Mark Foster studied a Higher National Diploma in Hotel, Catering & Institutional Management at City College Norwich in 1992.
After making the wrong choice to study A Levels at 16 (and enjoying a good time with his friends!), City College Norwich provided Mark with an opportunity to continue his education doing something he enjoyed.
Mark has since gone on to have a successful career, and had lots of adventures on the way, and you can read his story, as told in his own words, below.
I stuffed up my A Levels – really stuffed them up. I had got an E for A/S French…and that was it!!! I had been studying A Levels in Maths (Pure & Applied) and Physics, as well as A/S Chemistry, French and Government and Politics.
While I was studying I also had a part time job at a local supermarket and worked in a really great team, I worked hard, got paid fairly well and enjoyed being part of a team. Because I was earning money, I could afford to go to the pub most weekends with my mates… I’m sure you can probably see how this worked out…anyway, suffice as to say I didn’t enjoy studying, hence my poor grades.
A chance conversation
I was about to walk away from education when a chance conversation with one of our career guidance officers suggested going in to hospitality.
He’d known me for a couple of years and said my “character” would be perfect in hospitality…”fun loving, earnest, confident, hardworking, reward led, sociable etc…”. I laughed and said I’d only got one point at A Level standard – what college would enrol me?!
He asked, if he could get me an interview, would I go and would I mind going away to study? I didn’t.
The next thing I knew, two days later, I was sitting in the Hotel School lobby at City College Norwich being interviewed by Annie Fisher.
Mrs Fisher explained that the Higher National Diploma programme was developed in direct partnership with the industry.
Each year they met with heads from most of the major British hotel companies and discussed what skills they wanted graduates to have in preparation for employment. This meant that The Hotel School enjoyed excellent onward employment rates for its graduates.
Amongst the questions Mrs Fisher asked me included why I had failed my A Levels and to describe my circle of friends. I replied that I didn’t think I’d failed the exams, but that I had failed to make the correct choices at 16, that I needed something more “tangible” rather than abstract or academic.
I described myself as being part of two groups of friends – 1) a very wide network of friends and acquaintances from all backgrounds and ages as well as social standings; and 2) a tight knit group of five of us who were more like family than friends.
It’s been suggested since, that during clearing, colleges often have classes that not only have spaces left on their courses, but that course leaders often recognise that they don’t necessarily have “glue” to keep the classes together – in other words students who will bring together other students in group activities and projects.
Whatever Mrs Fisher’s reasons were, she offered me a space and I accepted it – a three year “sandwich” course with the middle year spent in the industry on placement.
Life at the Hotel School
Term started and I settled quickly into life in Southwell Lodge (Room E04). I made friends quite quickly and soon realised how much I was going to enjoy life at City College Norwich.
As well as Mrs Fisher I remember Mr Ward and Mr Nash lecturing food prep, trying to teach us how to be chefs. Mr Thickett likewise, but also making sure we didn’t stuff up on placement!
Looking back, the content of the courses was absolutely bang on! I can absolutely say that I’ve used everything that we were taught in my career since.
Computer rooms, theme nights and the Frat Ball!
At a time when computers were only just becoming mainstream, I can remember having to plan to go up to use the computer suite on the top floor of the main building in the evenings when there was only really Southwell Lodge residents about. Queuing print jobs and using word count to make sure you had hit your “1000 word target” for your essay!
I remember the theme nights that we would host in the Hotel School restaurant, planning menus, costing and writing specs. I also fondly remember the camaraderie of life in Southwell Lodge and the Hotel School Fraternity and the ever popular “Frat Ball!”
The walk to and from Sainsbury’s and being insanely jealous of those with their own cars! The walk down into the city for ‘student nights’ at Ritzy’s and Peppermint Palace, stopping along the way for a quick pint in the Murderers or a cheap meal at Pizza One Pancakes Too.
Life after College – Luxury seafront hotel, celebrities and the ‘Best Pub in Britain’
Above all else, I remember that 5 days after finishing my HND I started working as a Duty Manager at The Grand, Brighton! This was amazing – we worked some stupidly long hours, but had a terrific time. I met celebrities left right and centre, worked during party political conferences and other, even larger, events.
I then went on to Fuller’s where I trained to manage pubs. Six years later my soon to be wife and I took out a 30 year lease on a pub that 12 years later we have just sold. While we were there we were finalists in the ‘British Institute of Innkeeping Licensees of the Year’ and won The Great British Pub of the Year’s ‘Best Leased or Tenanted Pub in Great Britain’.
What am I doing now? Currently taking a break, while we evaluate what do we want our next adventure to be!