting to go on holiday? Tourism can do that to you and make you feel that way. It opened up my eyes to other worlds and other ways of doing things. I studied a BA in Activity Tourism Management and the course showed me how broad and varied tourism is. The course combined visits to small and medium sized tourism operators (which included small hotels, B&Bs, restaurants, farm parks, adventure sports providers, indoor venues like museums and climbing centres) with experiential learning and classroom work, which provided a more rounded learning experience of tourism.

Whilst studying, I had a part time job as a climbing instructor at both the Glasgow Climbing Centre and Climbzone in Braehead. A week after I graduated with a degree from Glasgow University, I was offered a job to deliver the Prince’s Trust Team programme with what is now New College Lanarkshire. Here, I applied the skills I had gained as a climbing instructor, along with the experiential learning and the planning and management skills I had gained through my studies and from my past work experiences.

I also managed to put together a business plan for an outdoor residential centre and made contacts within East Ayrshire Council, who helped with aspects of my plan and my application for funding. This combined my knowledge of the adventure and rural tourism sectors with management and marketing skills learned within my studies. Unfortunately, the funding fell through for this type of business and I applied for a tourism lecturing position at Ayrshire college.

Who is your role model and why?

I’ve never really had a role model, although I have great respect for anyone that has started their own business and believe that there are great opportunities for students to do this now more than ever, especially within the tourism industry.

Why should I do the Activity Tourism course?

Expect to learn about the various different tourism operators or business within the industry from nature tourism, conservation, adventure tourism, food tourism, events and more. Expect to get out and visit the many different small to medium sized business working in the industry, expect to get outdoors as well as in the classroom. Expect to learn that there are a vast number of varied jobs within the industry. Expect to become creative and entrepreneurial.

Activity Tourism is in fashion at the moment, but it is on an upward trend and growing. It encompasses all sorts of tourism, some of which you might not expect or realise. Activity tourism is here to stay!

The college recruitment campaign is start here go anywhere – where might you expect your students to end up?

Former students that I have worked with have gone on to do the following:

  • Outward Bound Outdoor Instructor
  • Country Park Ranger
  • Self Employed Climbing/Mountaineer instructor
  • Self Employed Kayak Instructor
  • Prince’s Trust Team Leader
  • Self Employed Tour Guide
  • Manager of an Outdoor Adventure Centre
  • Manager of an Indoor Climbing Centre
  • Travel & Tourism Lecturer
  • Safari Park Ranger

How achievable is being self employed in the tourism sector for a young person?

More achievable than you might think. My job is to inspire them to want to work within the industry and to get their creative and entrepreneurial minds ticking, then provide them with the guidance they need.

Some say jobs in tourism are glamorous, exciting and well paid. Others say it is long hours, hard work and minimum wage. What is the reality?

It can be all of those things some of the time, and some of those things some of the time. Like all jobs you will have to work hard and gain the necessary experience and develop the work ethic that will empower you to take control of your future career and develop at the pace you want to. Enthusiasm for your industry and hard work will pay off in the long run.




A day in the life of construction apprentice Rachel Kyle

Ayrshire College recently celebrated a major milestone in the building project for the new Kilmarnock Campus, after reaching the one quarter of the way to completion stage. Back in June, student Rachel Kyle became the first apprentice on the site and Student President Angela Alexander caught up with the Trainee Assistant Site Manager for McLaughlin & Harvey about her role in this exciting project.

Angela Alexander (left) and Rachel Kyle (right)

How are you finding your role as Assistant Site Manager?

It’s very busy. I’m learning lots of new things, especially about the technology being used on site, and it’s fascinating to see it for real rather than reading about it in text books.

What is a typical day for you?

I walk round the site to check everything is in order and safe. I then get permits in place for work being carried out that day. Contractors come in to get permits signed. Inductions take place on Mondays and Wednesdays. There is a lot of paperwork relating to health and safety to be completed.

What is involved in induction?

Anyone working onsite, for example new staff and subcontractors, must complete an induction. It covers health and safety regulations, first aid, fire measures, traffic management and site rules.

How has your college course helped you in this role?

My HNC has given me an excellent knowledge basis and is a great foundation to build upon. In my job, I’ve also been on various training courses.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I really like seeing the building progress and I love that every day is different. It has been a steep learning curve but really enjoyable. The people that I work with are fantastic, everyone really supports each other. The experience I am gaining is wonderful. No text book in the world could provide this level of knowledge or insight.

What challenges have you faced?

It has been challenging trying to juggle working, studying and family life but I have a lot of support and seem to have found the right balance.

Is it difficult being a woman in a predominantly male trade?

You do have to be thick skinned and try not to take things to heart. I do find that women are becoming much more widely accepted in construction and I have had no major issues.

How would you inspire other women to follow a construction based career?

Young women often write off construction without giving it a chance. It’s a wonderful career which provides opportunities to be involved in fantastic projects. The industry pays really well and there are so many different roles available – it’s not all about building sites. There seems to be a shift within large consortiums with more women taking on key roles. I hope to move to site management then into contracts management.

Do you find that women are better at certain things?

Each individual has their own strengths and weaknesses. It’s about figuring out what yours are. You shouldn’t stereotype and say men are better at some things and women others. Within the team we have very diverse personalities and a real mix of skills.

What is happening on site at this stage?

The build is now quarter way through. Steel frames have arrived and foundations and cores broadly in place. We are almost ready to structure anchors to core and foundations, which will give stability. Very soon the STEM block will start to take shape.


College experience helped me set up in business

Sandra Ferguson returned to college as a mature student, eager to change her career and embrace her creative side. The skills she learned helped her start her own soft furnishings business. With a successful business behind her, Sandra inspires others to change their lives, learn new skills and become entrepreneurs of the future. Here’s what she has to say.

I was bored stiff in a job that I did not like when I read an article called “New Year New Career” and I thought – why not? It was time for a career change and I was going to do something just for me – a present to myself!


Although I was apprehensive about returning to college as a mature student, what I lacked in confidence I made up for in enthusiasm and a willingness to learn. I’ve always been a creative person and so I was attracted to the fashion and the soft furnishings courses.

I loved the experience of learning new skills and I got involved in everything, absorbing information like a sponge. Everyone at the College was supportive, open and friendly and, as the course developed, I was really pushed out of my comfort zone and encouraged to develop my skills and take on more complicated work.

It doesn’t matter if you have no sewing experience as you learn all the basic skills and techniques, and you are encouraged to work at your own pace. The more I learned, the more confident I became. I also liked the social aspect of being in a class of like minded people, all sharing ideas and inspiration and passing on hints and tips to make things easier.

The facilities at the College are great with lots of space for pattern making, cutting out, sewing, over-locking and pressing. With expert tuition, we learned in a safe and supported environment.

My main aim was to become self employed, as I thought if I was going to work so hard I might as well do it for myself. Many of the design students become self employed because there are low startup costs – all I needed was a sewing machine and I could work from home. Using social media and word of mouth, it is easy to promote yourself. I also received good advice from Business Gateway.

I teamed up with another designer and we attended the big trade shows to promote our business to interior designers who were looking for people with our skills. This business experience led me back into education and I’m now teaching fashion and business courses! It’s a job I love and allows me to use my creative skills and inspire others to get involved.

It’s a great time to get into the world of design. The TV is full of programmes like Kirstie’s Vintage Home, 30sec Makeovers, Grand Designs and Location, Location, Location. There is a real trend for up-cycling and making the most of your home to make it more comfortable or sellable. Even if you are not after a new career, enrolling on a design course will give you lots of interesting ideas for home improvement.


Using the latest technology to support learning

In the second in a series of posts from Ayrshire College’s Learning Technology team, Michael Robertson explains why it is important to test out new technologies to provide a high quality learning experience for students.

Emerging Learning Technologies

At Ayrshire College, we are always striving for the best solutions to support excellence in learning and teaching. Our role as Learning Technologists is to assess and develop lasting solutions to digital challenges, and share these in a way that is accessible to both lecturers and students. While our day-to-day focus is on maintaining and training students and staff in the application of the Moodle virtual learning environment, we also work with other current and emerging technologies.


Mobile Development

At the moment, we are using devices for app development, BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) and designing college tools like the Moodle site to be mobile friendly. In regards to apps we have 3 piloted ideas currently underway. Our main project is working with the Learning Resources Centre (LRC) to develop a mobile app that will start as a Google Maps style tour, where students can use a bird’s eye view of the College to navigate and find out information about key areas around the campus. The intention is to integrate this into a fully realised 3D world of the campuses and allow students to navigate this using a personalised avatar.

Other proposed projects involve using Augmented Reality for tours and induction with things like QR and AR codes to allow placement of information points and interactive elements throughout the real world. Augmented Reality is about blending the real world into the digital world via device features such as cameras and gyro/accelerometers.

The last project in mobile is working with on-site students to allow them to report back to lecturers and integrate their logs (photos, notes, etc) into a centralised form that the lecturer can mark and assess without either having to report in person.

Unreal Engine 4 – Gamification

At the other end of the scale, we are using high-end software development tools, in the form of Unreal Engine 4, to develop more engaging software for “gamifying” education and its support for learning. This allows us to use a wealth of advanced graphical technologies that can be optimised for limited resource machines to top-end gaming rigs and even mobile devices.

Gamification is not a new thing but it is not widely understood. Essentially, it takes the concept of setting objectives and rewards, then putting these into a setting that aids learning and engagement of a topic or tool.

An example we already have on the College’s Moodle site is Level up! and Achievements which give the users rewards for usage of Moodle and their courses/units.

The Future

With a look to the future, we are working with other technologies such as immersive experiences using Virtual Reality and Abstract interfacing. This uses motion/spatial data and gestures to allow for controller-less interactions with software and devices whilst providing a believable environment for the users. We believe that we should assess technologies for the benefit of everyone in a learning environment and work towards reaping these benefits as soon as we can.