Latest success for college’s retail outlet is bloomin’ marvellous


Everything’s coming up roses for Gateshead College as its new retail venture at the Intu MetroCentre continues to blossom.

Metal roses crafted by fabrication and welding pre-apprentice students are the latest products catching the eye of shoppers at the handPICKED store, which provides an outlet for entrepreneurial students to showcase their retail flair and grow their fledgling start-ups.

Students Tom Heightley, 17, Connell Scott, 18, and Connor Wilson, 17, have been turning their hand to thornier issues as part of their studies towards completing their Performing Engineering Operations Level 2 qualification this summer.

The green-fingered youngsters have been using all the skills and techniques gained on their course to craft the decorative roses from sheet metal before welding them together to the highest degree of accuracy.

After fabrication in the workshop, the roses are being displayed and marketed at handPICKED before being sold for upwards of £30 apiece. 

The handPICKED project - a first for a North East college - is an independent outlet where students are able to trial their retail ideas and ambitions before going to market on their own.

The store can accommodate dozens of retail focused start-ups established by students – it’s anticipated that upwards of 100 young entrepreneurs from the college will be involved during the project’s 18-month trial. 

Connell Scott said the project’s providing the chance to gain not only technical expertise but also softer customer-focused sales skills: “I’ve enjoyed the process thoroughly, from the design to the finished product”.

Tom Heightley added: “Everything about this activity has given me a sense of achievement and made me feel proud, seeing what I could achieve.” 

Their lecturers Dave Brown and Kevin Milburn added: “The effort the students have contributed to this project is a credit to all of them. 

“They are gaining the skills employers want and that will see them well on the way to a successful and rewarding career beyond college.

“It also shows that they have developed since starting the course and that they definitely have something about them.”

In addition to retail experience, handPICKED provides students with the chance to develop wider skills that are important to business success, notably market research, product merchandising and customer service in a genuine retail environment.

It’ll also provide them with a retail customer services experience that they’ll be able to take forward with them as they progress onto paid jobs with Intu and other retailers in the future. 

Local traders and craft-makers from across the region, who make handmade gifts such as jewellery, handbags, stationary, soft furnishings, home ware and food to the public, will also be able to utilise the shop as an outlet for product sales.

handPICKED is a social enterprise with all profits going to the Gateshead College Foundation, which aims to ensure people from across the North East can access funds to enable them to develop their skills and improve their life chances. 

The project is a further example of the college’s aim of supporting the creation of an entrepreneurial culture in the North East alongside its role as a GAZELLE college, committed to deploying entrepreneurship as a driver for change in the education sector. 

handPICKED also builds on activity generated by the college’s Northern Stars enterprise society, which gives students the opportunity to discuss their business ideas with established business mentors and sell their products to staff and students within the college. Twenty seven start-ups were created by Gateshead College students in 2013 alone. 

Judith Doyle, principal and chief executive at Gateshead College, said: “Well done to Tom, Connell and Connor. They reflect how students are benefiting from the investments we are making to enhance their learning and bridge the skills gap.

“We are equipping them with the entrepreneurial knowledge and training that will stand them in good stead for a successful career, providing that all important edge that employers look for in an employee.

“It is part of our wider aim of ensuring that our students are the most highly prized in the jobs market.”