Marian Docherty: History of learning that helps to transform lives at Newbattle Abbey College

WHEN visitors come to ­Newbattle Abbey College, they soon realise that it is steeped in ­history. Part of the original 12th century Cistercian monastery remains and what became the Declaration of Arbroath was drafted at Newbattle in 1320.

Marion Doherty has been appointed as new principal and chief executive at Newbattle Abbey College, Scotlands national centre of excellence for adult learning.

Most of the central structure of our beautiful building dates from the 16th century when it was the family home of the Marquis of Lothian.

The Lothian family bequeathed the building to the nation in 1937, to serve as ­Scotland’s first national ­residential college for adults seeking a second chance in education.

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We celebrated our 80th ­anniversary last year, ­following an exciting project to highlight Newbattle’s role as a training centre for service personnel during the Second World War and a retraining centre thereafter.

This is just a snapshot of Newbattle’s history. In 2020, we will host an international conference (complete with a Harvard professor) to mark the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, and Newbattle’s part in it.

When I took over as principal last month I was honoured to become part of Newbattle’s long and rich history.

I would encourage all ­visitors and partners to look beyond that history and ­recognise Newbattle’s vital role in ­education in 2018 and beyond. At this pivotal time, our national and local role has never been more relevant. We are key members of the National Strategic Forum for Adult Learning and have ­hosted several national conferences to promote adult learning across all educational sectors. We have also established ourselves as a hub for Gaelic and Celtic culture in south east Scotland.

Newbattle plays a key role in offering a second chance to adults for whom education didn’t work out first time around. Our Access to Higher Education Courses have been very successful in enabling adults to progress to a range of higher education options and transform their lives.

Newbattle also has a crucial part to play in ­supporting young people, ­particularly those who have faced challenges in their lives. The ­college has developed ­relationships with local primary and high schools and is a member of Midlothian Council’s ­Community Planning Partnership. Our successful Associate Programme with Queen ­Margaret University has ­enabled us to offer an HNC in Social Sciences.

Our Rural Skills courses have also been a real ­success. These are designed for people of all ages who enjoy working ­outdoors, including those who might not thrive in a classroom. Students learn about estate maintenance, trees and wildlife and also make the environment more attractive for those who use our grounds. Later this year we will be launching our new Forest Awards, a unique development in Scotland for adults and younger learners.

Newbattle has already led the development of Adult Achievement Awards, another first for Scotland. These enable adults to gain national accreditation in a wide variety of contexts – the community, the home, the workplace, in employability programmes and through volunteering. They have helped many adults progress to ­further learning and boosted their confidence and wellbeing.

It’s encouraging to see new, flexible opportunities for adults returning to learning. But it’s clear that adults need accurate information about what is on offer locally and nationally. Many also need support to access these opportunities and to progress to other options. There is a need to develop adult guidance locally and nationally for the benefit of learners and providers. That’s why Newbattle has included this important theme in its next national adult learning conference on 24 April.

Newbattle is constantly developing programmes and partnerships in response to the needs of learners. We are proud of our national role in adult learning and look forward to continuing this leadership in the years ahead.

Marian Docherty is principal, Newbattle Abbey College.