College learners costumes are roaring success on national stage

A group of creative learners from a South Wales college have seen their costumess take centre stage in the bright lights for the musical theatre adaption of a leading animation picture.

Ten budding costume construction students from Coleg y Cymoedd have been busy bringing to life the popular characters of Dreamworks’ hit motion picture Madagascar for this year’s live stage production of the film at the New Theatre in Cardiff which was designed by Richard Embling.

The first-year learners, who are all studying a Foundation Degree in Costume Construction for Screen and Stage, were selected to create the outfits for the show, based on the original designs of the characters from the animation, as part of a collaboration between the college and Orbit Theatre.

The learners from the Nantgarw campus have been working closely with the college’s resident costume designer Richard Embling, as well as the stars of the show, to develop the challenging costumes from initial concept to completion.

Creating everything from fitted suits and body paddings to hooves and tails, the up-and-coming costume makers were also on hand at all times behind the scenes throughout the five-night show to make any adaptions or repairs, fulling immersing them in the experience of a live production.

Martha Okon, 20, one of college learners involved in the show said: “Working on the live production of Madagascar has been an incredible experience and it was amazing to see my own outfits in action on stage in front of so many people.

“It has been a challenge to produce animal costumes for a human body that are not only eye catching and realistic, but that are also durable enough for a week of activities undertaken throughout a pantomime. I have really enjoyed working on this project and the opportunity has made me even more committed to following my dream of becoming a costume designer for live productions.”

The directors behind the show, which follows the lives of characters Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo, enlisted the help of the college’s costume construction learners after being impressed by the quality of their work for other live productions in the Rhondda Cynon Taff area including Cinderella, Aladdin and [Dick Whittington].

The two-year specialist costume construction course at Coleg y Cymoedd, which is delivered in partnership with the University of South Wales, introduces learners to the cut and costume construction skills required within the areas of film and theatre.

Course leader, Emma Embling said: “We encourage our learners to get involved with as many live productions as possible to help prepare them for the industry and put them ahead of other graduates for employment. The collaboration between the course and Orbit theatre on Madagascar was an excellent opportunity for our learners, providing them with invaluable first-hand industry experience in costume creation.” 

Throughout the foundation degree, learners work on a variety of live projects to gain real life industry practice of costume design and production to boost their employability.  

Commenting on the professional and public feedback for the learners’ work, Emma continued: “The feedback we have had from the learners has been fantastic, as has the response from the general public and theatre itself, who were all very impressed with hard work of the students. Thanks to the success of the show, we are now in discussions with the production company regarding potential future projects to collaborate on.”

The end of an era for college campus

A landmark of the County’s educational history is drawing to an end as rooms are being cleared and equipment packed away at the Aberdare campus of Coleg y Cymoedd.

Learners enrolling at the college for the Autumn Term will commence their studies at the new £22 million campus at the former Goods Yard, Robertstown.

Aberdare College was built in 1955 and over the years thousands of people have learned their trades at the college, with many rising to fame in a variety of professions including Tyrone O’ Sullivan OBE, Tower Colliery.

The College has seen many Changes, firstly merging with Pontypridd & Rhondda College, in 2003 to form Coleg Morgannwg and more recently with The College Ystrad Mynach in 2013 when Coleg y Cymoedd was established.

The courses on offer have also evolved over the years, reflecting the needs of local employers and also the qualifications required by the learners to progress to Higher Education.

Mark Thomas, Campus Director at Coleg y Cymoedd, Aberdare said “I studied at Aberdare College when working in the colliery and later returned to lecture in the Electrical department. We’ve seen learners of all ages attend the college for a variety of reasons, as a stepping stone to university, career progression or as a personal challenge to acquire new skills.

It is with mixed feelings that we hand over the keys to the developer on September 1st and leave this building, as it holds so many memories; both happy and sad.  However looking forward we are moving to a fabulous new campus, equipped with the latest technology etc.

The new campus will be open from August 17th to receive any enquiries, with Open Days being held there on August 31stand September 1st”.

To mark the final days for the learners on the campus, the college organised a variety of activities including a photo booth for learners to have a photograph as a memento of their time at the campus and free pizza – which is always a winner!

Staff also acknowledged the final weeks at the campus with a buffet prepared and served by the Hospitality and Catering learners.

Huge congratulations to Coleg y Cymoedd learner Laura Harris – #InspireCymru17 Adult Learner of the Year

Laura’s profile from the event

Laura Harris has transformed into a confident and successful student progressing to university, having worked to overcome a troubled childhood where she experienced homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence and mental health issues.

The 33-year-old mother-of-three moved to Aberdare, she knew no-one in the area so decided to enrol in college and this was when Laura’s learning journey began in 2015. Laura started with an Access to Humanities course and progressed onto Level 3 Business
& Administration. She says, “I wanted to get an education to help my children with their school work. I relish learning and nothing feels more rewarding than getting distinctions in my work.”

Determined, Laura excelled at her studies and in her coursework. She has also used her challenging background to help others. As part of a theatre workshop Laura devised a DVD
which features her experiences on relationships and domestic violence.

The DVD was rolled out across schools and colleges in the county and won a National Union of Students Enterprise award in 2016. As a result of the trauma of her past life, Laura suffers panic attacks, however her nominator, Laura Wilson of Coleg y Cymoedd comments; “Laura’s story could have ended so differently but she continues to inspire and amaze those around her. Education has proved a turning point for her health and wellbeing
and I am so very proud of her.”

Laura is now moving on to Higher Education, having secured a place to study Events Management at the University of South Wales in September.

Laura says: “I wanted to better myself and the best way I thought I could do that was by going to college. I had so little confidence, I feel much better about myself and stronger too.

My message to anyone who suffers from mental health, alcohol and drug problems like I did – the answer is education! It transformed my life. Education has empowered me, it has
been my life saver. I’ve proved to myself and others that I can do it.”


Wellington Street
Rhondda Cynon Taff
CF44 8EN


Heol y Coleg
Parc Nantgarw
CF15 7QY


Rhondda Cynon Taff
CF40 2TQ

Ystrad Mynach

Twyn Road
Ystrad Mynach
CF82 7XR

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