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Amy experiments with dyes at Collyer's College (©AAH/AW)

Published on 1 December 2023

Textile Design students at The College of Richard Collyer need to be at their most creative as they embark on their final A Level projects.  

Their brief is to demonstrate ways in which the industry can move away from destructive methods of ‘fast fashion’ and become more sustainable. Students take inspiration from a wide range of trailblazing designers and techniques such as Sashiko, a stitching style traditionally used by Japanese working classes to recycle fabrics. Faith, who hopes to pursue a career in fashion journalism, is creating a multi-functional skirt from recycled denim, while Amy uses red dye on a white dress to graphically symbolise animal cruelty. With students encouraged to express their individual creativity, Jamie’s recycling of a World War One duffel bag even incorporates artistic photography.

It seems fitting to begin our feature on Collyer’s by visiting the Textile Design department as the college owes its existence to a mercer – a trader of silks and other fabrics. When Richard Collyer died in 1532, he left in his will the funds to build a free school in Horsham, with the purpose of providing the kind of education normally reserved for wealthy children. 

There have been many changes to Collyer’s in the 491 years that have since passed. The original Tudor school was built next to St Mary’s Church, with pupils taught entirely in Latin. The move to the current site on Hurst Road came in 1893 and it served as a grammar school until 1976, when it became a sixth-form college and welcomed girls for the first time. Today, it has a reputation as one of the leading sixth-form colleges in the region, yet Collyer’s has remained true to the intentions of its founding father.

Dan Lodge, Principal, said: ‘Richard Collyer’s ethos was for ‘none to be refused likely to learn’ and that same commitment to inclusion remains at the heart of our approach, even as we begin preparations for our 500th anniversary. Yet having begun with 60 boys in a single classroom, we are now approaching 2,400 students. We will continue to grow and recently hosted two very busy Open Evenings for those looking to study here in 2024.’  

‘About half our students live in Horsham and attended schools such as Forest, Millais and Tanbridge. Bohunt was temporarily based on another site on Hurst Road and pupils would often use our sports facilities, so we have a close relationship with the school. In September 2024, their first intake of Year 7s will be leaving and heading to college, and many are looking forward to joining Collyer’s having previously visited for sports and summer camps. The other half of our students come from other parts of the county and even beyond, from coastal towns to south London and out to Surrey. We do a great deal of outreach work with partner schools to demonstrate what Collyer’s can offer.’ 


With the current site having been built more than 125 years ago, there is a constant need to develop. One of the most significant projects in recent years came to fruition in September with the opening of the £3m Shelley building, with state-of-the-art rooms for Early Years Education and Childcare, Criminology, Film Studies, Digital Media and Sociology. It also features a bronze sculpture created by former Collyer’s student Hannah Stewart, commemorating one of Horsham’s most famous sons, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley.  

Other areas have also been modernised in recent years. The Memorial Library has been refurbished and now offers much-improved Wi-Fi and new electronic resources, while an innovative DigiHub has opened in the heart of the canvas. Last December, a new café was launched, not only serving barista-style coffee but also hosting exhibitions and performances. However, the most ambitious project is on the horizon, with Collyer’s having established a Quincentenary Fund to help realise its vision for expansion to coincide with the 500th anniversary in 2032.

Dan Lodge, Principal, said: ‘We are planning for the future and our campus regeneration project will enhance our Arts, Technology and Sports programmes. Our sports provision is very good, but the current sports hall was built in the 1990s when we had fewer than 1,000 pupils. A purpose-built facility would meet not only the needs of our students, but also demand from the wider community. We could host fixtures during the evenings and weekends, outside of college hours, for a range of leisure activities in a central location with plenty of parking.’

‘If our vision of the Masterplan was to be realised, it would also allow additional space for students to enjoy the campus, encouraging them to socialise with friends. Collyer’s does have a different feel to many sixth forms, particularly those attached to schools, in that our students call staff by their first names and there’s no uniform. It’s more akin to a university campus as it is up to students to take ownership of their learning and take advantage of the opportunities on offer. By promoting a positive atmosphere and a culture of independence, we can prepare young people for their next step in life, be that at university, an apprenticeship or the workplace.’  


Collyer’s promotes a 360° education, complementing academic education with skills young people need to embrace challenge and fulfil their potential. As part of this programme, it provides Pro-Study periods and an exciting enrichment programme that students are expected to engage in. A huge range of activities are listed in the Prospectus, covering sports, performing arts, social clubs, wellbeing courses and much more. There are over 130 to choose from including a Film Club, Chamber Music Ensembles, Dungeons and Dragons Club, Robotics Club, Hand Sewing Club, Vets and Medics Programme, Creative Writing and even a Bicycle Repair Club. In a further nod to university life, the college hosts a Freshers’ Fair to promote these clubs and societies. Some students, such as Carla and Tom, also join the Collyer’s Ambassadors, known as the Dream Team. The Ambassadors support the college’s outreach work by visiting schools and helping at Open Days.  

Carla said: ‘We have the Richard Collyer Union (RCU), which is a traditional student union that gives us a voice and liaises with staff. However, the Ambassadors has a different function and promotes Collyer’s in the community. We lead tours on Open Days and many of us have returned to our secondary schools to attend careers events. It’s great going back your old school and talking about your college experiences! I do think it makes a difference to the pupils too, as they sometimes relate to us better than they do teachers, as we’re closer to their age and know the kind of things they want to know and hear about.’ 

Tom adds: ‘It is especially important to speak to people outside Horsham. Carla and I went to school in Haywards Heath where lots of young people are sceptical about the journey into Collyer’s. We have to take two trains, which is hard to begin with but you get used to the routine. For us, the effort is worth it! I would recommend people join the Ambassadors too, as it opens your eyes to some of the facilities and clubs available at Collyer’s. Also, by leading tours, you learn about the amazing history of the college, which is something I wouldn’t have otherwise known about!’


As part of its enrichment programme, Collyer’s regularly welcomes back former pupils who have thrived in a wide range of occupations, to help inspire the next generation. Some departments benefit from educational talks and workshops, such as the Kirsty Brown Series held by the Geology Department. The series was set up in memory of marine biologist Kirsty Brown, who studied Geology at Collyer’s.

Dr Ian Carr, Head of Geology and Environmental Science, said: ‘Kirsty was a student here long ago, before my time at Collyer’s, although I met her when I was conducting fieldwork in Greenland and she was my field assistant. Kirsty went on to have a brilliant career, but died tragically while researching in Antarctica. Her parents set up a fund in her memory and that aids our enrichment programme. Thanks to this support, we have welcomed experts including environmentalist and solutionist Nicola Peel and Dr Andy Gibson from the University of Portsmouth. These talks have also helped raise the profile of the department and student numbers have subsequently risen at a time when there’s a skills shortage in this field.’ 

Collyer’s also hosts the annual Challenge of Management event at South Lodge Hotel, where a range of speakers give talks and offer advice on how to pursue a career in various industries. Some of the talks are business-focused, while others can ignite a sense of adventure amongst students. For example, Collyer’s recently welcomed Guy Watts for a chat-show style Q&A in which students heard how Guy and fellow athlete Andrew Delaney achieved the first tandem row across the Indian Ocean, gaining a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. 

Deputy Principal Steve Martell, who runs outreach activities at Collyer’s, said: ‘The students responded fantastically well to Guy, as he chatted informally about his adventures and business success. Speakers can be a huge inspiration for them and that is why we highlight the careers of our alumni. For a young person, knowing that they are on the same pathway as someone who has gone on to be a lawyer, a broadcaster or a marine biologist can give them the belief that by studying hard, they can find success and achieve their dreams.’

Further information:

For a prospectus, or to find out about Adult Education courses at Collyer’s, visit www.collyers.ac.uk

WORDS: Ben Morris

PHOTOS: Alan Wright