In 1977 I was studying at Darwen Vale High School. At the time I was only interested in Art, Technical Drawing, and Cooking. However, that year something happened that changed my life; Star Wars, A New Hope came out. I was fascinated; that was it, that was what I wanted to do when I left school. Make Star Wars movies!
That same year I got A in Art, B in Technical drawing and C in Domestic Science (All CSE). I was not that intelligent at school, but I had my dream. When I left Darwen Vale, my only option was to get an apprenticeship in Electrical Installation. It was impossible for me to go to university.
While working at some fantastic companies near Blackburn as a contractor, I learned a lot. However, I always thought the factories and installations would look cool in Star Wars. During this time I learned how things work, I also learned how to draw. I got good at drawing, and one day I decided to become a professional artist and soon left home to follow my dream.
After drawing for many years for some large companies, England was troubled by a recession and all my work dried up. I had been designing buildings for Cardiff city center, doing drawings for Staedtler Pencils and British Aerospace. But I was nearly broke.
I decided to return to my first electrical contractor’s company and ask for my old job back. My boss said, “Can you use a computer”? I said I had seen one. Just seeing one made me more qualified than most, so he sent me to ICI Darwen, very close to Darwen Vale High School.
At ICI, I was told to learn two powerful computer systems; one was on a SUN System. I was one of the first computer CAD engineers, and I fell in love with working digitally. At the same time, I met two guys designing 3D art in Manchester, and they asked me to learn how to make 3D models.
Only months later I met a famous game creator from America, and he invited me to visit his studio in Austin Texas to learn how to build 3D models for games. At the time I did not know how important this was. But now I realize I made the first 3D models ever used in a computer game.
I returned to the UK and met my wife and continued to create games for many years. Then one day I read you could get a USA work visa if you had thirteen years experience. I discovered that exactly 13 years to the day; my experience was perfect.
The internet had just arrived, the same month. I looked on the web and found a job making 3D models for a game in Califonia. I sent a mail. Fifteen minutes later I got a phone call asking if I could start right away. I said yes!
It took me one year to get that work visa, and that job was lost five times during the process. I thought I would never get there. Then one day the visa came, and I was off to America. I arrived at my new desk, and all I could see out of the window, across the road was LucasFilm. My old dream was on my doorstep.
My wife arrived six months later, by that time I was determined to get a job at LucasArts, ILM or LucasFilm. It was hard to convince her; after all, it was such a risk after selling everything in the UK to move to America. That said, six months later I got an interview at LucasArts and had a three-day art test. Lucas is the one of the hardest studios in the world to get a job. I was given my new job on the third day after the test.
During the last 29 years, I’ve made 40 games, three movies and been a lecturer at three of the best art universities in the world. I still have my three CSE’s and nothing more. I have worked in the UK, America, Canida, Australia, Singapore, Africa, India, Czech Republic and I’m now teaching at Vancouver Film School in China.
All the stars, famous film directors and the people I dreamed of working with are now my friends. I achieved everything I wished. I took what I had and used it well. One day I may get my degree. That said, I am pleased to have given many 100’s of others with a dream the opportunity to fulfill theirs. I teach well.
I would like to thank my Maths teacher, Mr. Dawson; My Art teacher Mr. Bennet. Also Darwen Vale.
No matter how crazy your dream, you can make it work. Nothing can stop you!
May the force be with you all.
Michael Cottam the kid from Darwen Vale.
I started at Vale as a very small 11 year old who had been the class clown in his primary school. My confidence was soon quashed as I found myself in a massive school surrounded by giants, even those in my own year towered over me. I was really lucky to make some strong friendships, some of which have proven life-long. The staff really relished the friendships and personalities of my year and I was soon playing class clown and building up my confidence. In year 10 I was confident enough to ‘come out’ at school and I can honestly say Darwen Vale really facilitated this. Support and an open dialogue were introduced and I look back on this with a gratitude and sense of overwhelming luck. It was a positive experience that sadly, so often isn’t the case.
I was always a strong student but I happened to be friends with some of the best achievers, one of which left Vale with nothing but A’s in her GCSE’s. What Vale offered me was an opportunity to get involved with the Gifted and Talented group, being a prefect and taking GCSEs early, something that has really given me some headway since. I left Vale with some excellent GCSE’s and even an AS level, something that later helped me obtain a place on a BA Honours Degree in English Literature and Language, without attending college at A level.
During my time at Vale I won a competition for poetry, something I had never really given much thought to. This paired with my love of literature and having an excellent English teacher inspired my decision to pursue an English degree and I have since been published in Anthologies for some of my poetry.
I now work as a proof reader and manage the creative material for some well-established local and nationwide businesses like BAE, Bensons for Beds, Westholme School and Boots to name a few. Working in print and design lets me flex my linguistic skills as well as giving me a creative platform. It’s interesting, fast paced and every day is different. I hope to self-publish some short stories with my mother in law, who is a children’s illustrator and continue submitting poetry to anthologies.
I guess I owe Vale for giving me a great platform to become a confident and creative person, with the social and educational tools to achieve and develop in what has become a really competitive employment market. To read some of my poetry and short stories check out poetboywonder.wordpress.com/ or poetboywonder.tumblr.com/
I left Darwen Vale in the summer of 2015 and how that feels so long ago. I am now in the second year of my engineering apprenticeship with BAE Systems. In March 2019, I will hopefully come out my time as an Engineering Technician having experienced all areas of the business, seeing our products through from their conception to manufacture and testing. From day dot, I have been encouraged and supported to realise my potential. I’ve had the opportunity to learn from colleagues who are experts in their field, and gain insights that can only come from real world experience. I am currently studying to HNC level in Aeronautical Engineering in addition to completing a Level 3 NVQ in Engineering Technical Support.
I had always had an interest in how things work so I applied for an apprenticeship at BAE Systems. The best part of being an engineer is working with state of the art technology and seeing a product from start to finish. So far during my apprenticeship I have had the opportunity to work on some of the most advanced military aircraft in the world including the manufacture of the F-35 Lightning II and Hawk Aircraft. Suppose that’s another upside to the apprenticeship. Being in the Aerospace industry makes getting out of bed that little bit easier. This has given me the confidence and drive to do what I enjoy and I wouldn’t change it for the world. It can be very challenging at times but it’s the sense of achievement that you feel upon completion that makes it all worthwhile.
But none of this would be possible without the support of Darwen Vale. I got a lot out of the school and I always felt obliged to give something back. I just wanted to be a positive role model and a good ambassador for the school. Get people involved, make people inspired and essentially leave knowing I had done my bit. Seems like a lot of effort? But trust me it made filling in my application form a lot easier. My advice to anyone at school would be to make the most of your opportunities and learn from your experiences.
I left Darwen Vale High School wondering what the future held for me, luckily, I knew what I wanted to do for a career and how I needed to achieve this. However, only one thing stood in the way – my GCSE results.
In school I wasn’t particularly a high achiever, I didn’t enjoy school at times as I had a tough time and I compared myself to others who where gaining higher grades than myself. However, one piece of advice that stayed with me throughout the final two years was when a teacher told me; “your GCSE results matter, when you are twenty-something and applying for jobs, even when I applied for this job, they asked me for my GCSE results”. At the time, I, amongst my friends thought the teacher was making it up so we focused on getting the grades we needed and we’d find out that what they told us was wrong and that results didn’t really matter in years to come.
Six years on, due to that subconsciously staying in the back of my mind throughout my exams, and a lot of hard work, determination to succeed and having an amazing support network from my teachers in school. I went onto college, got a BTEC in Health and Social Care and gained a degree in Diagnostic Radiography. I graduated from university in June 2015 and in the September, I flew to Australia to travel and work as a Radiographer for a year. The money I saved from my job allowed me to travel for nine months to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Thailand twice within the same year. In January I will be going to travel around the United States of America before I settle back into Darwen life.
I had many choices to make in school, throughout college and university about my life and future but I knew if I didn’t make the most of them I may not get a second chance to do it again.
I came to Darwen Vale in the years between 2007-2012 and always ensured that achieved the highest I possibly could by working extremely hard in all of my subjects. I had always been a creative individual and so when it came to picking my GCSE’s I decided to choose Media Studies, Art and Double Award ICT, as they allowed me to produce visual work and explore different concepts and ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed being taught by each teacher I had, and worked to a high standard in each subject including academic subjects such as English, Science and Maths.
After the two years studying, I received the grades I needed to progress towards college with 2 A*’s, 4A’s 3B’s and a distinction. When leaving school, I knew that I still wanted to pursue a career in a creative field, however I was unsure exactly what it was yet. Darwen Vale High School helped me reach my full potential and achieve the grades I needed to get to the next chapter. It was from here that I decided to study A-Levels at Runshaw College, choosing Media Studies, Fine Art and ICT and achieving the results AAB.
During college, I became extremely interested in fashion and decided to apply to a selection of Universities offering fashion courses. I was accepted by my first choice university, the University of Leeds, to study BA Fashion Marketing and so I moved to Leeds and began my three year degree.
I am now a third year University student interning for a local fashion company in Leeds, becoming very close to graduation and aiming to achieve a First. Darwen Vale High School taught me to work hard to get where I want to in life, and helped me understand my strengths and weaknesses to choose a career path that I thoroughly enjoy.
Aaron Dunleavy is a filmmaker from Blackburn and a recent graduate of University of the Arts London.
Working with production companies and clients including Warp Films, The Guardian and Blackmagic Design, his experience includes the production of narrative, documentary, music video and promotional film.
After studying Media Production at Blackburn College, Aaron completed a BA (Hons) Film Practice course at London College of Communication. Whilst studying, he traveled back to his hometown to make two award-winning short films, inspired by his childhood.
His debut short, Throw Me to the Dogs, won 9 awards on the festival circuit, with praise from Academy Award winning director Danny Boyle, as well as being screened at prestigious BAFTA and Oscar® qualifying festivals. The film achieved worldwide distribution on MUBI, streaming in over 240 countries around the world.
His second short, The Truants, is currently on the festival circuit, picking up multiple screenings and awards, including official selection at the BAFTA qualifying London Short Film Festival. Shot with a completely local cast and a shoestring budget, the film was entirely improvised and street casted with non-professional actors.
“An exceptional feat in short filmmaking. It’s rare that we come across a short film that grips us from beginning to end.” Short Sighted Cinema on The Truants
Aaron is currently working on his next production, a short film commissioned for Random Acts Network Centre North as part of their education, training and production programme. A joint initiative between Arts Council England and Channel 4, the programme commissions “bold, innovative expressions of creativity” from young creative talent with strong ideas drawn from diverse art forms.
After the success of his latest work, Aaron was approached by Alden Dalia, a Production Coordinator at Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions in Los Angeles.
Alden stated “I discovered Aaron’s work on Twitter and found the premise incredibly interesting and haunting. I couldn’t get over the intensity and honesty his work had. Not only were his stories engaging, the directing caught my attention instantly. How a lot of these none actors were able to create intense and amazing performances really caught my eye! That’s why I began sending his work around to different agencies and managers.”
Since then, Aaron has been developing ideas for his debut feature film with producers at Anonymous Content, the Hollywood production company behind the Academy Award winning film The Revenant starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy.
With an interest in filmmaking from a young age, Aaron’s passion was secured during his time at Darwen Vale High School whilst studying Media at GCSE level. The course provided an opportunity for creative involvement with a practical unit and was a platform to progress to BTEC level.
Beginning ‘Big School’ at Darwen Vale in 1999 as a shy lad I worried how I could possibly adapt to this enormous place, coming from Blackburn to a school in Darwen was alien enough for me. If only I knew that 15 years later I’d be in Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK I wouldn’t have worried so much back then!! When I started at Vale I initially found the pace and sheer size of the place overwhelming. However, I soon found my feet though thanks to a great peer group and fantastic teachers who showed me all the wonderful opportunities the school had to offer. Whether it was an after-hours revision class, running our own radio station or football training after school it didn’t matter, I grasped these opportunities with open arms and began to see a change in myself for the better. Over the years my confidence grew and this culminated with becoming Head Boy in Year 11. Holding the position of head boy/girl or being asked to hold a position of trust and responsibility at any age can be daunting, but looking back I can see how I’ve been able to apply these skills in the ‘real’ world. Standing in front of people and speaking at parents’ evenings is a skill that still aids me in my chosen career. In my career to date I’ve had to deliver various briefs to many different ranks and nationalities but however daunting it can initially seem I always look back and am thankful for the life skills I managed to learn from my time at school.
Now I’ll be the first to admit that becoming an Aerospace Systems Operator was probably not my first choice when I walked through the careers office door; as many who have followed before me, I wanted to become a pilot. It is true though that “you don’t have to be a pilot to fly in the RAF” as I quickly found out. As Aerospace Systems Operators we are the eyes and ears of the RAF and at the frontline of defence of the UK and our armed forces abroad; this in itself has opened up many opportunities. Given the unique nature of the job my career so far has been quite diverse. Following basic training my first tour within the RAF was at an Electronic Warfare training range in Cumbria, it was here that I had a direct role in delivering Electronic Warfare training to UK and NATO aircrews. This proved to be a role which took me the length and breadth of the country and as far afield as the Czech Republic and Oman where I would spend up to a month training fast jet and helicopter crews the countermeasures that could potentially save their lives on operations. Following on from this I was fortunate enough to gain promotion to the rank of Corporal which saw me posted to RAF Boulmer in Northumberland where now I have a hand in helping to provide Quick Reaction Alert for the UK. This is a measure expanded following the atrocities of 9/11 that ensures we are best prepared to protect the UK from any potential threats posed to us from the air. It’s a role that we train for daily and let me assure you one we’re very good at!! As I mentioned previously being an Aerospace Systems Operator has opened up many opportunities and my roles have not just been limited to the UK, my four month detachments to the Falkland Islands and more recently Afghanistan have been particular career highlights.
It’s a career of many highs so far and I strongly believe that taking the opportunities handed my way at school has influenced how far I’ve come to date. If you have the will and determination to push yourself, then Darwen Vale can be the platform onto many an avenue of work. I’m just about to start my next chapter at RAF Boulmer as a Trade Training instructor so if this career sounds up your street I could soon be teaching you the role and setting you on your way to an exciting career in the Royal Air Force.
If you are interested in a career in the Royal Air Force please find details at:
My name is Elliot Welsh and my dream has always been to play football or be involved in Sport.
After leaving Darwen Vale in June 2015 I enrolled at Accrington & Rossendale College to do a 2 year BTEC Sport Course and A Level PE. I couldn’t wait to start it was everything I had always wanted to do, as the BTEC course enabled me to gain the qualifications I would need to go to university to study to be a PE teacher as well as playing in the football academy in conjunction with my studies.
It was clear to me after a few months that things were not working out as I had expected, I hated the whole concept of college life and even though I was playing plenty of football in the academy this did not take away the negative feelings I had towards the course. Even though I was working really hard at college I felt as though it wasn’t good enough and I could not see any positive way forward. Everything I had dreamed and worked for seemed like it was slipping away. I started to feel unhappy and depressed that I had another year of this.
After discussions with my parents about the situation we decided to look at other options. The Lancashire Football Association where advertising for Sports Apprenticeships. This was a 2 year course and you would go into school for 4 days a week and go to the LFA training college 1 day a week to do your studies. This seemed like the ideal opportunity for me and I set about filling in application forms to send off to the Primary Schools listed on the LFA website. After attending an interview at St Charles Primary School in Rishton I was offered the position there and then. I jumped at the chance and was sure this was the right decision for me. I finished my first year at Accrington College and started my new apprenticeship at St Charles on 1st August 2016. I have not looked back and am enjoying working with the staff and pupils at the school, along with gaining my qualifications at the LFA training college. As well as getting paid for doing something I love, I am also gaining hands on experience, which will hopefully put me in good stead in the future.
During my time at Darwen Vale I got involved in all aspects of school life. I was a Prefect, Sports Ambassador, helped out during the school holidays with the Summer School and volunteered on Open Evenings. When I was applying for my apprenticeship everything I had got involved in went on my application form. All the times I had helped out at school during my own time was what made me stand out from the other applicants and was one of the reasons I was offered the position.
My message to you is don’t give up if what you are doing is not working out, there is always another path you can go down to get to where you want to be. During your time at Darwen Vale get involved in school life, make a difference, it can be in any department in school, it doesn’t have to be Sport, it could be anything, take that step to give something back to your school, you may be surprised how much you actually enjoy it, and how proud you feel just to be a part of it all.
Follow your dream, work hard and you will succeed.
If you are a Darwen Vale Alumni and would like to share your story and contribute to this exciting reminiscent page contact firstname.lastname@example.org