A group of district nurses in blue uniforms wearing the visors made at UTC

It’s been an unprecedented time which has been difficult for everyone to manage, whether we are directly affected by coronavirus or feeling the effects of lockdown. My prime professional responsibilities are to the health and education of our students. I hope that we can return to the UTC soon but agree that schools should remain closed for now. UTC staff are working incredibly hard to support our students, both educationally and emotionally, and I am very grateful to them for their dedication to our students in these challenging circumstances.

I would also like to take this opportunity to extend my thanks and admiration to students who continue to demonstrate their commitment to education by attending online classes, submitting assignments on time, and staying in contact with their mentors and our Student Support team. We are also grateful for the continued support of parents and carers who have been keeping us up-to-date with their child’s progress.

We are facing more weeks in lockdown and this presents us with unique challenges, but it’s important to recognise the positive outcomes of this difficult situation. In particular, it is uplifting to see how our students, staff, industry partners and the wider community have come together to continue to support each other, and have been able to help to frontline workers.

Firstly, UTC students are young professionals and have learnt to adapt to home working. Our technology focus has allowed education to continue online using systems that you’d expect to see in many sophisticated workplaces. Students are engaging impressively with a range of software, virtual meetings and systems which are likely to shape the way many businesses operate in a post-Covid world.

The practical use of technology will be more important than ever as travel is reduced and organisations need to adapt and innovate in many ways. Society needs bright young scientists, technologists, engineers, and mathematicians, a subject I will address in next week’s post. There are many great careers out there for those who are work-ready, and the education system has a challenge ahead to judge success in a way that values these skills, in addition to the ability to pass exams.

Secondly, I have been incredibly proud of the UTC community’s response to the regional need for PPE in the form of the manufacture of face visors. Lockdown and being stuck at home has seen lots of people wanting to contribute in some way. So many members of our communities and families are on the frontline and are working incredibly hard to keep us well, often risking their health for us. As a UTC, it seemed right to turn to our STEM focus.

Our Visors for Victory initiative was created at the beginning of April in response to the lack of PPE available to key workers. Our staff designed the visors and have been working with students and parents to manufacture them using the college’s specialist equipment. Over 3000 visors have been delivered to more than 100 organisations across the North East, including hospitals, care homes, GP surgeries, community nurses, charities and food banks. There is still a huge demand and so we will continue to manufacture them. It has been incredible to see how staff, students, and the wider community have come together to help make these much needed visors.

Andy, our acting Head of Maths, is a keen fell runner and created the National Three peaks stair challenge as a fundraising initiative. It was very hard work to climb Ben Nevis, Scafell and Snowdon combined. That’s 3408m – over 1200 times up and down the stairs for me and my family, and my calves have only just recovered! I am in awe of the fell runners who managed to complete that by themselves! The support was incredible from runners, friends, families and businesses across the country and we raised £27,000 for the visor production and other charities. I would like to thank all involved for their generosity.

The funds we have raised are going towards increasing production through additional machinery, supporting other schools and colleges across the region to manufacture visors and maintenance and materials.  Any excess will be passed on to other charities dealing with the longer term effects of Covid-19.

The UTC has a strong network of industry partners and a national shortage of suitable materials led to a call out to that community. The response has been brilliant, and we have received generous donations of materials from companies across the region and country, including medical grade plastics from the Essex branch of the Dutch company, Desch Plantpak Ltd and the Durham-based Danish company, Faerch.

This crisis and our response to it has shown how UTC students, parents, staff, industry partners, and those in our wider network work together brilliantly, showcasing how the UTC is more than a school; it is a community. A community which cares deeply about the education of young people, strives to help them succeed and find meaningful careers, and wants to use its STEM specialist skills to help those who need it – now and in the future. It is a community that I am proud to be a part of.

- Principal Tom Dower