Specialist college in Doncaster invites supporters to 5th anniversary celebration

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A unique college has marked its fifth anniversary with a celebration event for colleagues who have helped make it a success.

Harrison College, in Doncaster, was created by Gemma Peebles at her kitchen table and opened with three students and two members of staff in 2019.

A former head of sixth form in a secondary school, she was frustrated by the lack of mainstream post-16 opportunities for students with autism and other needs and by the way the young people were often ‘written off’.

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She developed Harrison College as an inclusive learning environment where students are taught life skills and employability skills, while at the same time building partnerships with businesses that could offer work placements and employment.

The Harrison College team.The Harrison College team.
The Harrison College team.

Small class sizes and specialist teaching ensures the teenagers receive the individual support they need while learning in the college setting.

Five years later, Harrison College, in Heaven’s Walk, has 19 staff and 60 students, with 96 per cent of previous cohorts going into apprenticeships, jobs or education after being there for two years.

It has had to expand its facilities twice to meet continued and growing demand.

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Several of the college’s partners who have provided work placements or permanent jobs for students, along with suppliers and other colleagues, were invited to the college for a fifth birthday party.

Gemma said: “We have come so far in five years. Our celebration was a way to say thank you to those businesses and organisations that have supported us and provided our students with the kind of opportunities that many young people who have gone before missed out on.

“They, like us, have seen how much these young people have to give and how, with the right support, they can prove their talents and become a real asset to any organisation.

“We are the only post-16 provider in the area for young people with special needs where the emphasis is on internships, employment and work skills and together with the support of our partners we are ensuring they have a bright future.”

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Some of the attendees spoke of their admiration for the college and its founder, as well as praising students.

Dawn Cawston, from recycling and dismantling company SYNETIQ, said: “Jared came to us seven months ago on work placement. We were looking to offer him an apprenticeship. It had to be put on hold, but he was such a good guy that we offered him a job instead. He’s been with us six months now as an employee. He says he feels really comfortable with us and he loves it.

“Gemma invited us into the college a couple of years ago. Since then we’ve helped the students make a promotional video for the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award and done mock interviews with them.

“We’ve seen the challenges schools and parents have in getting their child’s needs identified quickly enough. They aren’t getting the support, and Harrison College fills that gap.”

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Paul Manning, from Fit4Rugby, added: “Demi came to us last year and worked with two of our coaches. She really flourished under their leadership and guidance and now she’s gone to work for Doncaster Leisure Trust.”

Chris Perkins, of Print Imperials CIC, said: “When you take a student you are not just getting an apprentice, you are getting Harrison College too. You can feel the love here; that they genuinely care about young people. It’s a really warm family.

“I’ve always been about trying to create opportunities for the next generation. There is a well of people who see life through a specific lens and we are fully supportive and inclusive of them. Oscar came to us, a super polite, beautiful lad. He developed in the environment we gave him and now he has gone off to art college to pursue his dream.”

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