Uniformed Public Services lecturer Oli Wilkins with former students Sam Millard, Jake Smith and Dan Ward

Servicemen Return to College Roots

Three military servicemen revisited their induction to service life when they returned to Stratford-upon-Avon College to catch up with their former lecturer and share stories of their experiences.

Royal Marine Sam Millard, Army infantryman Dan Ward, and Jake Smith, currently training with the Army Royal Fusiliers Reservists, graduated from the College in 2014. Having grown up and attended primary school together in Hampton Magna in Warwickshire, all three are living out their life-long ambitions to serve in the forces.

They chose to study at Stratford-upon-Avon College as they felt it was the best provider of a specialised Uniformed Public Services course – a career path they have always wanted to pursue. They spent the afternoon back at College on Friday 27 January to meet with their lecturer Oli Wilkins, a former Royal Marine himself.

Jake is taking an apprenticeship with the engineering firm Matrix, based in Coventry, as he completes his reservist training. The intense preparation he received from Oli was particularly inspiring. “It was great to be taught by a lecturer who has served and who knows the reality of service life first hand. The physical training really helped to prepare me.” Jake is now seriously considering full-time service once he has finished his apprenticeship.

Sam is currently stationed in Scotland, having been awarded the Royal Marines’ green beret in January, and is now planning to specialise in weapons training. He too is glad to have had the opportunity to benefit from a vigorous fitness regime prepared by Oli as part of the course. “I feel lucky to have got through my training to be honest. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, mentally and physically.”

Dan passed out as an infantryman in February 2016. He initially joined the Army Reserves and immediately took the opportunity to go on tour before transitioning into full-time service. He is now on a peace-keeping mission with the UN, controlling the border in Cyprus. Currently on two weeks leave, he was pleased to find it coincided with Sam’s and Jake’s leave, allowing them all to catch up.

Eager to help current students, all three are now planning to return again as soon as possible to lead workshops and talks, providing an informative insight into life in the military.

Oli Wilkins, lecturer of Uniformed Public Services, was delighted that his former students had chosen to visit the College again. “I’m very pleased that Dan, Jake and Sam felt they had gained so much from the course and its physical training programmes, and I am proud of them for each becoming so successful in their chosen careers. It was a great pleasure hearing about their military experiences first-hand, and our current students will, I’m sure, benefit enormously from future visits.”

Sam Millard, Dan Ward and Jake Smith alongside Uniformed Public Services lecturer Oli Wilkins.

Sam Millard, Dan Ward and Jake Smith alongside Uniformed Public Services lecturer Oli Wilkins.

Former Performing Arts Student Leo Bill Stars Alongside Tom Hardy in BBC’s Taboo

Former Stratford-upon-Avon College performing arts student Leo Bill appeared in the first episode of new BBC drama Taboo on Saturday night (07 January 2017).

Leo Bill studied A Level Drama Package at the College between 1996 and 1998 and stars alongside top Hollywood talent Tom Hardy (The Revenant, Peaky Blinders, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Jonathan Pryce (Game of Thrones, Wolf Hall, Pirates of the Caribbean) in the new series set in the early 1800s.

Leo has previously appeared in a number of acclaimed films and television series such as Alice in Wonderland, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Borgias, The White Queen, Alice Through the Looking Glass and A Long Way Down.

After studying at the College Leo went on to train at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) graduating in 2001 before being awarded the Austin Texas Film Festival Best Actor Award in 2006.

Taboo is broadcast on BBC One on Saturdays at 9:15PM.

Former Performing Arts Student Reece Bahia

College Graduate Prepares For a Thriller Performance

A former student at Stratford-upon-Avon-College has begun rehearsals for a major West End theatre performance having been cast in the musical Thriller Live.

Reece Bahia, 21 from Coventry, studied Musical Theatre at the College from 2012 to 2014 and will be performing songs such as Dirty Diana, Beat it and She’s Out of My Life as part of the production.

Over the moon at being cast in such a prestigious show, Reece said, “It is a huge honour to be cast in this production. When I was growing up, Michael Jackson was my biggest inspiration so to be able to celebrate his music is just perfect.”

Such on-stage success is a far cry from the future Reece was working towards just a few years ago when studying A Levels to pursue a career in dentistry. “I’ve always been passionate about music since an early age and I think I always knew it was what I wanted to do. I got to a point in my A Levels when I finally accepted this and decided to pursue it with all my heart.”

After joining the College’s Musical Theatre course, he never looked back. “I couldn’t recommend the Performing Arts department enough. The staff in the College gave me the confidence and skills to be able to pursue my dream. If you are thinking about taking up performing arts as a career then this is the place for you.”

Since graduating, Reece has secured modelling work as the face of Indian clothing company KOOVS, filmed commercials in India and Argentina, and performed in the leading role of a UK tour of the musical Laila. And with his latest role in Thriller Live, it seems dentistry’s loss is definitely musical theatre’s gain!

Liam Clarke ready to take to the air waves

College Graduate Rules the Radio Waves

A former Stratford-upon-Avon College student has become the latest addition to local radio’s line-up, showcasing new and up-and-coming bands every Sunday evening.

Liam Clarke, 21 from Studley, secured his dream job in September when he became the latest host of ‘First Break’ and he is already winning listeners over with his enthusiastic and passionate presenting style. Liam describes the show as a platform for new music and explains: “I like to joke around so it’s quite light hearted but it provides a great platform for unsigned artists. Also, if our listeners aren’t sure what to do on a Friday or Saturday night, we’ll tell them where the best gigs are. It’s all about the community and we’re here to support the local music scene.”

Just a few months ago Liam was a student at Stratford-upon-Avon College. He started in September 2012 at the age of 16 to study BTEC Creative Media, and then progressed to an HND in Creative Media Production, graduating in June this year.

During his four years at the College, Liam covered every aspect of media production and was involved in many exciting projects, including a six-hour Children in Need radio broadcast. He was also encouraged to create his own show – Liam Live, in which he showcased new artists and which he uploaded to YouTube. “I started with two listeners – one of which was me – but by the end of the series I had 2000, so I learnt a lot about how to build an audience.”

He singles out Reverb, the College’s student TV music show, as his favourite experience and “one of the very best projects you can be a part of.” Based on BBC2’s Later Live with Jules Holland, Reverb promotes new music by showcasing different unsigned live music acts each week and includes interviews with band members. Liam is still in touch with many of the acts he worked with on Reverb, and they are now joining him again on First Break.

He is certain that his time at the College has helped prepare him for his presenting job. “My training at College means that I have both radio and TV experience which is really what they were looking for. They needed someone who has a good understanding of radio but can also film and edit video content too, to be uploaded online. The College course was very practical and hands on so I have all the experience I need.”

Liam is full of praise for his former teachers: “One of my lecturers, Phil Middleham, was tremendously helpful. He had me working on projects for Stratford TV within the first few weeks. His advice and teaching really allowed me to push myself and get to where I am now. He’s one of the best lecturers you can have and he has real credibility in the industry.”

While this is Liam’s first professional role as a DJ, he got an early start at Evesham Hospital Radio where he presented the breakfast show at the age of 16. After emailing several stations, he was invited into the hospital’s studios to sit in on a few broadcasts, and an initial song introduction gradually grew into being offered his own show. “Every Sunday morning I’d go along with a bag full of my parents’ CDs! It was a lot of fun and gave me a great start and insight into radio.”

After leaving College, he was put in touch with The Breakfast Show’s presenter Oli by one of his lecturers, and was offered an internship which led to his current First Break presenting role.

How does Liam see his future? He is firmly committed to his career and, for now, is very happy presenting his radio show. His immediate goal is to keep increasing listener numbers of First Break and achieve the recognition of hosting a show that is really important to the local community. “I see it as an art form. The challenge is to paint a picture in someone’s head just with the language you use. My hero in radio was always John Peel. I even listen back through his shows now as inspiration. I love to create that personal touch for the listener and talking to them one-on-one.”

Liam would like to present The Breakfast Show, following in the footsteps of its current presenters Oli and Simon, who started out on First Break themselves.

In the longer term, he is unsure if his ideal job lies in radio or TV, but he would love to work at a national radio station: “My dream has always been to host the Radio One breakfast Show and replace Jools Holland on Later Live. Quite ambitious I know!”

You can listen to ‘First Break’ every Sunday evening 7 – 10pm on Touch FM (102FM / 96.2FM), Rugby FM (107.1FM), Banbury Sound (107.6FM) and online at 102touchfm.co.uk.

Orcas UK - Alternative Rock Band from The Midlands.

Students’ Band Set To Rock the Music World

A band formed by Music students at Stratford-upon-Avon College as part of their course is already making its mark in the music industry.

Level 3 Music students at the College were assigned a practical project to form their own band, create their own music and schedule a tour. Quickly getting to work, four class mates joined forces with close friend Anil Kumar, naming their band Orcas-UK.

The band members are:

  • Tom Findlay, 19, Warwick – Drums and vocals
  • Conor Bailie, 17 Rugby – Bass and vocals
  • Ben Lindsay, 19 Coventry – Guitar and vocals
  • Tom Beck, 20 Redditch – Guitar and vocals
  • Anil Kumar – Keyboard and vocals

The students bonded so well on their course, and discovered they share such a similar attitude to music and the industry, that they are going to continue performing together. The alternative rock band has just completed a UK tour – the College decided that they needed to support this up-and-coming band and gave them the opportunity to take advantage of this amazing experience – during which they supported the bands InMe and Press to Meco. The band has recently performed their single ‘Pulse’ (produced by Connor Ball, bassist for ‘The Vamps’ which is available now on iTunes.

Having just graduated from their course, Orcas-UK already have more gigs lined up. They have secured a prestigious booking in August to support rock bands Hawthorne Heights and The Dear Hunter at the O2 Academy in Birmingham.

Now working as professional musicians, the band members have come a long way since starting their course. Conor had only 8 months experience playing in a band before starting at the College, while Tom saw his future going in a different direction altogether: “I originally auditioned to study Acting but the Music lecturers spotted me and persuaded me to change my mind. Since I started the course at the College, music is all I want to do.”

Tom attributes the current success of the band to the opportunities they received while studying at the College. “There’s no way we would be in this position if not for the College course. It’s really tested us and made us work really hard but the experience of getting to know each other and playing to so many live audiences has been amazing.”

Although they are currently unsigned, the band sees this as an advantage. Ben explained: “We want to get as far as possible before we’re signed to a label. We don’t want to get tied down with legalities at the moment. Our booking agent is fantastic and has secured us some great performances.”

Claire Morley, Assistant Head of Department – Performing Arts and Music, commented: “I’m delighted, but not surprised, by their success. They are all passionate about their music, always worked hard and were perceptive to advice and suggestions. Individually they are all talented musicians, but together they became magic! I’m certain that this is just the beginning for Orcas-UK.”




Charlotte Griffiths

Former College Student Is a Model Success

A former Stratford-upon-Avon College A-Level student is now running her own successful modelling agency in London. Charlotte Griffiths, from Stratford, co-founded London-based Bridge Models, one of the growing number of Curve agencies representing larger size models, which recently gained fame as the first in the country to sign plus size male models.

Charlotte and co-founder Beth Willis chose the name Bridge Models because it symbolised their firmly held belief that health and beauty come in a variety of body shapes and sizes. Charlotte’s personal view is that the fashion industry, with its huge influence on people’s perception of what is considered beautiful, has a responsibility to portray this, and so the agency’s aim is to “bridge the gap” between standard and plus size and promote a healthy body image.

Encouraged by the fashion industry’s increasingly positive attitude towards plus size female models, Bridge Models signed its first plus size male model – 23-year-old Ben Whit, a gardener and personal trainer from Guildford in Surrey, whose lifestyle perfectly supports Charlotte’s desire to promote health and fitness. Bridge Models now has three male models in its Bridge Men division and is overwhelmed by the positive response this innovative step has received.

Ben Willis and Charlotte Griffiths

Former Stratford-upon-Avon College student Charlotte Griffiths with the UK’s first plus size male model Ben Whit.

Charlotte attended the College from 2005 to 2007 and studied A Level Drama, Media and Film Studies and AS English Literature. She has particularly fond memories of meeting and working with a wide range of people. She believes her time spent there, working creatively alongside others, not only taught her a great deal about herself, but also helped prepare her for running her agency. “My course tested my skill set and allowed me to push barriers. That is definitely something you need to be able to do to set up your own business.”

Before founding Bridge Models, Charlotte worked as a model herself and believes this also played a part in preparing her for her current role: “Having that experience was invaluable. It helped me understand the industry and the demands in a way I probably never could have working just behind the desk.”

Charlotte takes great pride in having been the first in the UK to launch a plus size men’s division. She also counts amongst her proudest achievements the work her agency has done over the past two years for Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, a charity campaign founded 20 years ago by designer Ralph Lauren after he lost a close friend to the disease.

“We launched the first Curve campaign for the charity last year and continued to support with an editorial shoot this spring. Raising awareness for charities that are close to my heart is a great opportunity, and breaking barriers and records is a huge bonus.”

Charlotte acknowledges that managing her own agency requires a great deal of hard work and enormous commitment. She has this advice for any young person aiming to run their own business: “Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself what do you excel at and what do you struggle with. The way you will be successful is knowing your strengths and weaknesses and working with them.”

And what of the future? Charlotte accepts that, despite a change in attitude, the fashion industry still faces criticism for the way it portrays body image. There is a long way to go, but with people of vision like Charlotte at the helm, the future looks extremely promising.

Former Stratford-upon-Avon College student Joseph Mawle

Former College Students Joseph Mawle and Tobias Menzies Star in Game of Thrones

Former Stratford-upon-Avon College performing arts students Joseph Mawle and Tobias Menzies reprised their roles last night in HBO’s hit show Game of Thrones (Episode 6 of season 6 ‘Blood of my Blood‘).

Actor Joseph Mawle studied a national diploma in performing arts at the College between 1990 and 1992 whereas actor Tobias Menzies studied on a ‘Year out Drama’ course between 1993 and 1994.

Cast as the uncles of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and the other Stark children both Benjen Stark (Mawle) and Edmure Tully (Menzies) returned to the show in an unexpected reveal.

Both Jospeh and Tobias have previously appeared in a number of acclaimed TV series such as the BBC’s The Passion and Ripper Street (Mawle), and HBO’s Rome and Starz’s Outlander (Menzies).

Game of Thrones is broadcast on Sky Atlantic on Mondays at 9PM.

Chef Martin Bower

Local Chef Enjoys International Career Success

A local chef’s career is soaring after living a jet-set professional lifestyle across the UK, Australia, Thailand and the Philippines. Martin Bower is still only 35, yet has gained over 15 years’ experience in kitchens in many 4- and 5-star hotels and resorts, and has now risen to the position of Executive Head Chef at the Crimson Hotel in Manila.

Martin was born and raised in Rugby, Warwickshire, where he first gained an interest in catering while cooking with his family and next door neighbour. “I always had a fascination with food and that grew as I entered my teens, working in a small restaurant and our local family-owned butcher.”

Professional training for Martin began at Stratford-upon-Avon College, where he studied for an Advanced Culinary Diploma. He sees the course as a great foundation to begin a career within the catering industry and particularly remembers travelling around Europe, experiencing different cultures and cuisines on trips the College organised each year.

“It gave me a taste of what was expected, and completing work experience as part of the course really showed what would be expected of me when entering a professional kitchen. The most important thing I learned at the College was teamwork. Within the fast-paced environment in which we were aiming to work, this is essential.”

Following his training, Martin worked for two years in the kitchens of Executive Chef Michael Quinn at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. It was here that he discovered his style of cooking which he describes as classically British with an added Mediterranean feel. Martin’s rise through the ranks was swift and he gained his first Head Chef position aged 25. Since then, his career has continued to go from strength to strength and it has taken him across the world, his talents earning him accolades such as Rosette awards in many of the restaurants he worked in.

Despite the many years of hard work it has taken Martin to gain such achievements, he still enjoys his job as much as ever. “Having the opportunity to work outside the UK first in Australia, then Thailand and now the Philippines is a dream come true. When I started out as a trainee chef all those years ago, I never imagined it would lead to working in exotic places around the world, doing the job I love.”

Martin appreciates the importance of the training he received at the College, which he would recommend as a very positive first step into a highly competitive industry. He recognises the important part played by his lecturers: “The support I receive from them, even now – 16 years after leaving the College – is truly amazing. They continue to keep a close eye on my career to see how I’m doing.”

Martin in turn now helps to develop the skills of the next generation of caterers. He visits schools throughout Manila, and works closely with Far Eastern University and De La Salle University, to give lectures on the hospitality industry and present cooking demonstrations to aspiring chefs. “When I was training at the College, I was fortunate enough to have excellent mentors and teachers. Working with the students gives me a great sense of satisfaction and seeing them grow into good and passionate chefs is a very satisfying experience.”

We look forward to hearing about Martin’s continuing successes in the future.

Elliott Sansom playing the piano.

Jazzing It Up All The Way To the Final

A former Stratford-upon-Avon College music student has made it through to the final of the BBC’s Young Jazz Musician competition.

21-year-old Elliott Sansom, who gained his Level 3 Extended Diploma in Music at the College in 2012 before going on to study for a BMus (Honours) Jazz at Birmingham City University’s Birmingham Conservatoire, has been nominated as one of the five finalists in the BBC Young Musician Jazz Award.

First held in 2014, this award runs in parallel with the BBC’s well-established classical music competition. The five finalists have already successfully passed a lengthy audition process, and in the final will be accompanied by the Gwilym Simcock Trio, who will also act as their mentors.

Originally from Solihull, Elliott comes from a musical family with esoteric tastes. Captivated by his mother’s and grandmother’s piano-playing, he started to play the piano himself at the tender age of five. Sixteen years later, he is now in the final year of his jazz course at Birmingham Conservatoire, having spent time as part of his studies on a placement at the Conservatoire de Paris and also in Germany, where he studied under the celebrated jazz pianist Pablo Held.

Elliott is fast gaining a reputation amongst jazz aficionados. He has not only collaborated with other Birmingham-based musicians, but also plays and writes with his Trio, alongside Billy Weir on drums and Ben Muirhead on double bass. Together with his older brother, he is even in the process of setting up a recording studio to enable him to develop his musical talent further.

Director of Curriculum James Maiden taught Elliott at Stratford-upon-Avon College. “I am delighted at Elliott’s success, although not surprised. Even as a teenager he showed a remarkable musical talent with a gift for improvisation and experimentation. I wish him the very best, not only at the finals next month, but also in what I am certain will be a highly successful career as a professional musician.”

After learning of his nomination, Elliott himself commented: “I’m thrilled to be in the final of such a prestigious competition and to be recognised for playing the kind of music I love. It’s a huge honour – I’m still trying to get my head round it! My time at Stratford College was instrumental in guiding me towards where I am today. The facilities were great and the staff were always incredibly supportive.”

Elliott credits all the College lecturers with providing inspiration and guidance. “They gave me confidence in my ability as a musician and helped me define the kind of musician I wanted to be.”

The final will take place on Saturday 12 March at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, and will be broadcast on BBC Four.

Good luck, Elliott!

TV Awards Nomination for Ex-College Student

Former Stratford-upon-Avon College student Parry Glasspool has seen his career soar to new heights after being nominated for Best Newcomer at the National Television Awards. Parry made his Television debut on Hollyoaks spin-off ‘Hollyoaks Later’ in 2013 as Harry Thompson before joining the long-running Channel 4 soap in 2015.

Parry has received acclaim for his fantastic performance while viewers have been gripped by his burgeoning on-screen romance with Ste Hay, played by Kieron Richardson.

Born in Redditch, Parry grew up in Hollywood in Birmingham and studied A Levels at Stratford-upon Avon College from 2008 to 2010. After honing his acting skills at the College, Parry progressed to University of West London where he studied for a degree in Acting for Stage and Media.

Having received news of his nomination, Parry said, “It’s such an honour. I love every second of working on Hollyoaks and there’s such a supportive team here. I couldn’t be more thrilled. I have many great memories of my time at Stratford College. The teaching I received there helped inspire me to take up acting as a career.”

Duncan Fewins, Director of Teaching and Learning at the College taught A Level Drama to Parry. “Parry was a gifted and talented young performer and a completing student on the A level ‘Drama Package’. He was always a lively and good humoured student with a steely determination to do well. He possessed the rare ability of an actor to be able to create emotive scenes by being fully committed to the theatrical moment. He was a bold and fearless exponent of the arts of performance.”

Andrew Anderson was Parry’s English Literature lecturer and was always impressed with his ability. “It was always clear Parry was going to have a successful acting career. He was a creative and charismatic student who threw himself into activities with great enthusiasm and humour. I am so pleased he is making such a great success of his career.”

You can watch the Awards ceremony on Wednesday 20 January at 7.30pm on ITV.