Image of Mark Smithers from Access Creative College

Nurturing the next generation of creative talent: We chat to Access Creative College

In our home city of Bristol, we make it our mission at AMBITIOUS to get involved in the creative sector locally. One area we are passionate about is how the next generation of PR people, content creators, designers, and general agency folk are being nurtured. How will our future employees and colleagues learn their trade and get the best possible chance for a rewarding career?

So, we spoke to AMBITIOUS client Mark Smithers, who is centre manager at Access Creative College, about the role that specialist Further Education (FE) colleges can play. Working hand in hand with the industry can open a host of opportunities for students and businesses in Bristol.

This is what he had to say….

Tell us about Access Creative College (ACC).  What are its main points of difference?

We are a specialist FE college offering a range of subjects within the creative arts sector. We have been providing learning for over 20 years and our alumni include some of the most prominent names in the Bristol creative scene.

What sets us apart is that our lecturers are current industry practitioners. They keep abreast of professional practice that directly informs their teaching, and in turn, the learning experience of the students.

We also have a brand new, state-of-the-art campus on All Saints Road in central Bristol with a 100-seat performance space, green screen rooms, a virtual reality (VR) room, rehearsal spaces, art rooms, and music recording studios. This huge range of facilities makes ACC the place to study creative subjects in Bristol.

Can you tell us about your background and your role at ACC?

I’m the centre manager, and it’s my responsibility to ensure that learners have an outstanding experience. I make sure that they’re prepared for employment, and that the quality of teaching and learning is outstanding.

My focus is operations. It’s a broad role that spans from organising timetables to liaising with student body committees to evaluating our strengths, always looking for ways to do things better.

The experience for students at ACC is unlike anywhere else. We pride ourselves on providing a learning environment that truly reflects the industries the students will go on to work in, in the future. Over the years we have developed and refined the learning experience, from the facilities and equipment provided the support from tutors, industry leaders, and our wider team.  Our aim is to give students the very best opportunities for the future – for rewarding and fulfilling careers.


What are the key disciplines you teach at your Bristol Campus?

At ACC, we have many pathways, games, media, photography, music performance, and music production. Within each discipline, there are a number of options, so within games, we have games art or games tech.

Students are taught in classes either specific to their course or in collaboration with another department. That’s a big part of how we teach at ACC. It’s about giving the students context and an idea of how their skills might fit in the workplace. As a result, we often set briefs where music students compose sound for video games, or for graphic designers to create work for album covers, for example.

How do you work with employers and how does this support students to find work in the future?  

From September 2021, we will be offering a Digital Production, Design and Development      T Level qualification. T Levels are a new alternative to A levels and offer a more vocational route in a number of subjects. This course is equivalent to three A-Levels and involves a compulsory 45-day work placement in industry.

We also work with employers through workplace visits, we invite leaders in the creative sector locally to come in and judge student work in competitions. Their feedback is incredibly useful for the students. It also helps inform areas we might cover in the future.

We have “Industry Week”, which involves guests visiting the college to advise students on how to find work in a range of creative sectors, through interview techniques and networking.

Working hand in hand with industry means our students stay up to date with what’s important in the market, which is incredibly fast-paced. Students leave ACC with skills that are current and in demand in the sector locally.

Where do your students come from across the city?

Our students come from locations across Bristol, South Gloucestershire, Bath, and even Weston-Super-Mare. Students come to us from a diversity of backgrounds and having our campus in the city centre means we are accessible by public transport from a number of places.

Given that the courses we provide extend past compulsory education, we also have a community of mature students. In many cases, they went to college, decided to change direction, and came to us. Being a specialist in the creative industries, we can offer a more tailored route to a chosen career.

What are the biggest challenges facing your students entering the creative markets locally?

I think the biggest barriers to students are their confidence in their ability to network. They’ve left school, often not been in the workplace, and not yet presented themselves professionally.

We can help with this. Work placements are an essential part of building confidence and relationships. As is working in an environment with industry grade kit, which is why we provide this at the Bristol campus. Our tutors are creative professionals in their own right and bring a network of contacts, advice, and shared experience. We are also strong on developing life skills. We teach interview techniques, confidence building, and support students to find work experience and employment opportunities.

What opportunities await your students when they leave ACC?

For many creative sectors, it’s a really booming time. Take the games industry, for example, there was a massive spike in sales during COVID, and now the market is growing at a huge rate. We are confident about what that means for our students in terms of job prospects whether it’s computing specialists who write the code, designers creating the visuals, or marketeers who will go on to promote the games. There are many skills required and these are transferrable from and to roles in other markets.

Another big employer is the events industry. In the aftermath of the pandemic, we will see a resurgence. The industry will need to scale up to meet the huge pent-up demand and this means that there will be opportunities for work.

If you had a message for industry employers in Bristol on hiring young creatives, what would it be?

Employers play a critical role in providing training and opportunity for the next generation of creative talent. My message to them is to be open-minded, be inclusive.

Look and see what they have to offer, what this might mean for them, and how they can help your business.

Our students are digital natives, so they have the skills that my generation has had to train for. It’s second nature to these young people. They can come into your business and add value from day one. Give them the chance.


To find out more about Access Creative College, visit