In this case study, we’ll look at how Weston College aimed to reach a wider audience during the pandemic through its digital channels.
We heard from Dave Crew, Head of Business Growth & Employer Partnership at Weston College, who spoke about their attempts to adapt their digital communications to the rapidly changing world around them.
About Weston College
Weston College is based in Weston-super-Mare in Somerset, England. They provide further and higher education to thousands, including:
- 2000+ apprentices
- 1000+ university students
- 1500 SEND learners
- 6465 19+ year olds
- 9723 16-18 year olds
- 7000+ prison education learners
They have been named Bristol & Bath Apprenticeship Provider of the Year in 2018, 2019, and 2020, as well as being awarded Ofsted Outstanding certificates in all areas.
Their mission statement is ‘Creating Brighter Futures’ and Dave’s team has been focused on growing the college as a business and securing partnerships to help them achieve this.
Covid-19 Caused a Rethink
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit and caused widespread disruption, Dave and his team asked themselves questions to help tackle this difficult period:
- Who are our customers?
- What was our strategy?
- Is the customer journey good enough?
- How can we galvanise the workforce and business community?
The digital audience of the college can be split into two parts, their internal customers and external customers.
Internally, there are the existing learners at the college and the staff.
Externally, there are employers, potential learners, parents, and potential partners.
Defining the college’s approach to digital communications throughout the Covid-19 pandemic was strongly centred around supporting all of its stakeholders.
They also focussed on three key aims in their messaging and communications: timing, relevance, and authenticity.
Their efforts results in ‘#MyVirtualCollege’ which enabled users to share content, ranging from videos on how to wear a face visor correctly through to mental health support resources.
MyVirtualCollege was also the platform used to deliver teaching sessions, and Weston College were praised by Gillian Keegan, Minister for Apprenticeships and Skills, for their work on the platform:
“Weston College was able to mobilise with impressive speed and capability to transfer its entire provision to a remote model creating MyVirtualCollege within 7 days prior to the college closing, and a massive 4,043 virtual teaching/support sessions were delivered in the first week.”
They were also praised for the high attendance they maintained during this period, with 88% overall attendance and A level/apprentices at 97%.
Partnerships and Content
Creating and nurturing regional partnerships has also been key to Weston College’s Covid-19 strategy.
By working with a range of partners they were able to deliver their message to a broader cohort of potential users.
Their partners include:
- Department for Education
- North Somerset Council
- Bristol Airport
- Weston-super-Mare Chamber of Commerce
- University of Bristol
- Rolls Royce
Having a diverse range of partners to work alongside and share content and resources through allowed the communications team to rapidly share, create, and repurpose a large amount of content.
Maintaining good relationships with employer partners was also crucial during this time, as it allowed them to consistently promote job opportunities and highlight the best the college had to offer.
This included launching their Covid-19 Recovery Hub, which offered support for businesses to access funding, bespoke training, and networking opportunities with the students.
In partnership with the North Somerset Enterprise Agency and Weston-super-Mare Chamber of Commerce, the college also launched their Wednesday Working Lunch.
This was an hour-long session every Wednesday throughout June and July, resulting in 10 weeks’ worth of sessions hosting 10 different speakers who delivered presentations on a range of subjects to do with maintaining good business relations.
The series attracted over 700 attendees from across the UK and hosted international visitors from Europe and the USA. Both internal and external speakers sought to bring business leaders together to offer opportunities to collaborate and educate during the disruptive period. 
The college also started a staff blog challenge as a way of creating personal and authentic content. This involved procuring 10 blogs from staff across 10 weeks, highlighting the successes and challenges they’d faced during the pandemic.
By posting these blogs on various channels they received over 600 views on the series, which included stories on securing new jobs during the pandemic and accessing funded work placements through the kickstart scheme.
Alongside this, they also increased their production of student stories content. They hosted webinars and encouraged students to write blogs of their own about their experiences of Covid-19 and the impact it had on their lives.
These included pieces on Early Year’s Apprenticeships, industry placement years, and how to maintain good mental health whilst under the lockdown restrictions.
The Results of the Rethink
With this refreshed thinking and strategy on content creation and distribution, Weston College saw impressive growth across its own platforms and social media channels.
The college had over 5000 visitors to the Covid-19 Recovery Hub from 1st September to 1st June.
Their LinkedIn membership had grown by 1,466, with 15,326 people being reached every month through their daily posts. The average user spends roughly 2 minutes on their website having clicked on one of the posts.
On Twitter, their following has grown to 9,057 users, and they regularly reach 1,500 through their posts.
The team working on digital communications for the college are now focused on driving more customer interaction and enhancing every user experience.
They want to continue to engage both their internal and external audience through continued content creation and launching more collaborative projects.
 Crew, Dave. 2021. Head of Business Growth & Employer Partnership, Weston College. Reaching a wider audience during a pandemic.
 Weston.ac.uk. 2021. Wednesday Working Lunch.