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Hadlow College – 'The Turnaround Vision'

BE INSPIRED BY THE HADLOW COLLEGE STORY.  FROM FAILURE TO OUTSTANDING SUCCESS - IT IS DIFFERENT, IT IS REFRESHING - AND THE SUCCESS CONTINUES

HADLOW COLLEGE – 'THE TURNAROUND VISION'
by PAT CRAWFORD

 
 

Hadlow College was officially opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh on 22nd March 1968.

A specialist land-based college offering agriculture and horticulture courses, the contributions made by Hadlow were significant in a county famous for farming and food production. 

Hadlow was well established and continued to be highly respected until a series of disasters befell the college.  In 1998 a student was brutally murdered on campus by two other students – a shatteringly sad event that resulted in a review of student safety throughout residential colleges.  The publicity attached to this dramatic event put the college in the limelight and the public eye was turned on Hadlow in the most unfortunate possible way.

Other problems followed in quick succession including serious mismanagement with members of the then executive team being accused of corruption.  Throughout this unrelentingly dreadful period the teaching standards remained very good - a tribute to the commitment of first class lecturers working at Hadlow who, despite everything, remained focused.

Then problems escalated; money shortages were desperate and the inadequate management team sold off part of the estate to keep the college afloat. At that time the most important aspect concerned with the threatened demise of Hadlow related to the fact that it was not a general FE college but a specialist institution offering education and training for the land-based industries.  Put into perspective, 85% of Kent is officially designated rural. The title ‘Garden of England’ dates from the time of Henry VIII and farming and food have been fundamentally important for hundreds of years.  The loss of specialist training would have serious economic and social impact.

MacIntyre Hudson, a leading City firm of accountants, were the college’s auditors and Mark Lumsdon-Taylor – then just 27 – was sent down to lead the audit team. The statistics looked bleak.  Patently the finances were in a shocking state with a turnover of just £5 million recording losses approaching half-a-million.

An inspection by Ofsted relegated Hadlow to Grade 4 – Unsatisfactory.  However – however - despite seemingly irreversible obstacles, the decision was made to Save Hadlow. Mark Lumsdon-Taylor says ‘It wasn’t decided lightly and it wasn’t a whim.  It was a tough and calculated objective based on the college’s essential importance to the county’.  

When things are bad there is only one way – and that has to be upwards.  And so it was.  The principal had been removed but, whilst negotiations about the college’s future were ongoing, the Learning Skills Council (LSC) wouldn’t ratify any permanent appointments - thus Paul Hannan was appointed acting principal;  Rachel Ellis-Jones – a short time later head-hunted by another failing college – was vice principal. Mark Lumsdon-Taylor was seconded from MacIntyre Hudson to lead the financial and business turnaround and a little time later was asked to take on head of finance, registry and IT. 

The combination of Paul and Mark was to turn out to be ‘the right people in the right place at the right time’.  Paul’s background was in education; Mark’s was in corporate finance, acquisitions and turnarounds. They were to prove that vision and determinationm- commitment and a shared goal - could move mountains.

Mark’s first day in the new role didn’t go well.  Mark describes it as ‘The balance sheet went into free fall’!  Risk-taking is relative and possibly easier at age 27!  Mark took immense – but carefully calculated - risks.  Finances were juggled and re-juggled – and then juggled again.  At the same time Mark continued to invest by bringing millions into the college via partnerships and deals. Barclays, with which the Hadlow Group continues to have excellent relations, demonstrated their faith by lending the college £1.5m. 

It was at about that time the decision was made to regard the college as a business – albeit with the students the most important ‘clients’ and the primary beneficiaries.  Mark recognized that private sector practices could be adopted to benefit and safeguard the institution from the vagaries of public funding. The 1/3 – 1/3 – 1/3 strategy involves Hadlow deriving its income in three  approximately equal segments – further education, higher education and commercial activities.  If one segment has a turndown,, the other two segments can redress the balance.  This structure continues to go a long way to safeguarding Hadlow’s financial status and for several years the college has reported one of the lowest dependencies on government funding in the country. Simple but effective, a policy since partially adopted as a blueprint by other colleges. 

It stands to reason that members of staff, well aware that the prior management had been largely responsible for the college’s woes, were initially sceptical.  They were disillusioned. They felt let down. They were cynical.  They found it hard to believe that things were going to change for the better - and radically – especially with a twenty-seven year old at the financial helm.  However - and crucially important - fondness and loyalty for the college were factors that played a vital part in the acceptance of new strategies.   

In what was a remarkably short time the culture began to improve and everyone, whatever their role in the organization, shared the Turnaround Vision – ‘Save Hadlow’!  Remember, this was a college that was proud of its unique status and staff - whether curriculum or support - were passionate about their college.  Save Hadlow was en route.

Breakthrough after breakthrough occurred and each, however small, built towards the ultimate goal.  Hadlow continued to receive negative attention from the media – ‘bad news sells papers’ – for some time after the restructure commenced but press relations were dramatically improved in 2005 when the college was re-inspected by Ofsted and was awarded Grade 2 – Good.  The elevation from Grade 4 to Grade 2 in a single inspection period made history and Hadlow reaped the rewards when several of the big nationals – and virtually all the regionals – took up the story.

Another humungous step up the ladder occurred in 2010 when Ofsted assessed Hadlow Grade 1 -‘Outstanding’  in fourteen out of the seventeen areas inspected, the  remaining three achieving 2 - Good. In addition, the seven finance-related areas all achieved the equivalent of Outstanding. This placed Hadlow right at the top of the tree amongst the most elite of elite educational institutions.

Mark was instrumental in the development and extension of the college’s commercial activities and today they include the award-winning Broadview Tearoom, Broadview Garden Centre, the multi-award winning Broadview Florist, the Hadlow Farm Shop (just short-listed for a major award), the Princess Christian Farm Shop, two commercial farms (primarily dairy and sheep), a nursery fulfilling bedding contracts for a range of clients, a fisheries complex, a dog grooming salon (featured in a BBC TV series) – and quite a lot more.  Students obtain paid work in a wide variety of situations and the experience they obtain is a beneficial addition to CVs and portfolios.  Mark aptly calls this ‘the 360 degree approach’.  No opportunity is left unexplored.

Again, never resting on achievements – always seeking and finding new goals - Hadlow continued to empire-build determined  on  ‘making the differences that matter’.  The Betteshanger Sustainable Parks project is an excellent example. The Kent coalfields sited near Deal had a chequered history. Concerns arose about the viability of the Kent coalfield and as early as the 1960s the National Coal Board was making plans to close some mines. The NCB was re-organised as British Coal in 1987 and in 1989, just two years later, the only mine surviving - Betteshanger -  was closed.

The demise of Betteshanger was sudden and brutal and it devastated a proud and highly skilled mining community. Somewhere in the region of 1,500 miners and their families were affected and, in what was a predominately rural area, there simply weren’t any jobs.  Successive governments promised regeneration. Spirits rose and were dashed again and again.  From the perspective of the communities, nothing of note happened for another 25 years.  What happened then was enormously surprising – and it was master-minded by, of all things, a college: The Betteshanger Sustainable Parks Scheme.

It started like this: Dover District Council - aware of the deprivation the area had suffered, the shortage of opportunities for local people and the need to develop the skill base – approached Hadlow College about offering training programmes,  Paul Hannan, and Mark Lumsdon-Taylor went down to evaluate the situation.  What they saw was mind-blowing; expecting a small site, they were confronted with 121 hectares of seemingly derelict land largely covered by shale from the mines!  Bleak.  Disheartening. A wasteland.

Against all the odds, Mark proved that a college could initiate and lead a ground-breaking regeneration project. The first time a Further Education college had attempted such an innovative scheme.  With Mark as the executive director, in partnership with Dover District Council, the Homes and Communities Agency, East Kent Spatial Development Company and private investors, the project was launched backed by £40m investment. The plans embrace a new visitor centre - now nearing completion - a mining museum, incubator space for embryo businesses, a global laboratory for green technologies, education and training provision – and more.   Forecast to result in the creation of a thousand new jobs, the project is vitally important in an area that has suffered a series of economic and social setbacks. 

Hadlow was responsible for the largest and most effective Olympics 2012 Legacy project.   The Royal Borough of Greenwich Equestrian Centre - involves a partnership between Hadlow and the Royal Borough of Greenwich supported by additional sponsorship from the British Equestrian Federation and Sport England. 

The Olympic Legacy ideals were concerned with social and economic regeneration and giving young people purposeful, life-changing opportunities – in this case by providing high quality training for qualifications sought after in the equestrian industry The centre offers Further Education and Higher Education – the latter comprising a BSc (Hons) programme in Equine Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation – one of the very few such programmes available in the UK.

The Hadlow Rural Community School is the only Free School in the country with a dedicated rural ethos. Opened in temporary accommodation in September 2013, HRCS attracts students from across county, many of them from farming or other land-based backgrounds. Assessed by Ofsted earlier this year (2016), the school received a Grade 2 (Good) and is thus one of the most successful Free Schools in the country. 

West Kent College had enjoyed community respect and support for many years.  That more-or-less continued until it merged with South Kent College coinciding with the latter experiencing a long period of mismanagement and financial issues. The result was the formation of K College.  That was in 2010 - but things started to go wrong – badly wrong – almost immediately afterwards.  K College was inspected by Ofsted in November 2013 and graded 4 - Inadequate.   A series of formal processes were undertaken at the end of which K College was – in effect – put up for grabs.  There were well over forty bids but - after lengthy negotiations - Hadlow College was announced as the ‘preferred provider’ to take over the major portion of K College.

‘Getting the money right’ had to be the basis of the restructure plans and there is no doubt that Mark’s previous turnaround experience was the single most vital element.   The official takeover was in August 2014.  One of the first things the governors and the Hadlow management team did was to restore the name ‘West Kent College’ so beloved of the community.  At the same time that part of K located in Ashford was given the name ‘Ashford College’ – a decision that pleased the staff, students, the town’s residents and people in the surrounding villages.

Just two years after the takeover of K College – a short time in education terms – West Kent and Ashford Colleges are making vitally important contributions that make differences to people’s lives.  Some would say the turnaround is already complete - but no - vast numbers of new goals are in sight.

 

Princess Christian’s Farm was taken over by Hadlow College in 2009 in a partnership with Kent County Council.   PCF was set up in 1910 by Princess Christian, a daughter of Queen Victoria, as a home for people with learning difficulties.  Today - under the management of Hadlow - PCF provides education and training for people with a wide variety of disabilities. 

 

The Hadlow Rural Community Pre-School was taken over by Hadlow College in 2005 at a time when it was running into financial problems.  Located in the heart of Hadlow village, the school provides care and education for young children between the ages of two and five. Today it is a vibrant and much-loved facility and many families have benefitted from their children having a first class introduction to education in a happy and supported environment.

 ‘Sustainability’ means different things to different people.  For some it is just a buzz word; for others it relates to recognition that sustainability is not a choice – it is a necessity.  Way back in 2011 the college instituted the aptly named LESS campaign embracing Less water, Less energy, Less waste. Since then the environmental and financial benefits have multiplied.    Even before LESS was launched, Hadlow broke new ground by commissioning the first certified PassivHaus educational building in the UK.  The building, which employs a range of sustainable technologies, has received several major national awards.

Produced in Kent is a membership organization that promotes Kent food, drink and crafts. As a land-based college Hadlow works closely with farmers, growers and others within the land-based sector.  Thus it makes sense that the college owns 49% of PinK (51% is owned by Kent County Council) and manages the organization.  Since the college took over management of PinK, membership numbers have substantially increased and the Produced in Kent brand is now well recognized  and sought after.

Partnerships, industry and community relations are fundamentally important to a forward-thinking college.  Recognizing this importance, Mark was responsible for setting up a number of innovative groups and linkages. These include: 

  • The Business Advisory Council consists of a broad cross section of businesses and organizations. The meetings enable industry to update the college about the state of business, skill shortages, changing needs and related matters

 

Faculty Industry Liaison Meetings (FILMS) were set up to enable lecturing staff and faculty-related industries to feed in relevant information to the Business Advisory Council.  This method of cascading information embraces all parts of the organization and is simple and effective.

 

  • The Rural Focus Press Group brings together press officers and personnel representing rural groups and organizations in order to discuss a variety of topics, find common ground, agree a united approach - and then invite a journalist along to a ‘question-and-answer’ session.

The idea: to pinpoint topics from which all members of the group could enjoy the mutual benefits afforded by publicity within national and regional media.

 

  • The Hadlow Grower Group. Set up as part of the college’s CSR commitment to the community, Hadlow offered the village the opportunity to develop a piece of land to use as an allotment: the Hadlow Grower Group resulted. The group is made up of people in all age groups who share a commitment to reducing their carbon footprint by growing their own food.

 

  • The Rural Business Development and Advancement Group was set up for those running or working in a rural industry, entrepreneurs setting up a business, students intending to make a career  in the rural sector or anyone simply interested  in the sector.  Currently RBDAG has just under five hundred members ranging in age between 11 and 86.   RBDAG promotes diversification schemes, stimulates career progression, helps members to upgrade skills, assists businesses to enhance margins, et cetera.

THIS IS A MERE GLIMPSE INTO THE HADLOW COLLEGE TURNAROUND STORY. THE MOST SIGNIFICANT INDICATION OF THE SUCCESS IS THAT THE STORY IS CONTINUING – THE SUCCESS IS ONGOING – IT IS GROWING.