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Making nursing aspirations a reality


Risedale Estates was recently rated one of the top 100 apprenticeship employers in the UK. The Cumbria-based care provider has a ‘grow your own’ talent policy, with 25 employees having signed up to the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship (RNDA) programme since it started in 2018.

Ashleigh Thorne was one of the first apprentices to take advantage of this career-changing opportunity. Now Clinical Nurse Manager at Risedale, she joined the organisation as a healthcare assistant several years ago, having always wanted to be a nurse. She had started her nursing training once before at a local university after leaving school, but family circumstances forced her to abandon her studies, return home and take up a job in a bank.

Second chances

Still cherishing that ambition to work in healthcare, Ashleigh joined Risedale some years later, knowing that the organisation invested in growing the skills and careers of its workforce. Within 12 months she had enrolled on the apprenticeship programme, delighted to be given the opportunity to finally pursue a career in nursing and realise those long-held ambitions.

Picture of Ashleigh Thorne

“Apprenticeships are a life saver for so many people. I would never have gone to university to do nursing again because I couldn’t have afforded it. Without doing the apprenticeship there’s no chance I would have the skills and the knowledge I do now.”

Ashleigh Thorne,
Clinical Nurse Manager, Risedale Estates

Ashleigh is not the only Risedale employee for whom the apprenticeship has been a second chance at pursuing a nursing career. Alice Garroway works on a dementia unit at Risedale, is currently finishing the second year of her RNDA and has a similar story to tell. She too wanted to be a nurse from a young age and wanted to study nursing at university, but was prevented from doing so due to family circumstances. “So I went into home care and put my nursing off for a while. I was saving for a house, finances were getting in the way and I thought I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”

When Covid-19 hit, Alice was working in an office, but the pandemic made her realise how much she still wanted to work in the care home environment, so she took a job at Risedale. Within a year, she was enrolled on the apprenticeship programme.

Picture of Alice Garroway

“I felt really lucky as there were 10 spaces available when I applied and about 32 applicants. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to do what I really want to do – I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of Risedale and The Open University.”

Alice Garroway
Nurse, Risedale Estates

A flexible option

There are 11 students doing their RNDA through the Open University (OU), with the rest going through the University of Cumbria. Alice says the OU route was particularly appealing to her due to the high level of flexibility and the ability to study the academic modules remotely.

She works in a rural care home, so the traditional university route would have entailed a sizeable commute and travel costs, neither of which were feasible for Alice, even if the course costs were paid for via the employer. Being able to study remotely enabled Alice to manage her learning, workload, placements and home life, without incurring extra costs. Placements to develop key practical skills are made available either within Risedale’s care homes or partner organisations.

Giving back

Ashleigh now provides support to all the Risedale nursing apprentices and agrees that the flexibility of the OU model is very appealing, both as a student and as a manager. “One of the benefits of using the OU is that the learning is a lot more flexible. From an employer point of view, we have our staff [available to us] more.” With the OU’s approach, apprentices and Risedale have a significant degree of control over when and where learning happens, enabling learners to fit it in around the demands of the job and caring responsibilities, and Risedale to meet workforce needs alongside the apprentices’ needs.

Strategic value

The apprenticeship programme has also been an important recruitment and retention tool, bolstering Risedale’s reputation as a good employer. There is a huge shortage of nurses in Cumbria, so much so that the hospital has been known to pay relocation costs to attract more nurses to the area.

Through the apprenticeships, Risedale has been able to create a pipeline of locally based skilled, loyal nurses, while also addressing local skills shortages and providing important career opportunities for the local community. “It means a lot of people come and work here,” says Ashleigh. “It’s what attracted me. I had a house and a mortgage so I couldn’t afford to go off to university. This way I had a full-time wage while doing my studying and a guaranteed job at the end of it.”

The OU is the largest provider of the Registered Nurse Degree Apprenticeship in England. Find out more about the programme.

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