Mature student gives an Account of Ayrshire College life

“I was in my forties, you don’t go back to college in your forties.”

That was Samantha Mathieson’s first thought when a friend suggested that she return to education.

Fast forward four years, and 46-year-old Samantha now holds a Master’s degree in Finance and Accounting.


She returned to Ayrshire College this week to talk to us about enrolling at the College and how that decision has changed her life.

“I was born and bred in Scotland but moved down south years ago. When I came back, I really struggled to find a suitable job. I’d worked in management almost my entire life, but found that employers were now looking for qualifications to go with that experience.

“I’d never had a prolonged period of unemployment before and wasn’t sure what to do. Someone suggested going to college but I didn’t know anyone who had gone back to college, to me it was just for young people who were leaving school.

“I went along to the Kilmarnock Campus and spoke to Student Services. I was honest in saying “look, I don’t know what I’m doing here.” They had a chat with me – asking me about myself, my experiences and where I wanted to be in the future.

“Gerry D’Agostino, a lecturer from Accounting, then spoke to me. Immediately I said “I’m absolutely hopeless at maths.” He told me not to worry. Then I said “I don’t do computers.” Again, he told me not to worry.

“He convinced me – a couple of weeks later I was signed up for HNC Accounting.”

The course began and Samantha admits she struggled early on. She was returning to education after 25 years away, after all.

However, she found that as an older student, she could apply herself better than most of her classmates. She wasn’t going out every night living the student lifestyle. In comparison younger students seemed to retain information better than Samantha.

She said “We quickly got together to learn from each other. I would teach them planning and how to set up study plans. They would show me techniques for remembering things.

“Coming to college is a big step when you’re older, it’s scary. You have bills to pay and families to look after. I know a few people who have gone straight back into university and they’ve found it too tough. University’s a whole different way of learning. It’s more ‘here’s your stuff, off you go’. College is great, the lecturers will get you into it slowly and will guide you through the coursework.

“Guidance is a massive thing at college. When I first came here it wasn’t all about learning my course. It was also about the life skills I picked up with it. I thought, being an older student, I couldn’t learn anything else. But I did. I’ve changed so much in the last four years.

“So much so that I’m actually volunteering for the Red Cross. Four years ago I’d never have considered that.”

Samantha acts as a mentor to the current Accounting students at Ayrshire College, visiting once a week to give advice and answer any questions they might have, as someone who’s been there and done it as a student.

After college she went on to the University of the West of Scotland in Ayr and got her BAcc degree, before gaining her Master’s degree in Paisley.

“The current students are all really interested,” She said.

“They ask things like ‘How do you find the time?’ and the honest answer is you don’t at the beginning. It takes dedication and application.

“Two months before I was due to sit my exams at university, I broke an ankle and thought that would be the end of it. But I said ‘no, you’ve come this far’. I broke my ankle in March and passed my exams in May. I was over the moon that I could do it with a broken ankle!”

Samantha’s final piece of advice for anyone thinking of becoming a mature student is “I’d encourage them to speak to someone at the College. It might not be for them but at least they’ll get a greater idea having spoken to someone who knows best. Come and speak to the guys here, they’re absolutely brilliant at giving you advice.

“It’s amazing coming back to college.”

Prince’s Trust Team – Residential

The Prince’s Trust programme at the College provides students with tremendous experiences over the 12 weeks that it runs.

One of the most rewarding aspects of any Prince’s Trust programme is the residential trip that the Teams embark on.

For one week, the Teams mix together and enjoy team building activities.

We asked one of this group’s team members, Fiona Banner of Prince’s Trust Team 157 (Kilwinning), if she would share her experiences of her recent residential trip.

Here is what she said.

As a new team we were all very anxious and excited to go on our residential trip with the Prince’s Trust. We had looked forward to the new experiences that would face us there. Living with all these new people for four days and being around them every hour of the day felt like it was going to be a struggle for everyone.

Luckily, the Kilwinning Team are a great team who stick together and look out for each other. They are very reliable and offer support when it’s needed, which we found out during our trip.

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The first day was exciting and everyone was thrilled to be there. We did various team building exercises, which helped us realise we could trust our team which was necessary for the rest of the activities. We teamed up for orienteering that day and at night time we challenged our teammates on inflatables and raced against each other. These kind of activities helped everyone get an insight to their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses.

We found ourselves making new friends with the Kilmarnock and Ayr teams and made new bonds after a whole day of activities. We felt more comfortable with the other teams compared to how we felt before we went on residential.

On the second day, everyone was eager to get up and go out to Auchengillan Outdoor Centre. We had to climb a tall pole, work as a team to build an unstable crate stack and climb it, then do rock climbing and abseiling. These helped push every individual to the best of their abilities and for some to face their fears. This is a hard thing to do but having the support and motivation of your team and leaders helped a great deal. We all managed to push ourselves further than we ever imagined.

During the night we competed against each other in various games like indoor hockey, quizzes and we did trust building exercises with the teams. This helped create a bigger and better bond with everyone.

By day three we all felt like we had known each other for years even though we had only spent 11 days together.

It was a great atmosphere, everyone was looking out for each other because we were all on the same boat. The third day was the last day for activities – we got to go grass sledging, rifle shooting, raft building and para dropping. Here we all learned new skills and enhanced our team working skills. We put our knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses to use and managed to work out strategies for different people in the team to get things done efficiently.

Finally we had a talent show where several people showed off any secret talents they had. People who just wanted a laugh and to make the most of their experience performed. This gave us a better insight into everyone’s personalities and it was a great confidence booster for everyone being able to perform their talents while having amazing support from the teams – whether the performers were good or bad!

We all wish we could go back and do it all over again. It was amazing for everyone. We all learned very valuable life skills that will help us a great deal in the future, without us even knowing we were learning them at the time.

We all came back better people than when we first entered the team. With all the learning and activities aside we all had a brilliant laugh and hopefully made bonds for life.

The experience has taught me to believe in myself and sometimes in life you just need to know someone has your back and you can achieve better than you ever imagined.

Meet the Apprentice – Eva Mackie, EGGER (UK) Limited, Barony Plant

To celebrate Scottish Apprenticeship Week 2017, we are introducing a number of students who are at various stages of their apprenticeships.

Last up this week, we have Eva Mackie from EGGER (UK) Limited.

2.JPGEva was a dental nurse for four years before becoming an Environmental Laboratory Technician Apprentice with EGGER (UK) Limited at the Barony plant in Auchinleck, Ayrshire.

She began her apprenticeship in August 2016 and is delighted to have made the decision to change career paths when she did.

Eva, 22, said: “I just fancied a total change. I was bored, I didn’t like my job anymore and when I saw this opportunity I thought ‘I like the sound of that’.

“After my first day here, I remember going home and thinking to myself ‘oh no, what have I done’. From the second day onwards, however, that completely changed.  I’ve learned so much and would definitely recommend an apprenticeship to anyone.”

EGGER (UK) Limited’s, Barony plant is a modern, hi-tech chipboard plant which employs over 115 people.

The company has a well-developed apprenticeship scheme, and recruits mechanical and electrical apprentices annually.  However, this is the first time they have employed a laboratory apprentice.

Eva said; “Everyone on the site knows that I’m the first apprentice in the lab, so they always go out of their way to help me. I can ask anybody anything.

“My job involves testing the different surfaces, which I test for moistures, densities and sieves. We get samples every day from the water outlet at the front of the factory, which we are testing for ammonium, formaldehyde, COD and phosphate. We run these tests to ensure we are within the regulations with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA).

“I see this as a long term career with a stable and sustainable company. There are plenty of opportunities to develop, gain extra training and progress my career.”

Eva is supervised by Wendy Cumming, Quality and Environmental Controller, who Eva calls “a massive help”.

Wendy said; “Eva is a breath of fresh air who is keen and quick at learning, which is important in this job as no two days are ever the same. It’s good to see another female in the production area too.

“Apprenticeships are very important. This is the first year we have had a lab apprentice and it is great to see the Barony apprenticeship scheme developing. In order to support succession planning we need the apprentices of today to undertake our specialist roles of tomorrow, to be more diverse and ultimately they are the future of EGGER.”

Guest Post – Alan McLean: Know Yourself to Grow Yourself

Alan McLean is a Glasgow based chartered psychologist who has worked for many years as an educational psychologist.

We invited Alan in to the Kilmarnock Campus to give the keynote speech ahead of our recent CPD workshop for curriculum staff.

We are delighted that Alan has agreed to share his thoughts on our blog.

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It was a privilege and a pleasure to give the keynote address to the Ayrshire College Staff Conference on 15 February. I was grateful for the opportunity to share my latest thinking. It’s always good to get out and about and talk with people who are at the coalface. I am grateful for the warm welcome and the excellent organisation of the event.

I was hugely impressed with the fabulous Kilmarnock Campus, and its welcoming and open central space. What a fantastic location it has right in the heart of Kilmarnock. The messages emblazoned around the open space – of partnership blends, balance, relaxation, health and wellbeing were highly engaging. The College strap line of Raising Aspirations, Inspiring Achievement and Increasing Opportunities echoes the themes of my own work.

The invitation from Mhairi Boyd couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I have been putting the finishing touches to my latest book,“Knowing, Growing; Tools for developing insight in ourselves and others”, due for publication this summer.

The keynote was really a large workshop with three hundred and fifty participants. I prefer to get people talking than listening to me. I am always more interested in finding out what is in the minds of participants rather than telling them what is in mine.  Insight is all about understanding ourselves within our relationships.  Paradoxically self-reflection is easier in conversation with other people.  Conversation is the natural way we think together. The response from staff was I thought very reflective with a lot of humour, which always helps things move along.

I also appreciated lots of one-to-one conversations with colleagues, which is the main value of staff conferences. I have become addicted to ‘light bulb’ moments, flashes of new insights, which are fortunately very good for your brain. I was pointed in the direction of Ignatian Spirituality, which is new to me but akin to my own work, inclined to reflection and self-scrutiny and places great value on collaboration and teamwork. I was also directed to parts of the bible for links to my tree of selfhood metaphor.

I always find FE staff open to ideas and to be grounded and centred people. Every college is different and I have given up trying to make sense of all the different structures and roles across the different colleges. I also find interesting the range of perspectives I find across a college, from those who seem to thrive and flourish on high levels of autonomy to those at the other end of the spectrum who feel they have zero scope for discretion within the completely structured confines of the College.

You don’t expect to sail through a whole day at an FE College conference without some edgy conversations. It is always good to be challenged and one or two colleagues who were quite direct in letting me know what they think has helped me improve my work.

I hope the staff got something out of the keynote and workshops and it has given them some ideas and tools to further develop their insight into themselves and their students, particularly into how they impact on students and just as important, how students impact on them.

I am glad so many followed up the keynote and attended my workshop where they had the chance to use some of the self-reflection profiles on my website –

I am also pleased that so many colleagues expressed an interest in using the profiles to get feedback from students on their teaching styles, or from colleagues on their leadership styles. It would be encouraging if a group of staff could get together to develop and disseminate this practice. I would be delighted if the profiling tools became a regular part of the college landscape and helped make it an even more reflective culture.

Some staff have already contacted me to request the free resource of the Aspire Ring Programme for students. The programme supports the work of colleges in promoting students’ social, emotional and mental wellbeing and in the Developing the Young Work Force agenda. Its overall purpose is to prime young peoples’ readiness to aspire to learn. It provides a context for and follow up to the student online self-reflection profiles. It aims to help students to:

  • make sense of their personality, emotions and motives
  • grow their identity and choose their attitudes
  • learn how to balance their own needs with the needs of others
  • navigate classroom dynamics.

The key message is that our personality is given to us but our identity is something we construct ourselves. Identity and aspiration works in partnership. The programme focuses on students’ attitudes towards themselves and others which provide a window into their identity. Identity determines students’ futures through their preferences, choices and aspirations.  It is the personal compass that determines their long-term destinations. Positive destinations are built on a foundation of positive identities.  Supporting and challenging students in the search for their aspirations and the construction of a positive identity is the greatest service that colleges can provide. Appendices link the learning intentions with the Health and Wellbeing Experiences and Outcomes, and ‘I can’ Statements.

I left the College at the end of the day, exhausted but satisfied and hope to return.

Guest Post – Mike Stevenson: Embrace the richness of failure on your path to success

Mike Stevenson is Managing Director of Thinktastic, a motivational communications agency, and a celebrated speaker. On 16 February he spoke at a staff learning event at the College and ran two workshops on ‘How to present with power and influence.’

Mike champions Scotland’s colleges as the beating heart of Scotland’s prosperity. Here he talks of failure as his driver for success.


I had business that was riding high for 16 years. The crash in 2008 put paid to many long-held contracts and despite fighting for the next two years to rebuild the business and sustain it through the economic downturn, I had to concede defeat and close it down.

It was a painful experience but, like everything else in life, external factors only have some bearing on what happened. There was an element of hubris too. I take full responsibility for that and have learned from the experience.

A year after the business closed, my sister wrote me a note in which she said: “I am so proud of the dignified way you have handled what must have been a horrible year.” That meant a lot to me and I think it reflects how I approach failure generally.

Having being thrown out of school at 15 years old, finding myself homeless in London and then working my hands to the bone in a multitude of low paid jobs  – I had been well grounded in coming back from disappointment.

The danger of success

What I had was a deeply held conviction that I would reinvent myself and start again. In a strange way, I felt life had become too comfortable for me and I needed the raw challenge of a new beginning. That may sound perverse but, I really do relish the opportunity to have to pick myself up again. It reminded me that life at its most elemental is about making mistakes, learning from them and emerging stronger as a result. My bank account suffered immeasurable damage but I was emotionally stronger and wiser as a result.

What I learned above all is that no enterprise can survive without the constant injection of new ideas and fresh energy. In this rapidly changing world those of us who rest on their laurels or spend too much time celebrating success risk failure. My business difficulties came at the end of a year in which we recorded the highest turnover and profit. Did we take our eye off the ball? Perhaps. What it taught me was that success can be a threat if we fall for its seduction.


I now help businesses and public services to keep the fires of enthusiasm burning, raise performance and make innovation and future proofing part of a daily diet.

Everything I learned from business failure has been incorporated into my company Thinktastic which is about turning ‘great’ into ‘extraordinary’.

Great is no longer good enough

Too many of us stop at being great. Life is turbulent and unpredictable and humans were never designed to stay on repeat. In the last five years I have earned a reputation as a motivational speaker – that was never even on my radar as a possibility. It came from progression rather than a plan. What I do now is the embodiment of a lifetime’s experience and learning. People want authenticity and lived experience to draw inspiration from. In Scotland, we must learn to strive for success and keep raising the bar higher. But, we must also embrace failure and adversity as a vital stepping stone to success.

I was in South Beirut two days after the bombing of 2006. Destruction was everywhere. It was truly horrific. Amid the rubble was a man selling clothes.

“That’s where his shop was,” said my guide.

“It must have been awful to lose your shop.” I said.

His shrugged reply taught me a real lesson.

“I am not a shopkeeper, I give people style and confidence.”

We are best served by a passionate purpose. We should never lose sight of our purpose. I believe there are more spaces to fill than at any time in our history. When you combine the toxicity of some big brands and the emergence of new technologies and ideas we have the perfect storm – nothing that’s established is safe.

If your purpose is solely about money than your life will be shallow and vulnerable.  Real purpose drives us. Remember this, a child learning to walk falls over 200 times. When you fall, get back up and hold your head high. Try again and if you have to change your tactic than be ready to do so. The best people I know have failed along the line. Don’t shrink into the shadows. Come out fighting.

Look outside and find others to collaborate with. 1 + 1 can equal 3. When the owner of a pizzeria in New York was discussing how bad business was with his bookshop owner neighbour, they arrived at an idea which was to see both parties thrive: They created New York’s first bookshop pizzeria by integrating their businesses. Result? Success. Adversity and tough times are what we thrive on and history tells us again and again that failure can become our richest ally.

Respect Shona

Our Respect campaign encourages everyone to ‘Respect Yourself’, ‘Respect the Community’, ‘Respect the Environment’ and ‘Respect People’.

Respect in all its forms may be something that you don’t often think about. Yet, it is crucial for developing  effective relationships at college.

We recently heard from members of our Estates team, who spoke about the importance of feeling respected at work.

Now, members of our Front of House team – the first point of contact when people come into the College – share their views on the subject.

Concluding our mini-series is Shona Taylor, Front of House Assistant at Kilwinning.


Shona began “When I read the previous Respect blogs on members of the Estates Team, I thought to myself ‘what would I have talked about?’”

Shona has been working as a Front of House team member for almost three years and cites interacting with people as one of the biggest perks of the job.

She said “I try to treat everyone with respect and be as professional as possible when visitors come to the College.

“Nine times out of ten, I am respected back. The only reason that it’s not ten is because sometimes, with certain people, you get the feeling that in their mind we’re not important.

“However, we are the frontline and it would be nice if all staff remember to keep us in the loop, for example when they have visitors coming in. If they have a visitor coming in at 10am, they might think ‘that’s fine, I’ll go down to meet them at 10am’. But what if the visitor comes in early?

“I appreciate that staff can be caught up in other things, but it just doesn’t look professional for us not to be aware of who’s arriving. We like to be prepared and have the visitor badges ready.

“Generally, most students treat me with respect, as I do them. They are usually courteous when they come to us. The only slight concern is when they are congregating around the reception area. It would help us if they could tone it down a little.

“Bad language can be problematic at times. I don’t think they mean to do it, they are just talking to their friends, but it does create a bad impression when we have visitors waiting.”

Shona believes communication is the key to achieving a respectful working environment.

She said “My kids are in their 20s and if I ask them to phone someone to find out some information they’ll respond ‘why wouldn’t you just Google it or e-mail the person?’

“We’ll sometimes have students phone and just say things like ‘Funding?’. ‘Funding, please’ would be an improvement! This might just be down to students not making regular phone calls but we all need to communicate better.”

Respect Elaine

Our Respect campaign encourages everyone to ‘Respect Yourself’, ‘Respect the Community’, ‘Respect the Environment’ and ‘Respect People’.

Respect, in all its forms, may be something that you don’t often think about. Yet it is a crucial quality to develop in order to have effective relationships at college.

We recently heard from members of our Estates team, who spoke candidly about the importance of feeling respected at work.

Now we catch up with members of our Front of House team, the first point of contact at the College, to get their perspective on the subject.

Following Respect Carol, we spoke to Elaine McVey at the Kilmarnock Campus to get her thoughts.


Yesterday we heard from Elaine’s colleague Carol, who has provided Ayrshire College with 25 years of service.

Today we change gears a little and speak to Elaine McVey who has only been in the job for six months.

Elaine has moved around the campuses during this time as she gets to know her working environment.

She said “I’ve settled in quite well. It’s interesting to meet new people and learn how each campus works. I was actually a student here for two years at the Kilwinning Campus, studying HNC and HND Administration and IT.

“As a student I didn’t actually appreciate how much work the staff do here. It’s only when I started that I realised ‘wow, they do loads for us’. They seemed like a good company to work for, which is why I went for the job.”

Having recently been on both sides of the reception desk, Elaine is in a great position to speak about the relationship between students and the Front of House team.

She said “We provide them with the information that they need, whether it’s finding out which room they’ve to go to or putting them in contact with their lecturers.

“In my six months here I’ve never experienced anyone – students or staff – disrespecting me. The only thing I would say is that you do get a lot of students who are quite noisy. I think they tend to forget that we are a working area. However, if you ask them to be quiet, they’re usually alright about it.”

A point that Carol raised previously was how necessary it is for the Front of House team to be made aware of visitors.

It’s something that Elaine is also keen to stress to staff.

“Sometimes we get a visitor come in and we’ve no idea who they’re here to see. It would be good if staff could keep us more informed.

“My advice would be to give reception as much information as possible. It’s good to respect people and keep them informed.”

Respect Carol

Our Respect campaign encourages everyone to ‘Respect Yourself’, ‘Respect the Community’, ‘Respect the Environment’ and ‘Respect People’.

Respect, in all its forms, may be something that you don’t often think about. Yet it is a crucial quality to develop in order to have effective relationships at college.

We recently heard from members of our Estates team, who spoke candidly about the importance of feeling respected at work.

Now we catch up with members of our Front of House team – as the first point of contact at the College – to get their perspective on the subject.

Starting the series is Carol Devine, who is a Front of House Assistant at Ayr.

Respect Carol.JPG

To begin with, Carol explained what duties a Front of House Assistant performs at the College.

Carol said “It’s a varied role. Here at Ayr there are two reception desks that we can be working at, and we also have the mail room and print room.

“You never know what your day is going to be like at reception. It can be varied every day.

“We interact with students, staff and visitors on a daily basis, and we can be approached in different ways. A student could come to us looking for information or they could be upset and needing guidance. It’s our job to remain as professional as possible and support everyone who comes to us.”

Carol has been at Ayrshire College for 25 years, working in a part-time marketing role for two years before joining the Front of House team.

In that time she has seen major changes to the College.

“The expansion of the Ayr Campus to include the Riverside Building and the Aeronautical Engineering Training Centre was the first major development.

“Then there was the merger in 2013 of Ayr College, Kilmarnock College and the Kilwinning Campus of James Watt College.

“The organisation is much bigger now. In my role it is important that I know who everybody is. This can be difficult at times due to the size and location of the organisation and its location (East, North and South Ayrshire).

“I am continually learning every day which makes my role very interesting and different every day.”

Moving onto the subject of respect, Carol thinks for a moment before saying “I do feel respected.

“I think you have to give respect to gain respect back. I’m nice to the students and the staff, so they’re nice back to me.

“Of course there are issues. For example, staff need to let us know what time their visitors are due in, what room they’ve to go to, how many people are coming in, etc.

“If we don’t know about a visitor or event then we feel like we’re not doing our job to the best of our ability. If we can’t find the person they’re in to see, it reflects badly on us.

“As the first point of contact either by phone or face-to-face we have to be aware of the correct person or department to pass the enquiry on to and sometimes they can be quite frustrated but I feel it’s our role to try and elevate this by good communication and respect.

“I don’t think people should be taking out their frustrations on us. Although we do understand that they are not necessarily meaning to get at us.”

All in all though, Carol surmises that “everyone at the College is really nice.”

Ayrshire Connects – University of Glasgow visit

Ayrshire Connects is a new network that has been set up with the aim of connecting our female STEM students across the College. Recently, they organised a visit to the University of Glasgow to meet with their female engineering society – FemEng.


The students were greeted by Nina and Ellen, the president and vice president of the FemEng society. Next was a meeting with a group of students from FemEng. They talked about what it’s like to study at university and how they felt about studying male-dominated subjects at university. Nearly all of the FemEng members were studying different disciplines of engineering but they enjoy coming together to study and arranging fun events on campus.

First up on the tour was a visit to the James Watt Nanofabrication Centre where the students were met by Professor Douglas J. Paul, who gave a presentation on Micro and Nanotechnology. Next they were suited up in personal protective equipment – suits to cover them from head to toe – to enter the centre’s clean room, which is a state-of-the-art facility for microfabrication and high-specification nanofabrication. The 1350m2 clean room houses over £32M worth of nanofabrication tools. The students got to see some of the University’s technicians working on their various research projects.

The highlight of the tour was a visit to the Biomedical Engineering Department to meet Dr Henrik Gollee, a senior lecturer.

He explained that his research interests are in the use of control engineering methods to understand how humans control their movements, in particular, using this understanding to develop assistive and rehabilitation methods for people with neurological impairments. To demonstrate some of the work he does, he hooked Becky, an Ayrshire Connects member, up to a machine which gave out a small electrical current. When he typed information into his laptop, Becky’s hand began to move on its own. He explained that this can be helpful for people who have spinal damage and have lost the use of their limbs.

Finally, the Ayrshire students got the opportunity to visit and speak with another University of Glasgow student society – UGRacing – who in the summer are competing in “Formula Student” at Silverstone racetrack against 200 other universities from around the world.

Working as a team in their free time, they design and manufacture a race car, building it from the ground up, taking the project from the initial concept to a full model 3D representation of the car they have designed.

The trip was a huge success, and will hopefully be the first of many fun trips.


If you would like to join Ayrshire Connects please speak to your lecturer, visit the Ayrshire Connects Facebook page or email to find out more.

#16daysAyrshire: Christmas thoughts

Sheena Campbell, Strategy and Violence against Women Coordinator, North Ayrshire Council, completes our #16daysAyrshire blog series.

Sheena has a wide experience in leading and supporting work to reduce violence against women and previously worked at North Ayrshire Women’s Aid.

It’s that time of year when the thoughts of most of us have turned to Christmas,  buying presents, planning Christmas dinner, looking forward to relaxing, watching Christmas movies and spending time with friends and family.

Sadly however, it is not the same for everybody. For those who are living in poverty, are homeless and/or living with domestic abuse (and/or the impact of other forms of male violence against women), fear, anxiety and exhaustion are as much a part of Christmas as every other day, and sometimes even more so.

Everywhere we go, everything we see and hear, sparkling lights in our communities, happy loving families in beautifully decorated homes in adverts, reminds us of this joyful time of celebration, love and companionship, which simply magnifies the depression, misery and sense of isolation for many people and families in our communities.

1 in 3 women will experience domestic abuse at some point in their lives.  If you are affected, you are far from being alone and there are organisations, and many individuals in our communities, who understand, won’t judge, and are more than willing to listen and support.

25th November marked the start of the International 16 Days of Action to end male Violence against Women and Girls. It is a time when men and women, who are actively engaged in working to raise awareness about, and reduce male violence, are out and about campaigning, in our schools, communities and workplaces.

As the recently appointed lead officer for the North Ayrshire Violence against Women Partnership, I have responsibility for coordinating activities for our area. A fruitful collaboration with Ayrshire College has resulted in five different events during the 16 Days of Action, across all campuses. Sexual Exploitation and Healthy Relationships, Violence against Women in the Workplace and Bystander workshops have taken place over the last two weeks, as well as an information and support pop-up stall in Kilwinning campus. Many partner agencies were involved in delivering these events including North and South Ayrshire Women’s Aid groups, White Ribbon Scotland and North Ayrshire Child Protection.

It was clear from the discussions that took place during these events, that staff and students are already aware of the prevalence and impact of domestic abuse and are well placed to provide support to those in need. They also have the understanding that domestic abuse can impact on men as well as women, and in same-sex relationships. However, such events always spark further conversations, actions and growing working partnerships, which will ensure that both students and staff have a more in-depth understanding of the underlying causes, the impacts, and how to most effectively support their friends and colleagues and help them to keep themselves safe.

My best wishes to you all for a safe and peaceful Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year, and I look forward to future visits to your college as our partnership grows.

For further information about support services please visit: