Harrogate College column with principal Debra Forsythe-Conroy

An artists impression of the new Harrogate College facilities.
An artists impression of the new Harrogate College facilities.

Harrogate is a town famous for its tourism, both business related tourism through events in the town and tourism which springs from leisure tourism, exploring local attractions such as the wonderful Spa facilities, Harlow Carr, Ripley Castle, Fountains Abbey…….the list is endless.

To successfully support tourism a good infrastructure of hotels, guest houses and restaurants are needed which meet the diverse needs and sophisticated tastes of the visitors. Harrogate has managed this successfully for many years and continues to be an aspirational and forward thinking town.

It is, however, dependent upon recruiting and retaining talented staff across all its tourism related businesses and not least attracting front of house staff and chefs.

The past few years have seen a decline generally in the number of young people wanting to train as a chef, many are put off by the unsociable hours and concerns about pay, however this perception is now changing and there is a resurgence of interest in the profession.

Colleges and training providers need to be in a position to train future chefs in good quality facilities and using resources which replicate those expected by industry. Harrogate College is currently undergoing an exciting redevelopment project which includes a new boutique restaurant and training and production kitchens as part of the £6 million refurbishment. Students will be trained on and able to use state-of-the-art, professional equipment which would be available to them in a professional kitchen, making them more employable when they enter the industry with their catering qualifications. An exciting new event facility for the local community will also be available.

The restaurant will offer an ideal working and training environment for hospitality students allowing them to personally develop their skills at different paces, through the opportunities of supporting and developing the offer on a variety of different functions. This year, students have catered for a range of keynote external events for example York and North Yorkshire, East Riding Local Enterprise Partnership conference and lunch, an important Connexions event and a reunion of ICI colleagues who worked in the building in its previous incarnation. The team also hosts regular themed evenings and has continued to serve customers from the business park and the town throughout the year at the ever popular Friday lunchtime buffet.

Opening in September 2016 the college will offer a range of courses, starting at level one hospitality services, which is designed to give a basic understanding of all elements of the hospitality and catering industries, through to level three professional cookery for those students who have already achieved a high level of proficiency in a professional kitchen.

Alongside these full time programmes, there are a large number of apprentices attending college one day per week from restaurants and pubs across the region. There will also be a number of bespoke short courses, some one day courses and others covering a few weeks.

Courses such as “A Taste of India” explores mouth-watering Asian cuisine, “Bread and Baking” which builds upon the interest in popular programmes such as the BBC’s Great British Bake Off and introductory cooking for students about to leave home for university and much more.

Over the past few years the hospitality and catering team has developed strong industry links within the local and wider communities with staff using their particular areas of expertise to engage with other experts in the industry. The catering team consists of two highly regarded chefs who have had their own success within this industry before moving into teaching and many still work within this rapidly changing sector, enabling sharing the latest trends and developments. The students have gained valuable knowledge and experience from these links and greatly improved their employability prospects.

Recognising the importance of links with high quality local employers, strong working relationships have been forged with a wide variety of catering establishments such as the Yorkshire Meatball Company, one of the UK’s fastest growing chains, Rudding Park hotel, the Majestic hotel and more recently Harrogate International Centre with whom outline discussions have started to provide our students with part time work.

In all it’s an exciting time to be entering this worthwhile and exciting career with endless possibilities for international travel or indeed staying in their home town.