Amersham and Wycombe College celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. LAURA MOWAT looks at the institution’s role in the Chilterns and how it has modernised to serve its students in the 21st century.
AMERSHAM and Wycombe College opened in 1972, but it was not until the following year that a certain education secretary by the name of Margaret Thatcher officially opened the building.
Since then, a lot has happened for both the college and the most famous Conservative since Churchill. Mrs Thatcher took the keys to Number 10, became a controversial icon of the 1980s and was immortalised by Meryl Streep on the silver screen last year in The Iron Lady.
Hollywood may not have made a film about Amersham and Wycombe College, but it has produced a Hollywood star.
Former student Aaron Perry Johnson has starred alongside Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina and appeared in a whole host of blockbusters since the age of six. And in true Hollywood style the 22-year-old tied the knot with director Sam Taylor-Wood, 45, in June this year.
The college has become an important part of the community since Stuart Gareth Weight of Chalfont St Giles became the first student to enrol in 1972. Around 60,000 students have since benefitted from an education there and it serves about 4,500 students each year.
A wide range of BTEC and other training courses are on offer among impressive facilities.
Further education courses are provided for 16 to 18-year-olds, higher education for 19-plus students and a wide range of part-time courses is available, alongside apprenticeships in partnership with employers.
The college opened its doors at the campus at Stanley Hill, Amersham. Due to high demand, it developed another campus in Flackwell Heath and, until recently, there was also a campus in Chesham.
Anther notable alumna is West End star Shanay Holmes, a singer and actress who studied a BTEC National diploma in musical theatre.
The college used to provide A-levels but now it mainly provides BTECs. These include art and design, construction, fashion and business. Last year, the library was renovated into a modern information hub and some of the books were replaced with computers. The extensive facilities on offer include those for pottery, photography, digital music and ceramics.
Chris Burgeson, the technician who helps with the Media Film and Television BTEC, said: “The students are very lucky to have the facilities here. It helps give them experience before they go off into the industry.”
The department has links with production company Boundless Productions and students make a pilot television show as a part of the course.
The design department has a huge workshop and the budding design students have come up with costumes for the Royal Opera House design challenge.
Amersham and Wycombe is one of the founding colleges of National Skills Academy for Creative and Cultural, which enables the college to increase what it can offer to its students.
The Creative and Cultural skills aims to improve the skills and training that it can offer to people in the creative industries. It is a membership network for creative industries and has enabled students to go back stage at concerts and grants them access to various events.
Seb Bruen, 20, of Chalfont St Peter, is studying the sound design BTEC. He hopes to get a job in the industry when he finishes and is making his own soundtrack. “The course has been really good, I have really enjoyed it here,” he said.
To mark its 40th anniversary, the college is launching an alumnae website so that new and old students can get in touch.
College principal Gill Clipson said: “We really hope people will want to share their experiences of college life and see how the college has changed over the years.
“We know that many former students have achieved great things, and there will be thousands of untold stories about what our alumni have done. We think they could inspire a new generation of students to learn and to achieve great things in their lives as well.”
The aim for the future is to ensure that the students have a good link with employers so that they can get jobs after their courses.
To find out more about the college and its plans, visit www.amersham.ac.uk.