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A former professional footballer with Stevenage FC, Gordon Barr combined playing with a degree at Brunel University. He joined North Hertfordshire College as a Sport Sciences lecturer in 2001, rising through the ranks to his current role of vice principal for entrepreneurship and student experience.

How did the scheme come about? We were looking at how we could make stu- dents more employable for the health and fitness sector when they leave college, and how to make them realise that they them- selves could become employers in the sector. Te énergie gym in Stevenage became avail- able, so we decided to take on the franchise as a student-led business, with Adam overseeing the day-to-day operational aspects.

You started teaching aged 21. Were you able to use this early experience of respon- sibility to help the students? Teaching and learning has been predicated on a Victorian model for many, many years, but I’m very much of the belief that practical teaching covering real-life working scenarios will benefit the students a lot more. It’s been a bit of a journey for myself, as I’ve come from a teaching background towards a business environment, where my teaching qualification isn’t much help. But Adam’s done the opposite journey, so our skills complement each other and mean we give a more rounded experience to the students.

With more than 200 students in the sports department, how do you maximise their opportunities for gym-based learning? Te 10 students who work in the gym are here all week, for 52 weeks of the year, while the students taking more traditional courses like BTECs have project-based learning, whereby they’ll come to the gym for a couple of weeks and run things like fitness testing, or training and fitness projects. Even though they don’t work here, these students will do a lot of their learning in a fully-operational 18,000sq ſt gym, which is obviously a more realistic envi- ronment than a classroom.

What differences have you found in terms of how the students learn in the gym as opposed to a conventional classroom? Te most pleasing thing for me is that we’re seeing accelerated learning, whereby the


worth of qualifications to boot. And not only do they get the qualifications, but their com- mercial knowledge base grows exponentially, so that when they do go for a job, they are seen as the number one candidate, rather than just a student from another college with the same qualification. We also pay for their uniform and fund staff nights out for team bonding, as you’d see in a typical business.

students working in this type of environment are actually learning four times as quickly as their peers working in classrooms, not only on their qualification, but also on the com- mercial side. Te students have done so well that we’re now looking for one of our Level 3 PTs Emma Stewart (see page 21) to manage the next gym that we’re planning to launch. Because she’s progressed so quickly, we’re looking for her to become a gym manager at the age of 20, which is phenomenal.

How much do they get paid? Tat varies depending on the student’s age, but they are paid the industry rate as you would find in any other commercial gym. For the 15 hour week of work students get paid around £5-6,000 a year, with around £6,000

What are the downsides of running a gym staffed with students? I think the worst part is the turnover in the sense that we’d love to be able to keep all of our guys on and offer them perma- nent employment here, but the nature of being a college means that new students need to come through and enter the fold, so unfortunately they have to move on. It’s heartbreaking to say goodbye, but that’s just a downside of the model. Another is that we’re only able to provide this opportunity to 10 students each year. We could take more on, but then that would dilute the experience and make it less realistic than a functioning gym.

Are there any procedures in place if stu- dents slack off or their standards slip? Tey’re treated as normal employees. With that, we would go down the formal disciplin- ary procedures that a business would follow if needs be, but fortunately we’ve not had any issues like that. Tere are quarterly reviews with each of the students and weekly one- to-ones, while secondary spend targets are reviewed and set on a monthly basis. Te stu- dents are treated as members of staff and they seem to respond to that – it sparks self- motivation and self-responsibility. Tey see themselves as an integral part of the team who need to deliver the required outcomes, not only for the business, but also for them- selves. Tis helps them to grow, develop and ultimately progress towards employability.

Te 18,000sq ſt gym is open for 14 hours a day Twitter: @leisureopps

How do you deal with issues such as when a member complains? It depends on the case really, I’d like to think that most of the time students give it a go on their own. If a student is unsure then they can come to me and we’ll work through it together so that next time they can deal with it on their own. We support them with their learning and problem solving is part of that, so students need to work things out for them- selves and learn to become self-sufficient. We’ve had power failures and situations like that where students have had to evacuate the building and notify the relevant bodies – so far they’ve done us proud every time.

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