Sharon Jennings graduated from New College Swindon this year, with a HND in Textiles. Her journey hasn’t been an easy one, but after battling cancer, completing her studies and graduating, Sharon’s work is now being seen across the globe.
Sharon’s dream has always been to work in the textiles industry, but up until four years ago she was working in an office-based role. In 2014, Sharon received news that left her in shock and changed her outlook on life, a change that led her to pursue her lifelong dream. She said: “Being diagnosed with cancer made me realise that life is too short, you should do what makes you happy.”
After hearing the news, Sharon set up a Just Giving page. She said: “I just wanted to do what I could to help raise awareness. I’ve always enjoyed crafting and sewing, so I made Christmas decorations and donated the money to charity.” Treatment began immediately and Sharon explained how the process happened so quickly. She said: “It was completely unexpected, something I just wasn’t looking out for. If anyone has any concerns; then I’d urge them to act on it straight away, you always think it won’t happen to you.”
During her time away from work, Sharon decided to attend the annual New College fashion show. She was impressed with the work that she saw and she spoke to Art Project Coordinator, Karen Pau, who gave her a tour of the facilities. She said: “I was so inspired and thought I’d love to do the course myself, but I assumed I would be too old for college.”
After completing treatment, Sharon returned to work, ready to get back to her normal routine. Upon returning she realised her outlook on life and work had changed completely. She said: “I wanted to pursue my interest and love of textiles and crafting for such a long time and it just dawned on me that life is too short. The idea of doing the HND in Textiles stuck in my mind the whole time and I decided to do what makes me happy - I left my job and signed up for the course at New College. To anyone thinking of returning to education, just do it, age is no barrier.”
In September 2016 Sharon started the course. She said: “The college was very accommodating, tutors adjusted elements of physical aspects of the course for me, such as weaving. The task of weaving requires strength, which I struggled with during my recovering period, but I had great support around me. Tutors and peers really helped me through the recovery process; they’ve all been so supportive.”
For Sharon the Textiles HND extended her knowledge, with a particular focus on design and the process of how fabrics are made. She said: “Rather than having to go out and purchase fabrics, I now know how to make my own. If I have a piece in mind or a vision I can bring this to life. We learned how to print and weave fabrics, make cloth and explored construction. The course isn’t just about sewing or fabrics, it’s Art – we’ve had the chance to do life drawing and make visits to museums and galleries.” Sharon went on to add that other areas of exploration throughout the course included trend forecasting and lots of external trips, including Kew Gardens, Knit and Stitch Show and the Clothes Show.
The course equips students with not only the skills in Art, Design and Textiles, but also the confidence to pursue a career or further study. Sharon said: “Upon completion of my degree, I feel I have enough new skill to carry on and have the courage to get out there.”
Since graduating Sharon has worked alongside PR company, Premier, on a recent stunt they produced for part of Twentieth Century Fox’s upcoming film, Bohemian Rhapsody. The stunt was inspired by the little-known fact that Freddie Mercury worked as a baggage handler at Heathrow Airport before he joined Queen. To celebrate this, choreographer Lyndon Lloyd, worked with baggage handlers at Heathrow Terminal 5, to bring the ‘bags to riches’ story to life. Sharon designed and tailor-made the special hi-vis Freddie biker jackets as seen in the viral video, which has had over two-hundred and fifty-thousand views.
“It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to pursue my passion for textiles. At my final college exhibition, my brother turned to me and asked how long it had taken me to complete. I told him two years and he looked at me and said: ‘No Sharon, it’s taken you a lot longer than two years to do this.’ He was right, it had taken me too long to find the courage to pursue my dream, but I’m so pleased I did.”
Freddie video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzMP9zsoHME&t=40s