Newbattle Abbey College’s Rural Skills course helps battle unemployment in Midlothian

Newbattle Abbey College’s new full-time National Certificate course in Rural Skills is proving to be extremely popular. The course, which is run in partnership with Midlothian Council and Scotland’s Rural University College, teaches students a variety of practical gardening and estate management skills and is aimed at helping young unemployed people in Midlothian get back into work.

The practical course, which lasts for 20 weeks, enables students to learn and develop useful skills including tree and shrub planting, ground preparation, drainage and hard and soft landscaping. Fifty percent of the course consists of work experience with Forestry Commission Scotland. It also offers progression into specialist courses in land-based colleges elsewhere in Scotland. Students on the programme will also be taught a variety of core skills such as communication, problem-solving and numeracy to increase their employability for when they leave the college.

“I’ve really been enjoying the course,” says 17-year-old student, Alex Sneddon. “I enrolled after being made redundant from my labouring job and I’ve learnt a lot of new skills here which I think will help me get a new job. I’m keen to complete the course then look into starting my own business.”

The college’s Rural Skills students recently raised £480 to support the programme through selling logs and hand-carved wood items such as bird boxes at the college’s annual Christmas Fair.

“I really enjoyed participating in the Christmas at Newbattle event,” says student Billy Diamond from Woodburn. “We made various things to sell out of free materials and were able to make money to help support the course. It just shows you that there is money to be made.”

Gill Turner, Curriculum Manager at Newbattle Abbey College says: “We are delighted that 15 young people have enrolled on the National Certificate Rural Skills course as it proves there’s a real demand for it. It’s a very practical programme that allows people to progress onto a specialist course at Scotland’s Rural College or in to work. As the majority of learning on the course takes place outside, students will get to work in the college’s beautiful grounds, woodlands, Italian Garden and Community Garden.”

“We recruited students for the course at short notice and were delighted with the response and interest generated,” adds college Principal Anne Southwood. “The Rural Skills course is an excellent example of innovative practice at both local and national level.”