‘Autism can be a superpower’

When Megan Knight switched from university to study Beauty Therapy at Harrogate College, she was worried about feeling overwhelmed.

Megan is autistic and knew there would be both learning barriers and sensory triggers, due to all of the creams, oils and other substances involved, to overcome while pursuing her studies.

But the college’s staff worked closely with her to draw up an action plan that would remove obstacles and give Megan the very best chance to succeed – and it worked.

Megan, who is in her twenties, went on to excel at her course at both Level 2 and 3, and the college continued to support her when she started applying for spa therapist jobs.

Programme Manager for Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy at Harrogate College, Steph Keedy, said: “We decided to put a little explanation together for the employers Megan was approaching, about why having autism was actually a benefit for the role of a spa therapist.

“This really helped them gain some understanding, and it resulted in Megan gaining employment at a spa, at Hazlewood Castle, which is her dream job.”

Autism Europe says that a ‘serious lack of adapted education and training’ is one of the greatest barriers that autistic people face in terms of trying to gain employment.

Megan is now loving her spa therapist role, but acknowledges the extra barriers that people with autism have to overcome when they are studying and job-hunting.

Pushing past stigma

She said: “I absolutely adore my job at Hazlewood Castle! We have a fantastic team and everyone is super-supportive.

“My Spa Manager couldn’t be any nicer and has been a rock to me these last few months. Despite only being in my role for a short amount of time, I’ve been able to progress so far and I’m so grateful to be given that level of responsibility.

“When you’re autistic and trying to get a job, many employers are unsure about autism as there is still plenty of stigma around it. You just have to push through and keep applying without letting any rejections discourage you.

“If, and when, employers do ask about it I’ve found it best to focus on what autism can positively do – it can be a superpower if you let it be.”

She is full of praise for the help she received at college – and has words of encouragement for anyone else considering a similar journey.

Exceptional support – and a message for others

She said: “Due to all the different sensations you experience during the Beauty Therapy course (through being expolsed to oils, creams, exfoliants and similar substances) there’s always a risk that something will set off a negative sensory response.

“But my tutors at Harrogate were great at setting a calming work environment, so I was less likely to be triggered.

“Autism can also affect the way we learn but, due to me being a visual learner, I was often able to watch a treatment demo before being able to copy it myself.

“For others with autism who are thinking of studying or applying for a job, I would say – never let the ignorance surrounding autism get in your way.

“Despite the difficulties and struggles we can face every day, your autism gives you a creative view on the world, so work with that and let that creativity shine through. Stay focused on your goal and don’t let anyone get in your way.”

Steph added: “Megan keeps in touch with all the beauty team and has told us she would like to come in and share her learner journey with our current students, and demonstrate some of the treatments she now carries out in the spa.

“She has come such a long way in just under three years, what an absolute success!”

Creative students dazzle local audiences at final year show 

Two students studying a Master’s degree in Creative Practice at Harrogate College have wowed members of the community at their final year exhibition.

Presenting their work at Hopewell Studios in Knaresborough, Gill Owen and Helen Hopper showcased their journey of studying at Harrogate College.

Friends, family and guests were invited to attend the show, alongside the Mayor of Harrogate, Trevor Chapman, and his wife. 

The exhibition, named ‘Thrown Together’ tells a story of two adult learners who started their journey with a day course at the college, where they decided to broaden their subject knowledge and technical ability. Due to their infectious enthusiasm and undeniable talent, they both secured places on the Creative Practice MA.

Self-guided research was at the heart of the programme, which allowed Gill and Helen to follow their interests and challenge their own methods of practice. While both studying ceramics, they focused on different aspects and disciplines within the diverse field.

Gill focused her work on sustainable and locally-sourced materials, producing hand thrown forms.


“Although the past few years have been difficult and challenging due to the pandemic, which forced us to adapt and refocus on many occasions, the course has been an incredibly rewarding experience. We’ve experimented in different creative media with skilled tutors in the field of printmaking and photography, alongside our ceramics research.

“We have learnt a great deal about ourselves, each other and the generosity of the pottery community and their craft.”

Helen focused her work on the sculpture and manipulation of the thrown form.

The final year show was an inspiring celebration of their work, research and what has developed into a great friendship.

Now their studies are complete, Gill has taken on the role of technician in the college’s ceramics department, while Helen is considering further development of her practice in exploring glass.

The pair have also set up their own studio space at Spa Studios.

Adults get a taste of Harrogate College

Adults across Harrogate were invited to get a taste of the curriculum during the college’s Have a Go Fortnight, as part of the national Festival of Learning.

The festival runs each year to celebrate the benefits of lifelong learning, such as improved wellbeing, increased confidence and developing new skills.

Over two weeks, adults aged 19 and over took part in a range of taster sessions to discover a range of diverse subjects. The tasters included still life drawing, ceramics and print, film and animation, hairdressing and computer software.

Alison Carney, Creative Arts Tutor at Harrogate College, said: “The still life drawing session was really positive and enjoyable, it was great to see new faces in a relaxing and social environment. All attendees were keen to know more about the course; it was great to see them all engaged and eager to learn.”

Alex Watson, who attended the still life drawing taster, said: “I chose this taster as I’ve always been interested in art and I love to learn. 

“The session was brilliant; I enjoyed meeting the other attendees and the tutor, Alison, was fantastic! She was incredibly encouraging and friendly in her professionalism.”

If you’re aged 19 or over and would like to discover the range of courses at college, take a look at our adult course page here.

Have a Go at Harrogate College

Are you looking to develop your expertise and learn something new? 

At Harrogate College, we are all about providing life-changing opportunities through quality education and training that is tailored to meet the needs of our local employers and community.

This year, we’re inviting adults aged 19 and over to come into college to discover our range of diverse subjects, as part of the Festival of Learning.

Festival of Learning

The Festival of Learning is a national campaign which celebrates lifelong learning for adults. 

The festival’s mission is to demonstrate the benefits of adult learning and raise awareness across the country. Some of the key reasons to engage in adult learning include:

Take part in our Have a Go Fortnight

If you’re interested in adult learning, but aren’t sure which course is for you, why not come down to college and get a taste of our diverse curriculum areas?

Our Have a Go Fortnight will be running from 1 to 12 November at Harrogate College, which prides itself on providing exceptional education and training within a nurturing and inclusive environment.

Over these two weeks, we’re inviting all adults across the region to learn something new, enhance employability and improve wellbeing through our bespoke adult taster sessions.

Our available taster sessions include:

Ongoing events

As part of the Festival of Learning, we’re working with local partners across the district to deliver programmes and events that develop the skills and support the mental health and wellbeing of adults.

Discover our upcoming events here.

Harrogate College joins Leeds City Region partners to prioritise adult learning

Harrogate College, a member of Luminate Education Group, has teamed up with partners across the Leeds City Region to host a series of free short courses for adults, as part of the national Festival of Learning.  

The group is working alongside local organisations and education providers to get adults in the region back into education, following the challenges of the pandemic. 

Now in its 29th year, the Festival of Learning (formerly Adult Learners’ Week) was launched to celebrate adult students and encourage others to participate in lifelong learning. 

Danny Wild, Principal at Harrogate College, said: “It’s fantastic to be part of a partnership that is putting adults at the forefront of the education agenda. It’s been a tough year with the pandemic and by bolstering our offer, especially lifestyle courses, we hope to boost adult wellbeing and confidence. 

“The Festival of Learning celebrates adult learning at all levels and stages of life; whether that’s developing a new skill, brushing up and updating knowledge or taking it to an advanced level.”

Yultan Mellor, Principal and Chief Executive at Northern College, added: “The festival is a superb opportunity for us to shine a spotlight on the different expressions of adult learning across the region, including community, college, home and residential settings. Our collaborative activities aim to showcase the benefits of adult education, including flexibility, financial support, personalised experiences and positive wellbeing outcomes.”

As part of the Festival of Learning, adults will be encouraged to develop skills, enhance their employability and improve wellbeing through a range of taster sessions, residential days, virtual seminars and open days.

Set to launch in July, the Festival of Learning activities will kickstart with a Returning to Education: Support for Adult Learners webinar at University Centre Leeds on 20 July. Additional upcoming events include a Five Ways to Wellbeing Course at Northern College on 22 July.

Ann-Marie Spry, Vice Principal of Adults at Luminate Education Group, commented: “Adult education is central to the rebuilding of our economy in a post-Covid environment. Therefore, we are working with key stakeholders in the area to demonstrate how lifelong learning can better equip learners to adapt to unexpected change and enhance their skills, in order to suit the ever-changing job market.

“This partnership brings together experts across the region to identify how we can work together to achieve shared objectives to raise the profile of this vital agenda. Drawing expertise and insight from our partners helps us to understand the current climate, allowing us to overcome barriers to learning and champion adult education.”

In the next academic year, the partnership will be encouraging learners to take part in ‘Have a Go’ activities, providing adults with the opportunity to try different courses and discover their passion. Rebuilding relationships with the community will also be a key focus for partnership activities, including taster sessions in local community centres.

The education group, including Leeds City College, Keighley College, Harrogate College, White Rose Academies Trust and University Centre Leeds, is working with partners including West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Leeds City Council, Bradford Council, West Yorkshire Consortium of Colleges, University of Leeds, The Prince’s Trust and Northern College, to deliver shared adult learning objectives.

Find out more about the Festival of Learning partnership by discovering our upcoming events here and following the hashtag #FoLpartners on social media.