It’s been over a week now since The MTA announced that it was closing in Sept 2022. That’s a week of everybody including me attempting to process the news.
Having bizarrely gone through this week last year too I’m struck by how different it is this time. Maybe of course because last year as soon as we announced it some hope materialised within days, so it never really felt real at all.
Last time we knew that this was coming. We’d had months recognising that the problem was real, with weeks passing before people applied to join us. It was inevitable that the closure announcement was going to come.
This year the hope came before the announcement, which somehow made this feel all the worse. You see even though we’d lost a benefactor there was always the hope of the Trinity validation pulling through for us, after all, as I’ve written about a fair few times now, the evidence from the day of the assessment and subsequent assessors coming to see our shows was overwhelmingly positive. Literally, hours chatting to the main assessor both on the day of the pre-validation assessment and even before had clearly raised no red flags at all (and trust me when I say that I’m always on the lookout for red flags). The assessor (John Gardyne) clearly understood what he was talking about, and was hugely diligent in his dealings with us.
We always knew that we needed 3 things to survive beyond this year, and we knew that we could have survived with 2 of the 3 things in place, we didn’t need the full house. The 3 things were simple, additional funding, the cohort size returning to pre-pandemic levels and the all-important validation from Trinity. Now 1 and 2 and intrinsically linked – which John completely understood. If there were no major issues on our course and we were able to whiz through the validation process, for the first time since 2018 we would have been in a position to offer assistance with fees.
For background from 2011 – 2018 we were able to offer students help via a government back Professional Career Development Loan – the PCDL. Whilst not massive – just £10K/student, we saw our applications increase once we were in a position to offer that help. Interestingly the criteria for that loan was determined by a government office all based on paperwork and stats, ensuring that we weren’t some rogue organisation.
I had attempted to shout loudly when the PCDL was suddenly pulled with no warning, and have subsequently continued to scream into the abyss like some harbinger of doom with vocational training’s death knell ringing loudly into my own echo chamber, but nobody listened. They all just turned away because it didn’t impact them. We were after all an outlier of a college so we were hugely insignificant. Our problems were exactly that. . . “our” problems.
Anyway, back to ‘now’ and our situation, suddenly being able to apply for a validation that could access the Advanced Learner Loan, a loan worth £22k/student for us, was clearly going to be a game changer. Even taking into account the current cost of living crisis, the increased competition within the training market, the number of phone calls and conversations on lives on various platforms was proof if proof was needed that having an ALL attached to the funding options for the course was going to completely put us back on track. We 100% had to get through another year with a teeny tiny cohort which was always going to be a challenge BUT there were ways and means around that. Our business plan was going to look hugely different with that student funding stream secured, meaning that we could have looked to the bank to help us through the 2022-23 academic year. My wife and I were still down as guarantors for loans taken out by the college, and we had already discussed the possibility of guaranteeing a loan to get us through the next year. There was no way that we’d do it without the validation in place though as we had already loaned the business a lot of money back in 2015 to facilitate the move to our new premises and that money was still in the college, so we would have had to be really sure of success before committing even more finance.
So with all of these “knowns” in place, we had hope in abundance. For sure with each passing week that Trinity failed to send us the report that hope waivered. We needed to move onto the full validation assessment with a real urgency in order to secure it and advertise the fact that our training came with some form of student funding.
When the report landed in July a few days after having made a formal complaint to Trinity about the 4 months of delay, it was devastating to discover that the report that was presented to us bore no relationship to the report that was verbally discussed with me back in March. In fact, I barely recognised the college within that report. Over the past week, we’ve released that report to our students & graduates (as I’ve always believed in completely transparency), and they are equally bemused by what they’ve read.
You see #theMTAway truly is unique, and unless you’ve taught at the college or been a student there or, like John, spent hours trying to understand how it worked, you just couldn’t blag a report on it. Well. . . I say you couldn’t, somebody at Trinity has clearly given it a bloody good go.
So this year’s closure does feel vastly different – but predominantly because this year’s closure is unfair, and whilst we all come to terms with that, the fact that a major organisation such as Trinity has not only failed to own up to their part in our demise, but rather lie even further in the most ridiculous of press releases that salt is being rubbed rather harshly into the wounds.
They have just 9 more days to present the findings of their external arbiter, plus 9 days to present the full report – complete with our 6 pages of corrections. I’ll say it again though – a report on our training cannot be blagged, it’s a unique 2-year training programme so unless they’ve found the original report or at least spoken to our original assessor this is all going to get very messy. THAT’S why this year feels so different – we’re definitely closing, but the post-mortem into why we’ve been forced to close is going to drag on for months, and eventually, I know that we’re going to be vindicated, at which point that hope will turn to despair at all that we might have been and all that we’ve lost. The loss of a truly unique college amongst the homogeny of training available, the loss of free training & rehearsal space for our graduates, the loss of a creative hub for new writing, and that’s before you even start to count up the financial cost of it all that, wages, redundancy monies, lease, deposits, damn it. . . even our loan.
We’re over. . . but we’re not