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West College Scotland Photography and Media students put their creative heads together at a “Nature-Nurture” cross-campus retreat in February.

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In the first of what will become an annual opportunity to boost creativity and interdisciplinary learning, fifty students and staff from Clydebank and Paisley campuses spent three days at Crianlarich Youth Hostel.

The diverse programme of activities was designed to boost collaboration and idea generation across courses, foster wellbeing and prepare for working in the creative economy. Students built their own schedule each day, choosing from workshops such as social and pet photography, collaborative open-air writing and capturing sound in the wild.

The trip was led by Julie Cooper, Curriculum Enhancement Lecturer for Photography. She explained why she and other staff feel that experiences like this are so important, "Being away – retreating from – the familiar environment of home and college, and being free for a few days from caring and work responsibilities, enables us to see things in new ways.

We wanted to use the natural beauty of the location and its ever-changing environment to encourage fresh thinking and content.

'Working towards a trip like this helps students build both vocational and personal confidence.

They worked hard to fundraise for accommodation, transport and food.

'A month before, they held an event at the Moya Studio in Paisley campus where they sold prints, pre-loved clothing and ran a photo booth.

'With students from both campuses supporting the night, it was a great way to bring the group together before we set off into the hills.”

Good mental and physical wellbeing drives the creative process, and students had access to activities like morning yoga, mindfulness and meditative walking. Most of the workshops were held outdoors and, when the weather closed in, they learned a lot about managing unpredictable conditions and changing environments.

HNC Photography Paisley student, Katerina Posvek (46) from Glasgow, said, "The retreat was an enjoyable and enriching experience filled with abundant opportunities. It was enjoyable and engaging to connect with students from both the HND and NC courses.

Despite the variable weather conditions, I found the experience to be quite calming and enjoyable.

“It was a unique experience to participate in both astro and dog photoshoots, activities I hadn't previously encountered.”

Students have reflected on the value of the experience as an opportunity for learning and networking across disciplines. Sharing workshops and communal tasks built a strong sense of community, and new friendships developed on the retreat are growing interdisciplinary creative hubs on campuses.

HNC Media and Communication Clydebank student, Ben Aitchison (20) from Glasgow, said: "It was a great opportunity to meet others in the college and make memories and relationships that will last a long time. We got to have a go at a bunch of different activities to take part in and learn from.

I’d definitely go again. It was a great time!”

One of the most popular experiences was astrophotography. Student HND Photography Paisley student Erica Hannah Butler shared her skills with budding stargazers under skies clear enough to capture constellations such as The Plough and The Pleiades.

NC Photography Paisley student Kathleen Sloan (38) from Barrhead said: “You don’t normally get the chance to photograph the night sky in that way so to do that was amazing.”

For many of the younger participants, the impact of Covid restrictions over the last few years mean this was their first experience of being away from home.

Enya Fortuna, Lecturer in Media and Photography at Clydebank campus, explained why this is such an important extension of their college curriculum, “This is the first residential trip our teams have been able to plan since 2019. In the spirit of youth hostelling, students were responsible for the preparation and serving of all meals and clearing up after.

It was lovely to see young people, whose confidence had been shaken by their experience during Covid, take such a significant step towards independence and recovery.

With students and staff responding so enthusiastically to the field trip, plans are already underway for next year.

Julie Cooper commented “This retreat was a real success with lasting impacts. Bringing individuals together in such a special place shows our commitment to giving our students not just knowledge and skills for work and life, but memories and friendships they will never forget.”

Thank you to Clydebank HND Media student, Emilia Dancu who created a video from the Retreat content.