25 November 2021

As part of its work to champion social mobility in the further education and skills sector, the Skills and Education Group Foundation is pleased to support the Helena Kennedy Foundation (HKF), the further education sector’s national charity. The HKF promotes equality of opportunity, enabling disadvantaged students in FE to realise their potential by supporting them through higher education into fulfilling careers.

The HKF does this by awarding bursaries to learners. Each bursary costs £3,000 and is awarded to a student at an FE college aiming to progress to higher education. The bursary supports them throughout their time at university, providing not only financial assistance but also pastoral support, mentoring, and careers advice. Each academic year, the Skills and Education Group Foundation sponsors two HKF bursaries.

A previous HKF bursary winner, Bilal, recently got in touch with us to tell us about how his bursary has had a positive impact on his education. Bilal studied at Leicester College, a member of the Skills and Education Group, and his bursary was sponsored by the Group. He overcame significant obstacles in his family life, such as drug abuse and violence, in order to successfully complete his studies at college and progress to Nottingham Trent University. At university, he has continued to develop his exceptional talent in design and pursue his career ambitions.

You can read his story below.

What was your experience like at Leicester College?

Leicester College was great, I would even go as far as to call it my second home, especially during my final year. I spent a lot of time there working hard and I very much enjoyed it. My tutors were extremely supportive and always challenged me. As a design student, it's important to stay true to who you are as a designer and artist - my tutors always encouraged me and my work, helping me to figure out my design style. Outside of my course, I collaborated with students from the media and photography course, helping to create a fashion magazine by bringing together different garments and styling the models, as well as completing their hair and makeup. When trying something new, it is often intimidating to branch out, but Leicester College encouraged this by providing us with the resources and equipment needed without any hassle, which I found to be much more challenging when I got to university.

Where did you hear about the HKF bursary opportunity?

During my time at Leicester College, my tutors could see I was struggling financially. I also had to overcome a lot of challenges that stemmed from my personal life, so when preparing for university my tutors thought I could apply for a bursary as well as ongoing mentoring which would benefit me in making the transition from education to the real world. They could see I was working hard and, with the necessary support, they knew it would allow me to continue to work on the things that mattered to me most.

How did you feel when you found out you had been awarded the bursary?

I was extremely excited and relieved; it took off the added stress, allowing me to focus on design. As you would expect, doing a fashion degree is extremely costly, and I have to purchase everything on my own. This means buying everything from fabrics, to equipment such as a sewing machine, down to the little things like textbooks. It also meant I had support outside of uni, especially during the holidays, which is when I feel I need the support the most.

Have you always been passionate about design?

I have always enjoyed creating art or beautiful things, it allows us to express ourselves and leaves us feeling something bigger. Using fashion as my art form for people to use and live their everyday life in has always been the dream. I was always discouraged to do fashion as it was seen as frivolous and indulgent, however I see it as more than that, and I’ve always had an eye for design. Being a creative person or living to create art is not easy, especially fashion - it’s a competitive industry - but it brings me joy, and therefore it’s a no-brainer.

What are you most enjoying about university?

Studying at Trent has been great! I’ve just completed my second year with great achievements despite Covid, however it has taken a lot of time, patience, and energy. Coming to university has challenged me, both in terms of what I enjoy and in my personal life. In my first year, I really struggled, trying to adjust to such a big change. I also attended a different uni in my first year, however after learning I wasn’t doing as well as I expected, I made some changes. Coming to Nottingham Trent University was a great decision and the past academic year has been evidence of that. I’ve won two industry competition projects and, most importantly, I’ve enjoyed myself a lot more this year than I did in my last.

What are your ambitions for your life after university?

I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing once I graduate from university and I’m learning to be okay with that. I may do a business management top-up degree, but I’m sure and hopeful that many opportunities will present themselves to me once I graduate. Ideally, I would love a job in design. To start, I would like to work with a designer, seeing in real life how a collection goes from paper to production to runway. This will help me to gain experience for when and if I choose to open my label.

To find out more about the work of the Helena Kennedy Foundation, click here.

Do you know of any learners in further education who would benefit from financial support to help them reach their potential? Grant applications for the Skills and Education Group Foundation are currently open. To find out more and submit applications, click here.