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Central Saint Martins x North East Fashion Knowledge Exchange

Allison Charlton, Head of Art and Design at Macmillan Academy, Middlesborough and Berni Yates. Credit: Hannah Karpel
Written by
Cat Cooper
Published date
14 September 2023

Our dynamic fashion sector is celebrated for design and has capacity to innovate and grow in areas like digital and technology, textiles, manufacturing, materials and communications. But if fashion and the wider creative industries are bursting with potential, it’s not always easy to find a way in.

Outside of the capital, a lack of access routes and guidance around creative education is a barrier for young people that creates a corresponding problem for employers. Looking to the North East, we have an area rich with manufacturing heritage and known for technical textiles production [Source: BFTT]. The region is rapidly developing new approaches to fashion and investing in its creative industries, so there is an urgent need to sustain and grow a creative workforce here and elsewhere.

With 20 years of outreach work with young people including an award-winning project between Alexander McQueen and local schools, Central Saint Martins Senior Lecturer and widening participation practitioner Berni Yates wanted to get people together to talk about the issues, to see what can be changed by everyone working together. Backed by the UAL Knowledge Exchange Fund – a mechanism for UAL academics to propose collaborative projects with external partners - Berni immersed in the North East for 3 months on a Knowledge Exchange secondment with the British Fashion Council (BFC), where she leads on the Education & Resource Development sub-group of their Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity steering committee.

Berni’s purpose was "to find out what’s going on up North" and to see how connecting people and knowledge could pave the way to broadening options for getting into fashion and the creative arts and pipelines into industry.

Students working with fashion and screens
Credit: Hannah Karpel
It’s about us saying ‘we’ve got a lot to share’, without saying, ‘you’ve got to come and study at Central Saint Martins’

— Berni Yates Knowledge Exchange Leader for Fashion, Central Saint Martins

Getting everyone talking

Questionnaires, desk research, roundtable discussions and interviews were conducted with 18 establishments to identify the challenges and barriers to engaging with a more pluralistic fashion education in Newcastle and the North East region.

Berni carved out a space that brought all the parties to the table to talk about how to create long-term change – from locally based brands and textiles, cloth and fabric producers to galleries and museums, FE Colleges and local universities.

She and her team visited and consulted with schools, universities and business organisations such as Newcastle College, Northumbria and Teesside Universities, the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and TICE (This Is Creative Enterprise) Group. They talked to locally based brands: Barbour, Fenwick, END, Slacks Radio, UKFT and Launchpad.

Project outcomes

Working with CSM graduates Hannah Karpel and Aswan Mugambe, Berni produced a scoping report, short film and research recommendations. This body of written and recorded material documents important conversations between the parties, voicing issues and experiences around North East fashion and creative arts as felt by students and the employers and manufacturers that want to employ graduates.

With this project Berni wanted to reach more marginalised communities with the hope of broadening and developing creative projects, especially around fashion, to support the growth of the industry. The recommendations in Berni’s report centre around industry and education not working in silos and different ways of supporting young people. These have been adopted into the BFC’s 5-year Strategy and Berni continues to oversee this work.

Another big step forward is that outreach activity for local school-leavers has been introduced at both Teeside and Northumbria Universities since these conversations. Berni is now an external examiner for Teesside University, who have also set up a community project on the back of this work.

Berni is closely involved in creating a comprehensive careers guide for all UK schools, an initiative by BFC Patrons in partnership with the UK Fashion and Textile Association (UKTF) and will be involved in supporting the launch of UKFT Futures: a new online platform showcasing opportunities and resources in the fashion and textiles industries to younger generations.

Berni's secondment aligned with our values of equality, social justice and empowerment through creativity and innovation, to reach overlooked communities and provide more equitable access to art and design education and career progression into the fashion industry.

— Darla-Jane Gilroy, Associate Dean of Knowledge Exchange, Reader in Fashion and Enterprise, Central Saint Martins

"It's all about not working in silos"

Central Saint Martins continues to build on the connections made during this secondment and we are looking at ways to take this framework around the UK. Berni is talking with McQueen about potentially working in the Manchester area.

Berni now leads on Knowledge Exchange for Fashion at Central Saint Martins. With a role underpinned by social purpose, she can help grow our recruitment for underrepresented people and broaden our platform for careers in fashion - bringing in a variety of new local and global external partnerships from "non fashion" areas, and forging relationships with other further education and higher education institutions.

Credit: Hannah Karpel
The project has facilitated the sharing of knowledge across a wide range of stakeholders resulting in tangible benefits to local communities in the North East of England. It provides a fresh perspective on outreach opportunities for UAL and a solid platform on which to build further collaborations and opportunities for all stakeholders that are exciting, relevant, and necessary.

— Darla-Jane Gilroy, Associate Dean of Knowledge Exchange Reader in Fashion and Enterprise, Central Saint Martins


Project Lead @berniyates
Executive Producer @hannah.karpel
Producer @aswanrosamarie
Editor @isaacbebbington
Sound Editor @gabeaspey

With thanks to:

British Fashion Council
End Clothing
Fashion Communication BA, Northumbria
Fashion Design and Marketing BA, Northumbria
Macmillan Academy, Middlesborough
Newcastle College of Art and Design
Slack Radio
This Is Creative Enterprise (TICE) UK
UK Fashion and Textiles (UKFT)
University of the Arts London (UAL)