It’s been 20 years since Dv8 Sussex opened its doors. Those two decades have seen enormous cultural and technological changes, but they continue to put their student cohort at the centre of everything they do.
As a creative digital college, Dv8 Sussex run courses around several increasingly relevant subjects. Around 250 learners, across sites in Bexhill and Brighton & Hove, are getting a firm foundation for careers. Industries include media, music production and games design development, alongside traditional maths and English classes if needed.
“We’re delighted to still be around after 20 years,” says Student Experience Manager, Nicola Lombardo. “For a small training provider to survive is quite extraordinary. But we’re also able to be responsive to both student and employer needs. We’ve made a commitment to stay at this size because it does make a difference.”
Gaining unique skills for creative workplaces
As a stepping-stone to university or roles inside the creative industry, it’s been vital for Dv8 to work closely with examining boards. They ensure students achieve certain competencies and skills. Courses are free to students, through the Education Funds Skills Agency and a Government mandate to provide college places to young people. While there’s an obvious need to provide qualifications which are fit for the workplace, there’s also an ambition to equip everyone passing through the college for jobs which might not have emerged yet. After all, who would have anticipated becoming a Social Media Strategist 20 years ago?
Lombardo’s own role involves ensuring students have the best experience possible while at the Further Education college. This can include everything from offering expertise on safeguarding, personal development and mental health, to work experience, careers and pastoral care. “The beauty of a small college is that you get to know the learners more. The staff tend to know all the students’ names, it’s that kind of environment. And our cohort is quite diverse. There’s a few with documented learning needs, or some might have faced a difficult educational experience. They’re coming to us because going to a bigger college might not be so appealing.”
New building at Brighton’s Queens Square
Walking around the Dv8 building on Brighton’s Queens Square, it’s instantly apparent they’ve the capacity to offer a personal style of education. There are around 25-28 students per class at this level nationally. Lombardo tells me the college makes a concerted effort to have no more than 15 in a group. There’s also an inclusive and friendly atmosphere, with all the focus being fed into various creative projects.
“Some of our learners might come to us having not been in school since aged nine. For them to come here and achieve is quite a long distance travelled for them. We have a student first ethos. It’s all about ensuring everyone comes here can achieve their potential and have a great experience. They leave with a qualification, but hopefully also a lot more – from increased confidence to new social skills.”
In the secondary school system, the Government’s focus is very much on sciences. This has pushed a lot of creative studies out of curriculums. Dv8 offers an education to engage those young people who feel they didn’t fit in with more mainstream subjects. Also, the college employs lecturers who are industry specialists in each field.
Plenty of opportunities at Dv8
As you’d expect from a college existing alongside a healthy music scene, there’s a Music Performance and Production course. The course helps build composing, recording, producing, and performing skills. This encapsulates everything from building a profile as a musician. Or, working with the latest studio software to construct the hits of tomorrow.
Students collaborate with several outside organisations on a wide range of projects, including Bexhill’s 18 Hours arts festival. Also, Brighton Book Festival and Hastings’ Fat Tuesday – all providing genuine real-life experience of working in different event industries.
For gaming students, courses include a robust base for a career in the industry. Courses cover art and animation on several platforms, along with developing skills on not only how to design games but how to pitch them to perspective developers or publishers. This whole industry is now worth more than the film and music sector.
By looking at and adapting to growth sectors in the creative scene, Dv8 are developing courses on promoting eSports – competitive human v human gaming events, which have seen a huge uptake in recent years.
The college has just come off the back of a campaign to encourage more women into their gaming courses and the wider industry. Their Gender Awareness in Media Entertainment (GAME) project sought to redress an imbalance. By engaging with students and staff, they linked up with empowering communities like Girls Who Code and InnovateHer. “Girls do game, but I don’t think it’s as central to their identity. Yet we do have more females on the music performance side of things.” They’ve also recently been working with Into Games, a local organisation seeking to encourage diversity in the gaming industry.
Students were recently given the opportunity to work with local games developer Hanger 13, on a project around their hugely popular Mafia franchise. Students received mentorship and access to developer tools. Meanwhile, were collaborating with Dlala Studios and award-winning indie Chinese Room on projects. As well as this, some have exhibited work at Develop Conference, an expo of game design. “If you come here, it’s a very immersive experience. It’s almost like a gaming hub. Everybody is like-minded.”
The Media Production Course at Dv8 develops skills around sound design, animation, scriptwriting, digital marketing and interactive design. There is an eye on creating content for a range of suitable media platforms. Again, there’s a big emphasis on interacting on the wider industry.
Getting involved with the community
The whole cohort are actively encouraged to go out into the local community and get involved in social action activities. Recently, many worked with Give Street Project – an organisation bringing people together to help and support those experiencing homelessness, low income and food insecurity. Students worked with the charity to develop marketing strategies and a new website. There’s also been regular beach cleans with Surfers Against Sewage. “It’s about giving something back to their community, stepping out of their comfort zone and working out what value they can give locally.” There’s been more local ties formed with Brighton Fringe through LOOKOUT, a non-profit who enable creative opportunities for young people. Also, professional artists, teachers, parents, carers and the wider community.
Whether it’s podcasting, documentary making, social media strategy or dance music production, Dv8 students are given the freedom to develop their interests. And there’s many success stories. This year has seen a 61% rise in the number of students applying to go into higher education, while others have gone straight to work in the creative industries – including events management and freelance photography to games developers and working on the Commonwealth Games. One previous graduate is Marie White, who has embarked on a successful music career and won Glastonbury’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2019.
As soon as they start at Dv8, students are encouraged to exhibit their work on sharing platforms like Soundcloud and taught how to build fanbases and monetise their skills.
A stepping stone into university
Originally started as a foundation learning provider, who offered training in fashion, media and live events for young people who may not have left school with GCSEs, Dv8 have responded to the need of the flourishing creative industry and helped fill the digital skills gap. The college seems to be constantly reviewing and refreshing their curriculum because we only partly understand what the jobs of tomorrow might be. They’ve now added a new building on Queens Road, which offers additional facilities for the booming game design side of their operation.
While many are attracted to Dv8 for the exceptional learning environment, it also provides a valuable stepping stone from a difficult educational background to university for those students who might not have been exposed to media and arts during their time at school. It’s now become a Partner College of London Learning consortium and is looking to develop courses and extend their unique approach up towards the capital and along the coast. “There isn’t really anywhere else that offers the pastoral care that we do. You need to be quite self-sufficient to go to one of the bigger colleges. So, we want to take our ethos and values and extend them to as many people as possible.” If you’re thinking about pursuing a career in creative media, make sure you check out the Dv8 Sussex website at: https://www.dv8sussex.com
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