In 2016 we introduced some exciting new benefits including a Personal Development Allowance, enabling employees to claim up to £300 a year towards non work related personal development. As you’d expect, the allowance has been extremely well received and it’s been great to hear about some of the activities employees have engaged in.
As our HR Manager, Sarah Harris, explains, “We know we’re good at training and developing people within their roles, but we wanted to give them the opportunity to develop new skills outside of the workplace. It’s a chance for them to try something completely different and, in some cases, discover a hobby they’re really good at. Never underestimate the power of learning to sing, ride a horse or cook!”
Sarah Darby, who works in our Digital Team, used her Personal Development Allowance to undertake a ceramics course at North Warwickshire & Hinckley College. We caught up with her to find out how the course had gone.
Have you always wanted to try your hand at ceramics?
I hand-made a ceramic piece for one of my GCSEs, but that was 25 years ago! Last year, my husband and I visited a friend in Glasgow who’s a ceramic artist. She showed us around her studio and we tried throwing some small pots on the wheel. It was really good fun, even though the end results weren’t anything to shout about! That’s what sparked my interest.
So spinning pots is harder than it looks?!
It’s definitely is a lot harder than it looks! It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, but it’s very therapeutic once you get the hang of it.
Can you tell us about the course format, the equipment you had access to at the college, and the skills you’ve developed?
It was a beginners’ course, held on Monday evenings from 6pm until 9pm. It lasted 6 weeks and cost £80. In the first lesson we were taught a few hand building skills and I made a plant pot; it took me two hours, as I initially struggled to engage the creative side of my brain!
In the following weeks I made some large bowls using a plaster of paris mould and taking inspiration from Pinterest and Instagram. I found some really cool ideas and then experimented! I also spent some time on the wheel improving my technique with the help of the course tutor, Jason. There are 5 wheels at the college, so we were able to move between hand building and throwing as and when we wanted to.
The college supplied all of the clay, tools and glazes, and there was just a small charge if we wanted to make something at home and fire it back at the college. I learned so much on the course and the progress I have made definitely shows in the quality of the pots that are now scattered around our house!
Do you plan on using your newly found skills going forwards?
I’m so passionate about ceramics and have already set up my own studio at home. My tutor gave me a great deal on a second hand wheel and my first order of clay (100 kilos!) arrived a few weeks ago. I love bringing my creations into the office and showing my colleagues – they make a great talking point! My friends and family know what they’ll be getting for Christmas this year!
In your opinion, what are the benefits of employers offering personal development funding?
Without the Personal Development Allowance, I would never have enrolled on the course. Having the funding available encouraged me to give it a go because I felt I had nothing to lose! I never thought I’d say this, but making pots makes me feel incredibly happy – and I guess that’s a good thing for both me and the company!