Black History Month

October is Black History Month for the UK, so this week we are taking a look at the importance of this month.

Black History Month is perhaps at its most prevalent since the 1960s. With a real breakdown in relations between African American communities and Police in the US and an increase in hate crimes here in the UK, it is important to reflect on meaning behind Black History Month.

So what is Black History Month?

Black History Month is a dedicated time which focuses on the people and events associated to Black History, in particular the communities around the world that have descended from the movement of African and Caribbean people during the transatlantic slave trade between the 16th and 19th centuries.


Most people will have heard the stories of Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Maya Angelou, who are but a few of millions of Blacks who have suffered and endured discrimination. Indeed this month celebrates the bravery, talent and achievements of these individuals but also reminds us that racism and subsequent discrimination continues to be in our societies.

With a Scottish population that is 96% White according to government statistics, some may wonder what role Scotland plays in Black History Month.

It is perhaps often forgotten Scotland had a role in the Transatlantic Slave Trade with cotton and tobacco arriving on the West Coast to be manufactured and sold throughout the world boosting the Scottish economy. Ordinary Scots benefitted from employment in industries such as textiles and maritime. Skilled tradesmen such as carpenters were in high demand. The prosperity of the Slave Trade allowed former ordinary people to become wealthy powerful individuals.

In Glasgow alone we only have to look at street names such as Jamaica Street and Virginia Place to see the role Scotland played in the Slave Trade.  All this was achieved on the backs and lives of individuals who were kidnapped and forced to work in horrid conditions thousands of miles away.

With tobacco shipments coming into places like Port Glasgow many wealthy Ayrshire families even employed black servants that were brought over by slave owning companies. Ayrshire Archives hold records of correspondence with Ship Captains and wealthy families such as the Hamilton’s (1754) who owned 3 estates in Jamaica.

Throughout this period the ordinary person in Scotland had no concept of what life was like for Africans on plantations.  They did not think about where the tobacco in their pipe or the sugar in their tea came from. Only when Abolitionists brought back evidence and spoke about the cruelty endured by Africans, did people really begin to understand man’s inhumanity to man.  It is for this reason that we must commemorate Black History Month – while we may not see discrimination or racism in our daily lives for many it is their daily life.

In more recent history alongside the American Civil Rights movement, the UK also saw a movement for Black civil rights. This has continued even throughout 2016 with the Black Lives Matter Movement protesting earlier this year.

It is important to acknowledge and remember that the horrific and racist way in which many Black people throughout the world have been treated is not that far from our door step. In doing so, we learn to recognise and put a stop to discrimination, racism and general inequalities that people are facing.


This year our HNC and NC Social Science students encouraged by lecturers Una Connell and Alison Gallagher, are sharing their investigations of key moments in and figures of Black History across the College in the form of posters and podcasts.  Thank you to all the students involved in this important work as by educating us of the past, we can work together for a better future where acceptance, tolerance and celebration of difference is the norm.

In the current social, political and economic time, it has become ever more important to raise awareness about attitudes and behaviours which are unacceptable.

Inequalities, discrimination, racism and any other forms of intolerance are not accepted or condoned here at Ayrshire College. Shortly we will be introducing our Respect Campaign to ensure all students and staff fully understand the policies of the College and to know who to speak to if they need help and support.

If you are a staff member or student you can visit the Equality and Inclusion Moodle page to view the ways in which Ayrshire College staff and students have marked Black History Month.

If you would like to learn more about Black History in relation to Ayrshire you can access information on Ayrshire Archives online.

The University College London website has a Legacy of British Slave Ownership database in which you can search locations and names to find out how much British families were paid to release their slaves during the 19th Century, when slavery was finally abolished (1833).

His story: growing up in Ayrshire

Watch Dougie Barnes, Employability and Engagement Officer at Ayrshire College, speak about his unique experiences of growing up in Ayrshire.

Black History Month – guest post

Kim Steele, History teacher at Doon Academy, has kindly written a guest blog to help the College mark Black History Month.

Kim has been working with the College’s Equality and Inclusion Team on ways to support the mainstreaming of equality in her school.

She advocates the rights of all, and champions’ equality, diversity and inclusion.

Her blog reflects on key figures and points in U.S. Black History and asks us to challenge any of our own prejudices in regards to race and ethnicity.

Black lives matter’ (2016) / ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ (1787).

The words may differ but the meaning is still the same.

It has been over 200 years since the abolition of the Slave Trade in Britain and 150 years since Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in the U.S., yet many black people are still fighting to be treated equally. Throughout these years there have been many key figures who have driven forward the Civil Rights cause in the U.S. despite vast differences on how to achieve this.

‘We shall overcome’ (1962)

In one corner we had the peaceful movement. Civil disobedience was the order of the day, the media was peppered with images of unarmed protesters male, female and child alike being attacked by police dogs, cattle prods and water cannons. At the forefront of this was Martin Luther King Jr.


From the March on Washington where he delivered his ‘I had a dream speech’ to those in Birmingham and Selma, Martin Luther King Jr. campaigned passionately for Black Civil Rights. He encouraged black people in the Southern States to ignore the Jim Crow laws that segregated them from white people. He understood the needs of this community and used the media to highlight this to the rest of the nation.

For the first time, people in the North became aware of how dangerous life was for black people in the South. All for the price of being treated as an equal human being – a privilege which white people were born into but black people had to fight for.

‘Black Power’ (1966)

 In the other corner we had the more extreme groups who encouraged black people to fend for themselves – the very opposite of the turn the other cheek approach. Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and Stokely Carmichael, each encouraged black people to take what was seen as rightfully theirs.

“Nobody can give you freedom. Nobody can give you equality and justice or anything.

If you’re a man, take it.”

                                                                                                                                    Malcolm X


While the media was a great tool for Martin Luther King Jr., the opposite could be said for these individuals and groups – no one wanted to print stories of how black communities were healing the wounds white people had inflicted upon them. The Black Panthers set up Breakfast Clubs for children, provided free medical clinics and addiction rehabilitation. These were the prevalent issues of the 1960s and are still, arguably, the case today.

‘Black Lives Matter’ (BLM)

The Black Lives Matter movement brings us back to the modern day – with the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, a Neighbourhood Watch Captain, in 2012.

BLM is a movement created in response when Zimmerman was found Not Guilty of killing Trayvon. The movement really picked up pace in 2014 when Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed by a white Police Officer in Ferguson, Missouri.

Riots erupted in Ferguson and sparked renewed racial concerns echoing those in Detroit, Watts and Birmingham almost 60 years ago – tensions between black communities and the Police Force stretched to breaking point with senseless deaths on all sides.

So the questions are obvious – despite changes in the law to promote equality on all fronts, why are people still trying to supress each other on the basis of race? How can a persons’ skin colour determine the quality of life they will lead or the chances they will have in life?

This is why Black History Month is important. We cannot ignore the struggles and sacrifices individuals have endured for the sake of equality. Centuries have passed and black people are still suffering because they were not, ultimately, born white. We must continue to tackle racism and prejudice at every level.

While Martin Luther Jr. had a dream, I have a wish that one day we will no longer have a cause to fight for equality on any level. We all will simply just be. Sadly, we are not there.


I would like to add a closing thought – remember that day you wore your top outside in and nobody noticed because it looked the same? Imagine we were to do the same with our skin, would we still have the very same racial issues as we do now?

Visit the Equality and Inclusion Moodle page for several student podcasts on key figures of Black History.

Meet the Kilwinning graduation prizewinners

Tomorrow is a big day for so many students of Ayrshire College: it’s the Kilwinning graduation!

In the lead-up to this event we have been unveiling one graduation prizewinner per day on our website.

There are 11 recipients in total – nine ‘Student of the Year’ winners, and one winner each of the ‘Making a Difference in the Community’ and ‘Outstanding Achievement’ awards.

And here they are!

Read why these 11 students deserve special recognition, in the words of their lecturers.

Student of the Year for Arts and Fashion – sponsored by Alex Begg and Company


Karen has been recognised for the outstanding quality and quantity of work she produced both in the College and outwith her HNC Photography class. This is in addition to all the commitments associated with raising a young family.

Her eagerness to expand her technical and photographic knowledge was very refreshing for staff and encouraged other learners.  This eagerness was apparent in every unit and, in fact, in everything she did.

Student of the Year for Business, Administration and Accounts – sponsored by Developing the Young Workforce


Ann-Marie consistently produced a high standard of work throughout the year whilst caring for her family and working outwith the College.

During her time at college, Ann-Marie and two of her peers organised an event to raise money for the charity Sands which was extremely successful and raised a lot of money for a very worthwhile cause.

Ann-Marie is a very positive and caring person who has worked very hard over the last two years to achieve her HND in Administration and Information Technology.

Student of the Year for Care – sponsored by Ede and Ravenscroft


When Shannon began her studies in care she was a shy young girl whose passion for working with young people shone through.  As she progressed to HNC Social Care, her confidence grew as well as her own self-belief.

We have no doubt that Shannon will be successful in her chosen career.  She completed a very successful placement this year and developed effective working relationships with staff and service users alike, showing particular aptitude in working with young people with Autism.

It should be noted that Shannon’s nomination for Student of the Year was a unanimous decision by the Social Care lecturing staff which clearly shows how highly regarded Shannon is.

Student of the Year for Computing and IT – sponsored by The DTP Group


Lindsay is an outstanding HND Computer Science student who is unendingly cheerful, industrious and supportive of her fellow class members. She achieved an ‘A’ grade pass in both years of her Graded Unit.

She never missed a submission deadline, and her work was consistently of the highest quality.

She is a quiet, unassuming person, with an unshakably positive outlook, which she maintains despite the many difficulties that she encounters every day through personal matters.

Student of the Year for Early Years – sponsored by Ede and Ravenscroft


Helen is a very caring young woman, is first to help and mentor other students in her own quiet way, and has been instrumental in encouraging others to complete their HNC Early Education course.

She is an excellent ambassador for Ayrshire College and has received glowing reports from her college work placement.

Helen is very modest and would not seek recognition for her achievements; however the Early Education Team feel she deserves this award for her determination to overcome the hurdles and challenges she has faced at a young age and the positive outcomes she has gained through her own tenacity and resolve.

Student of the Year for Engineering and Science – sponsored by Bellrock


Danielle has shown an understanding far beyond most others and has grasped some extremely difficult subjects better than most over the years.

She has achieved a grade ‘A’ for her Graded Unit. Throughout this she worked meticulously and went above and beyond the criteria. She puts a great deal of effort into all of her work and completes it to a very high standard. She consistently scored over 90% in all of her exams.

She is a polite student who has shown that she really cares about not just completing her HND in Biomedical Science, but completing it to the best of her abilities. She is a true scientist and an excellent student.

Student of the Year for Hair and Beauty – sponsored by Ellisons


Kelly has been determined not only to pass her courses but to achieve them with high marks. She has successfully gained an ‘A’ grade in her HND Beauty Therapy.

She has been nominated for the Excellence Awards in previous years by lecturers due to her commitment to college studies and excellent beauty skills. She is always willing to go that extra mile for her class peers and lecturers. When asked to do a task she always accepts with a smile and in a gracious manner. Her client feedback is always full of praise for her warm and friendly manner.

She has endeared herself to the Beauty Department and the team are sorry to see her leave college, however are happy in the knowledge that Kelly will have many opportunities open to her in the future.

Student of the Year for Social Science – sponsored by Wai Beyond


Alana has consistently improved over the last 3 years she has been at Ayrshire College due to hard work and her determination to succeed. She embraced the challenge of HNC Social Science and had an amazing year, consistently producing an excellent standard of work.

Alana even found the time to help her classmates by providing encouragement and motivation and setting a positive example to help others succeed. She is an asset to the College and an exemplary student.

Alana has now successfully gained employment as a Trainee Fitness Coach which is testimony to her drive and enthusiasm, which was evident on the course.

Student of the Year for Sport and Fitness – sponsored by Ayrshire Sportsabilitytracey-farrell-graduation-2016-social-media-share-posts_instagram-post

As a mature student Tracey has overcame every challenge presented to her during her HNC Fitness Health and Exercise course with a completely positive attitude.

Tracey balanced her studies with other family and caring commitments while becoming heavily involved in fitness work through the community.

A key project that Tracey has been involved with is working at the new Vennel Gardens (sheltered housing) in Irvine.

Tracey delivered age appropriate exercise sessions to the residents including chair aerobics and has continued this community work throughout the summer to the delight of the staff at the Vennel.

Making a Difference in the Community – sponsored by SimpsInns


James progressed brilliantly from NC level work onto HNC Coaching and Developing Sport course in 2015/16. James is a dedicated and honest learner who is always keen to support the College by representing us at numerous events.  While in the community, James is involved in a wide variety of activities.

He also represented Sport and Social Science when he discussed his course and college involvement with Education Scotland during their recent visit.

James has returned to do the second year of his HND and will no doubt move onto great things.

Outstanding Achievement – sponsored by SQA


Kris lives in Arran and throughout his time at the College commuted via ferry to the Kilwinning Campus, earning him a reputation as someone with tremendous drive and determination.

He started at the College five years ago on the NC Digital Media Computing course. His IT skills have improved dramatically since then while he has also grown in confidence each year.

Kris thoroughly deserves this recognition and the Computing team wish him all the very best going forward.

Congratulations everyone: see you tomorrow!

ADAmant that we will attract more women into STEM!

Vice principal Jackie Galbraith shares her thoughts on the importance of recognising and celebrating women in STEM in the past, present and future.

It’s Ada Lovelace Day 2016, and Ayrshire College is ADAmant that we will attract more girls and women into science, engineering, technology and maths (STEM).

This is a key priority for us and we are working with schools, employers and national organisations to raise awareness of opportunities for women in STEM sectors, encourage take-up of STEM courses by girls and women, help students succeed on their courses, and connect female STEM students on different courses across the college, with students in other colleges and universities, and with women in industry.

Many people argue that there has never been a better time to be a woman in STEM. There are tens of thousands of high value, high quality jobs in sectors like digital and engineering. Employers don’t just need women to fill these jobs – they WANT them, because of the skills they bring! And, increasingly there are more diverse and equally valued routes to becoming a STEM professional – through college, apprenticeships and/or university.

But, we have a problem.

The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe. The proportion of young women taking STEM subjects at school, college and university is stubbornly low. And, incredibly, there is a smaller proportion of women studying and working in computing and digital technology now than when I was a computing student 30 years ago!

And yet, throughout history, women have played an important role in STEM . However, you need to seek them out! It’s important to recognise women from the past and present to stake our claim in this exciting world. Days like Ada Lovelace Day are about celebrating the pioneering, but often unknown or forgotten, work of women in fields like computing.

Women like Ada Lovelace, the mother of programming born 200 years ago who wrote the first ever computer programme 100 years before computers were even invented! Unlike her mentor Charles Babbage, whose analytical engine was the forerunner of the physical computer, Ada had the vision to imagine that a computer could create images and music, and not just do complicated sums.

Women like Scottish mathematician Mary Somerville (soon to be recognised on a £10 bank note), born in 1780 who, despite living in an age when women were discouraged from studying science, is credited with an instrumental role in the discovery of Neptune. Mary was the young Ada Lovelace ‘s mathematics tutor and mentor.

Florence Nightingale’s infographic

Women like Florence Nightingale, well known for her dedication to injured soldiers during the Crimean War, but less famous for her mathematical ability. Florence’s analysis of large amounts of data, presented graphically ,demonstrated that significantly more men were dying from preventable diseases in hospital than from wounds inflicted in battle. This led to the government allocating funds to improve the cleanliness of hospitals. Hundreds of years before the terms ‘big data’, ‘data scientist’ and ‘data visualisation’ became the latest big things, Florence was a big deal!

It is not just rich, privileged women who have made an impact over the centuries. Jeannie Riley, one of many Glasgow female munitions workers during the First World War, dreamed of becoming an engineer. Sadly, when Jeanie’s husband and other men returned from the trenches in France, the aspirations of women like Jeanie were denied and they had to give up their jobs in industry.

Like Jeannie, American Mary Sherman Morgan dropped out of education during World War II to take a job at a munitions factory. After the war ended, she began working at North American Aviation as an aspiring rocket scientist. In the 1940s, an elite team of mathematicians and scientists started working on a project that would carry the US into space. Eventually becoming NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, what made it unusual was that many of those who charted the course to space exploration were women!

In January 2017, a new film tells the story of African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson and her two colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, whose calculations helped John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of the Earth. Known as computers, these women played a critical role in space exploration.

It is important to recognise and celebrate the contributions of women scientists, technologists, engineers and mathematicians in the past. This is becoming easier with films like Hidden Figures and books like Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women who Propelled us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.

It is even more important to acknowledge and promote women in STEM today. Today’s women in STEM include our own students and staff (click on the links to find out more). They include the STEM ambassadors in schools across Ayrshire, as well as women in STEM industry sectors making an impact on companies in the region.


Tomorrow’s women in STEM are the girls in today’s nursery, primary and secondary schools – some of whom are connecting to engineering, science, construction and technology through activities like Primary Engineer, the Bloodhound Challenge, and Ayrshire College’s Girls in STEM and CoderDojo workshops.

We remain ADAmant that we will challenge gender stereotyping in career and learning choices, and that we will encourage more girls and women to embark on exciting STEM courses.

If you’re just as ADAmant, please get in touch.


Booze, pills and mental health

Last year, for the first time, we dedicated an entire month to raising awareness about mental health and wellbeing.

This became known as #mymentalhealthmatters month and fell between the key dates of 10 September (World Suicide Prevention Day) and 10 October (World Mental Health Day).

The purpose was to engage staff and students in conversations about their own and others’ mental health, and this year we are doing the same.

Cara Durnie is the Alcohol and Drug Officer for Ayrshire College, and as mental health issues are something she regularly comes across in this role, she has written the following post for #mymentalhealthmatters month.


When I support people who have problems with alcohol or drug use, I would say more often than not mental health problems pop up too. Some have conditions diagnosed by their GP such as depression, anxiety or bipolar. But many haven’t. Everyone has mental health, and depending what our personal circumstances are, it can at times suffer as a result. Things like relationship breakdowns, money troubles or dealing with sexuality can trigger low mood and/or anxiety problems.

As I was once a student myself, I know how stressful college life can be never mind everything else. You’re thrown in with lots of new people, there is the pressure of studying and passing your course, and if you’re anything like I was – you’re always skint! Therefore it’s important that we have good coping strategies in place to help deal with any life pressures and keep ourselves mentally well.

For some, it can be tempting to use alcohol or drugs as a quick fix for their mood or to escape reality for a while.  It can be an especially vicious cycle for those with a history of mental health problems as any type of psychoactive substance – basically all illegal drugs and alcohol – will change the balance of your mood. How much you’re affected depends on how much and how often you are using. Drugs often make people feel good when using them, but the after effects can result in low mood and anxiety. And there might be other negative feelings linked with this like paranoia or agitation. These feelings are what we have come to know as ‘come downs’ and even those with ‘good’ mental health will experience them.

Have you ever had ‘the fear’ after a night of heavy drinking? OK, it could be that you’ve done something really embarrassing, but these feelings are probably exacerbated because of how your alcohol use has disturbed the balance of the feel-good chemicals in your brain.

Upper drugs such as cocaine (coke, charlie) and ecstasy/MDMA (eccies, mandy) work by releasing LOADS of these feel-good chemicals (a.k.a. serotonin and dopamine) in your brain while using. They make people happy and give them energy. If you’re using drugs that bring your mood up that much though, it WILL come back down again. You’ve used up days’ worth of your feel-good chemicals and a result, your brain is low on these for a few days making your mood crash.

Cannabis (green, skunk, weed, hash) is probably the most common substance students approach me about in the College. It’s received a lot of positive attention in the media recently since it has found to have useful properties that we can use in medicines. Well heroin is also very useful in medicine. Properties from this drug are used in the most effective painkillers we have. Now I am not comparing cannabis effects with heroin, but it makes a good point that it doesn’t necessarily mean it is safe to use it just because it’s used medicinally.

Cannabis is often not classed as a ‘drug’ and people dismiss it. But I can tell you first hand the impact that it has in some people’s lives. Using every now and then is one thing, but building a tolerance resulting in the use of it daily is quite something else. With such differing types and strains available these days – often much stronger and hallucinogenic – it is feared this is linked to an increase in the number of young people experiencing drug-related mental health problems.


But there are other ways in which alcohol or drug use affect users’ mental health as commonly reported to me by those I have worked with.  The world of drugs can be one of mistrust. Having to encounter dealers and owing money can be uneasy for some people. There might be paranoia and worry over being caught by the police too, and what if your career depends on a clean criminal record? Often it also affects people’s relationships – people aren’t as reliable as they once were or maybe there are other changes in their personality. Perhaps they are trying to cover up how much and how often they are using alcohol or drugs to those who care about them.

Taking all this into account, you can understand why there is such a strong link between mental health and substance use. Therefore, it’s a good idea that we all have healthy ways to cope with whatever is going on in our lives.

The NHS recommend 5 steps you can take to ensure your mental wellbeing:

  • Connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships.
  • Be active – you don’t have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find an activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life.
  • Keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike?
  • Give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it’s a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks.
  • Be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your thoughts and feelings, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness “mindfulness”. It can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges.

There are services available to help with substance misuse and/or mental health problems. If you feel you need some extra support you can contact me at student services or by email: