Staffordshire Business School Students take a STeLLL:aR approach to Learning, Surviving and Thriving in Lockdown

Carol Southall, Course Director, Staffordshire Business SChool

STudent Life and Learning in Lockdown: achieving Resilience (STeLLL:aR)

Staffordshire Business School students are not alone in their sense of isolation as they work remotely on modules and projects as part of their undergraduate, postgraduate or research degrees. What makes them STeLLL:aR is their efforts to work with the tools and technology they have access to and really engage with industry, as well as with other Schools and students across the University.

So far this academic year we have seen numerous examples of this resilience and engagement with learning through projects such as the Social Isolation Project – Digital Pub in the Cloud, a joint collaboration between Arts and Events students to address the issue of social isolation through the medium of art and well-publicised events to showcase and disseminate the messages that #ArtsMeanBusiness and #AMEtoConnect are key to better communications about this issue in these challenging times.

The Connected Café, designed and managed by Staffordshire Business School students, including our Department Representatives, will enable students to meet virtually, engage in fun activities and get to know their peers across different courses.

For Level 5 Event Management students, working with Appetite to establish the need for greater engagement with the arts and cultural sector across the City of Stoke on Trent, has offered a real insight into the importance of the arts and culture in our daily lives, especially as we recognise now more than ever, the human need for social interaction. The questionnaire, designed by the students, in partnership with Appetite, aims to establish awareness of Appetite and give a chance for respondents to suggest what arts and cultural entertainment they would be likely to engage in, were it possible to do so.

The Trentham Gardens volunteer programme, set up by staff from Staffordshire Business School and the Events Team at Trentham, aims to offer events volunteer opportunities to all SBS students. Event Management students have already been involved in volunteering for the December Fairy Lights event and have clocked up an impressive number of (socially-distanced) hours between them in the lead-up to Christmas. The package of training, travel expenses and opportunities to enhance employability skills has really enhanced student learning, and offered some respite from the challenge of lockdown. Events students have also been able to work remotely with the team at Trentham Gardens, to carry out a survey to establish awareness of the Gardens and Retail Village amongst specific target markets. Students presented their survey results and gave suggestions of how to attract their identified target market, as well as suggesting some events more likely to attract the target market in question. The students will also form a focus group for the Trentham team when their new event ideas are explored further.

Recognising the challenges faced by people in lockdown, Level 6 Event Management students have organised a challenge event #TogetherAtHome, for their final year project, the aim of which is to bring people together throughout lockdown, by encouraging them to share original, unique and creative photos/videos to generate positivity. Their Facebook page is and any donations received through this project, will go towards Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank, to help individuals in need during COVID-19.

The Celebrating Student Success Awards were held at the end of January 2021, to showcase student achievements throughout the course of lockdowns 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0. The Awards event was planned and hosted by students for students, highlighting the resilience and successes of students, as well as their ability to mentor their peers. With categories ranging from Staffs Superhero, through to Funniest Teams Moment (and there were many) and Helping Hand Award, nominees were recognised for their contribution to their own success and that of others.

Throughout lockdown, Deon Wong (FdA Visitor Attraction and Resort Management) has strived to use his free time effectively, whether that be developing new key skills or taking advantage of learning opportunities. To maintain his level of creativity and imagination, he took the time to produce a unique online competitive gameshow, allowing a diverse range of people, to compete against each other in a variety of social, physical and strategic challenges. As Deon says:

“The project allowed me to challenge myself through innovative designing, planning and executing a live-event. Hosting involves a depth of planning, time management, problem-solving and technical skills. The skills accumulated, have been evident in my academic work, where I have demonstrated a range of skills. I’ve also been a contestant myself, developing my strategic-thinking, communication and observational skills, when evaluating my opponent’s social behaviour. The knowledge gained can be applied to future opportunities, for instance, marketing as it involves analysing customers behaviours.”

For Tom Murray (FdA Visitor Attraction and Resort Management), lockdown has been anything but a hindrance. Despite multiple lockdowns and cancellation to events his endeavour to remain a lifelong learner has continued to flourish. In the first lockdown, he was able to completely redesign his website from a mobile friendly site to a fully-fledged mobile web app. Not only did he learn the necessary skills to design, develop and test his site, but also the business skills to set targets and reasonable goals and measure achievement…Throughout summer he continued his employment at Alton Towers Resort with the Rides department and continued to grow existing and new skills (like shouting with masks and visors on!) which enabled him to hit the ground running with the start of his first year studying Visitor Attractions and Resort Management.

Tom says “Like the rest of us, I’ve also had to get to grips with Teams meetings, interviews, lectures and everything in-between but it’ll certainly be a valuable skill in the future!” 

For Business Management students, studying ‘Managing Across Cultures’ could potentially be a challenge in the current situation, where access to, and immersion in, national cultures is restricted. Not so for the current Level 5 cohort undertaking this module. They will be heading off, virtually of course, to KAMK University of Applied Sciences in Finland for 2 days in March, to explore how organisations are ‘Going Global’. In addition, the same students will also be heading to Stuttgart in Germany, again in March, to attend an international business simulation, organized by DHBW (Duale Hochschule Baden-Württemberg, Stuttgart – Baden-Wuerttemberg Cooperative State University, Stuttgart). Those virtual passport stamps just keep on coming!

Studying Visitor Attraction and Resort Management is about so much more than rollercoasters, as evidenced by our students’ engagement in the recent Institute of Hospitality and Manchester Hoteliers Association virtual student forum – Passion 4 Hospitality. The 90-minute webinar discussed and reviewed the merits and rewards of the global hospitality industry, with a high-profile panel discussing career opportunities available this year. The keynote speaker was Matt Townley FIH, GM of the Dakota Hotel Manchester, with his focus on “The road to being a GM in your 30’s”. The panel comprised Adrian Ellis FIH, GM The Lowry Hotel, Manchester and Chair of the Manchester Hospitality Association; Steven Hesketh, CEO at Savvy Hotel Group and Vice Chair of Liverpool Hospitality Association, Chair of Chester Hospitality Association, Board Member of the Liverpool Enterprise Partnership Employment & Skills Board; Sue Davison, Head of Apprenticeship, Sodexo; and Q&A moderated by Peter Ducker, Chief Executive FIH. Also in attendance, and discussing student opportunities in the north of England was Garry Fortune, Melia Hotels Regional General Manager.

Their enthusiasm and passion for the industry really shone through, and in Dylan’s words, [it was]

“Fantastic to have an insight on the challenges and methods to achieve well in the hospitality industry”.

Tom also commented,

“One of the main things I took away from the webinar was the amount of opportunities the Hospitality sector can provide. Learning about Matt Townley’s journey to becoming manager of the Dakota Hotel was really inspiring”.

This was supported by a passionate statement from Chloe who said

“One thing I learned from this webinar that really resonated with me, was when Matt Townley touched on striving to find your specialism and niche within the hospitality industry, which can be done by having a well-planned strategy and having that passion to achieve your goals”.

Tom and Steven also commented on the forum, noting the importance of mentoring, the idea that attitude, passion and desire to learn is vitally important to success in industry and that “complacency has negative impacts and should be avoided to ensure you are always on top of your game or proactive to resolve issues”.

An often-underestimated attribute, the importance of emotional intelligence was acknowledged by industry leaders. As Jade says, “It’s an underestimated skill which is critical in leadership roles and, recognising this will improve employability in the industry in ways that I can’t wait to witness”.

Both Lucy and Ella noted the importance of identifying a route through to your dream job:

Lucy –  “it was really good to listen to the fact that they’re pointing out how if you want to work for a brand, anyway you can you should get involved, and it may not be in the role you want but you can climb up and get there with time and hard work”.

Ella – “learning more about the hospitality industry has gave me an insight on what career paths I can take down that route, what I can do to be successful whether it is in my job role or applying to future jobs within the industry and it was lovely to see another person’s point of view of how they gained success through the hospitality industry. I can use this information on future assessments or in general to help me become successful in the career I would like”.

What’s more, look at how useful and versatile our Staffordshire Business School hoodies are – especially at protecting against the elements!

For Heather Wingfield (FdA Visitor Attraction and Resort Management) lockdown has simply been an opportunity to enhance knowledge and skills and gain those micro-credentials that are so important for employability enhancement. As Heather herself states:

“The pandemic has presented me with the opportunity to spend lots of time investing in myself. I have been keeping busy by carrying out extra learning, which has provided brilliant insights into the Visitor Attraction Industry. The cancellation of in person events has allowed students to access a range of industry events and webinars from home, at no or little cost, for the first time. For example, the IAAPA and Blooloop Virtual Expos. These events have proven to be invaluable and have allowed me to build my network with students and professionals from around the world, even in a time when we can’t travel. Another great way to network during these difficult times is to join an industry association, for example IAAPA (The International Association for Amusement Parks and Attractions). I have found they also have a wide range of resources which have enabled me to improve my commercial awareness.

I have also been able to build my knowledge by completing a Certificate in Post Crisis Hospitality Management for free due to the pandemic, this would usually cost $250. As well as improving my knowledge, I have developed skills such as time management and organisational skills. These opportunities have helped me realise the importance of being a lifelong learner, one of the Staffordshire Graduate Competencies in the University’s new Employability Framework. I anticipate that these opportunities to invest in myself will improve my employability and enable me to become a global citizen.”