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Askham Bryan faces up to challenges of becoming a circular college

13/11/2021 Blog
Askham Bryan faces up to challenges of becoming a circular college

In this guest blog, Dr Tim Whitaker, CEO and Principal of Askham Bryan College shares how the circular ambitions of the college have fared during the challenges of the last twelve months.

One year ago in Circular Yorkshire Month, I shared our ambitions and challenges to become a circular college, within the context of the new strategic plan we were drafting… well what a year we’ve had since! With Covid-tinted sunglasses, I’m going to reflect again on the 3 specific challenges I wrote about last year.

But firstly, I wanted to add that last month we did indeed launch our new Strategic Plan at a much-welcomed face-to-face event. (Feel free to watch our 2 minute Launch Video for an overview). I reflected last year about how circularity and sustainability were golden threads in our minds as we wrote our plan. But the challenges I outlined 12 months ago, remain challenging!

Challenge number one - gaining an understanding across our college community of what circularity means, and how we then contribute to the circular economy in both our teaching and training, and in our own business practices. 

We know this remains a shared challenge, as working groups, organisations and companies seek to co-ordinate their language and use the same definitions to help simplify the message, to gain ever greater ‘buy in’ of what it means, and crucially how we, the collective, and each of us as individuals can contribute to circularity. 

We believe we made tangible progress within our college when the senior team hosted workshops with college teams, as part of our Colleague Engagement Day. We simply asked staff to imagine what college would look like if we succeeded in our strategic theme (extract below) to contribute to the circular economy, and what their own personal pledge for action would be. The exercise meant that they found their own language and understanding.

Askham Bryan Strategic Theme 4: Sustainability, staff and finance – sustainability and wider contribution to the Circular Economy is embedded into College life.

Vision 2030 and beyond: be financially vibrant, enabling us to invest in exemplar sector practices and innovations, informed by our commitment to our natural capital and our people.

So our students enjoy a sustainable learning and leisure campus, and progress to make a wider positive environmental contribution as global citizens and agents of change.

Challenge number two - ensuring our curriculum provides the right technical and professional training for our students so they play their part in addressing global issues. The importance of developing educated and creative people, with a fundamental understanding of science technology and the natural environment, is paramount.

The last 18 months have sharpened all our minds to this challenge. The ground and the goals are constantly shifting; there are huge environmentally-linked policy changes affecting many of the sectors our students will enter in their future careers. In particular, I highlight the Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) which should drive huge change in curriculum and practice through the associated schemes - Sustainable Farming Incentive, Local Nature Recovery and Landscape Recovery. 

Challenge number three - ensuring we get ‘buy-in’ and that our vision then translates into further practical, tangible, operational change at Askham Bryan. We must also harness the learning from Covid-19 in terms of how we identify and reach our sustainability goals. Our systems and processes, and our teaching model are all adapting, and there will be efficiencies and positive impacts environmentally to understand, and inform future practice. 

A year on, and we are still managing the impact of Covid-19 on our college community. We welcomed our students back to campus in September which was fantastic. We are still delivering a mixture of teaching online and on campus, and our working week does look different with staff now occasionally working from home. We know there is a balance to be found between the positive impact of reducing our carbon footprint through such a model, with the positive benefits that face-to-face contact in the classroom and the office bring, although that of course involves travel, often by car or bus due to our location.

We continue to seek collaborations to help us define what those ‘tangible, operational’ changes could be for us. Frameworks such as the UK FE Climate Commission’s ‘Climate Action Roadmap’ for Further Education will help, and we are committed to beginning that work in early 2022. Through the York, East and North Yorkshire Colleges Sustainability Group, colleges are collaborating to jointly commit to reduce our carbon footprint and collectively achieve net zero by 2030, with all colleges looking to adopt the ‘Climate Action Roadmap’ and work together.

We also find great benefit in working with the York and North Yorkshire Local Enterprise Partnership Circular Yorkshire team, for example their work on the ‘Circular Town Guide’ could have really interesting applications for a potential ‘Circular College Guide’ for the future, and they are encouraging us to explore what works for us. 

We acknowledge that we are at the beginning of our journey, but that’s OK – the first steps to then take are seeking support, and taking your people with you, and we believe we are doing just that.


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