Having led Sunderland College since 2012, Anne Isherwood, principal and chief executive, is handing over the reins to her recently-appointed replacement, Ellen Thinnesen, who takes charge of the college in the new year.
Stepping down from board roles on Sunderland’s Economic Leadership Board (ELB) and the North East LEP in the process, Anne says she is leaving behind a college and region that is transforming.
During her tenure, she has overseen the opening of the college’s Bede Campus new-builds, which have created state-of-the-art spaces for sport and visual and performing arts students, and she retires just months before the opening of a £29million flagship city centre campus – something she believes is making a huge statement about the ambition of Sunderland College.
Anne said: “The new building represents much more than just another campus. It is a chance for us to draw more students from beyond the boundary of the city, being just metres away from the city’s main bus interchange and Metro station.
“And more than that, it is a truly leading-edge environment, from which we will deliver our professional and technical offer.
“It will be a base for our growing engineering provision – a sector that we know will be critical to the ongoing success of the North East economy.
“We all know the growth potential that exists within the engineering and manufacturing sector, but that really does depend on the area’s ability to maintain a healthy talent pool, to remain competitive on a global stage.”
As well as engineering, she said the North East is seeing real growth in software, digital and tech businesses, so the college’s provision in this regard is growing and it is forming strong partnerships with the University of Sunderland and Sunderland Software City.
Anne said: “Part of our role is to predict and pre-empt the prevalent sectors of tomorrow and start to develop our provision to support them today, before we find out there are shortages. And that is what we are doing.”
Last summer, the Government announced plans to carry out area reviews to scrutinise the role of further education and sixth form colleges across the country to ensure they are run efficiently to deliver maximum value for public investment, and in a way that addresses regional skills gaps.
Anne said: “Sunderland College is an organisation that has moved beyond being an education provider. We have become a genuine partner to the businesses we work with; we support them to meet their skills needs and ensure their pipeline of fresh talent remains strong.
“The role of FE is no longer just about bridging the gap between school and university – it is a sector that is making a huge difference to the lives of young people, and is providing industry with work-ready people who have the skills, acumen and worldliness to succeed. And the college is a real shining light when it comes to this.”
As well as leaving the college, Anne will relinquish her Local Enterprise Partnership and Economic Leadership Board roles at the end of this year too.
She added: “I honestly believe that the North East will realise its vast potential. There has been much talk of the Northern Powerhouse, and questions asked about what role the North East can play in it. I would say, we already are. And we should never underestimate the role that we will continue to play in it.
“Look at the businesses we have here. Look at the great success many have seen in recent months and years. Look at some of the major development projects coming up – whether it is the IAMP, that is expected to see Sunderland and South Tyneside create more than 5,000 jobs, or some of the rising stars of the North East business scene like Hitachi Rail and Atom Bank, among others.
“In Sunderland, we are seeing real change too, and it has been fantastic to play a role in this during my time with the Economic Leadership Board. We’re getting a real sense of momentum in the city and have a clear plan for the next three, six and nine years about where the city is headed, and what will be achieved.
“There is a renewed sense of vibrancy in Sunderland – we’re seeing hotels springing up in the city; we have a FabLab that will help generations to innovate; we will soon see work underway at the Vaux site, which is a huge step forward for the area.”
The outgoing principal said the college has a pivotal role to play in the success of both the city and region and is ensuring people and businesses are fit for the future and ready to face the changing economic landscape that is ahead.
She said: “In that sense, it actually feels quite apt to be stepping down at this time, having made decisions during my tenure that I am sure will leave a lasting legacy for the area. There will be change ahead for the college and indeed for the North East, and I look forward to watching both prosper over the course of the coming months and years.”