Chocolate mastermind behind Wonka prequel heads to Coleg y Cymoedd to inspire next generation of Creative learners

The world-renowned Welsh chocolatier behind the fantastical chocolate creations in the new Timothée Chalamet Wonka film has visited learners at Coleg y Cymoedd to shed light on what it takes to turn passions into a dream profession.

Cardiff-born Gabriella Cugno, who has been referred to as the real-life Willy Wonka, joined creative and catering learners at the college’s Nantgarw campus to talk through her illustrious career and share advice to budding chocolatiers and prop makers.

Note – images of chocolate below were made by Coleg y Cymoedd learners


During her visit, Gabriella spoke to 50 learners studying prop making, arts, special effects and catering courses, giving them an insight into her career journey, how she came to work on the blockbuster film, and the process involved in crafting the impressive edible props for it. As part of her work on the production, Gabriella designed and hand made over 2,000 intricate pieces, covering everything from teacups and mushrooms to tree bark and flowers.

The award-winning chocolatier and pastry chef held a Q&A with the learners and toured the college’s facilities. Learners also had the opportunity to showcase their work to Gabriella and get her professional feedback.

Boasting an impressive CV, Gabriella spent over 15 years working at high end restaurants, patisseries, chocolateries and world famous five-star hotels before her career led her to Warner Bros Studios UK. With a background in creative arts and catering, Gabriella felt working on the Wonka movie was the perfect way to marry both of her interests.

Gabriella said: “I’ve always had a passion for food and art, which I feel are both very connected. With enough imagination and the right skills, you can create something amazing out of both, and I love that creation process. Working on Wonka was an incredible experience as it enabled me to combine my artistic background and love of chocolate as I had to think creatively about how I was going to translate the ideas from the script into reality.

Today, alongside creating her own delicious chocolates, she teaches masterclasses, consults, caters for events and works directly with cocoa producers to develop recipes.

Speaking about her visit to Coleg y Cymoedd, Gabriella said: “It’s been really nice to connect with young people who are looking to go into creative careers and inspire them with my own journey. I want them to know that being creative is great and reassure them that there are lots of fantastic opportunities out there within more creative industries, whether they want to become a chef, create props for films or become artists!

“When I was younger, I felt being creative wasn’t celebrated enough. There was definitely more of a focus on being academic, which is of course great too, but I didn’t feel I had any role models for the pathway I was interested in. I would have loved to have had a pastry chef or prop maker come in to speak to me when I was in school to show me that my dream job was possible.

“I have loved sharing my experience with these learners and advising them on their next steps, pointing them in the direction of people and organisations who can help. I hope I leave them feeling inspired to believe in themselves and work hard to achieve every success.”

Lisa Purcell, Assistant Principal of Learner Experience at Coleg y Cymoedd, said: “We loved welcoming Gabriella to Coleg y Cymoedd and are very grateful for her giving up her time so generously to meet our learners. They really enjoyed hearing from Gabriella about her journey from her love of creative subjects in school, to owning her own business and working on the Wonka film. It gave them invaluable insight into all the opportunities that are open to them once they finish college. Gabriella is a great inspiration to our learners, showing how, with hard work and practice, you can turn your passion and skills into a career you love.”

Visit Gabriella’s website:

Discover Creative and Catering courses at Coleg y Cymoedd:

Note – images of chocolate in article were made by Coleg y Cymoedd learners

Staff and students at Coleg y Cymoedd help plant 26,000 trees in as little as ten months

In April 2023, Coleg y Cymoedd became the first FE college in Wales to adopt Ecosia, an eco-friendly browser that plants a tree, every time someone uses it to conduct an online search.

The move followed the appointment of Rachel Edmonds-Naish, the first to be given the role of Assistant Principal for Sustainable Futures in Wales.

At the time, Rachel said: “With over 9,000 staff and learners at Coleg y Cymoedd, small changes have the potential to make a huge difference in tackling climate change.

“Setting Ecosia as the default search engine at the college is a simple change – one that costs nothing but one that will have a real impact for the environment. It’s an easy, everyday action that can get learners thinking.”

As of 1st February 2024, Ecosia reported that Coleg y Cymoedd staff and students have used their browser to search the web over 1.2 million times, financing the planting of almost 26,000 trees.

This number of trees would absorb almost 650,000kg of carbon from the atmosphere each year (EcoTree). Such a statistic proves the real impact such a small action can make, to future-proof the planet, and fight climate change by removing Co2 from the air.

To put this in perspective, Coleg y Cymoedd has planted enough trees to fill 32.5 acres,* an area that equates to:

  • Six times the size of its Nantgarw buildings combined;
  • The size of 16 football pitches or 500 tennis courts;
  • The whole of Clydach Vale Country Park, Rhondda, and;
  • Is even bigger than Caerphilly Castle and its entire estate.

Congratulations, Coleg y Cymoedd staff and students for making such an important change!

Coleg y Cymoedd is the only FE college in Wales to have made the switch to Ecosia and is calling on other education providers to follow suit. To adopt Ecosia in your institution, visit:

*According to Woodlands, the standard planting density for trees is 800 per acre.

Georgia leads the charge as first female hire for global aviation specialists

Georgia Price, 20, from Llantrisant hopes her career path will encourage more females into aeronautical engineering.

After discovering Engineering programmes at a Coleg y Cymoedd Open Event, Georgia enrolled on their BTEC Level 3 Enhanced Engineering at her local campus. She thrived in the workshops with the support of her tutors, which gave her the confidence to pursue a career as a mechanic.

Recognised by Welsh Government for their commitment to meeting local labour demand and recruitment of industry-specialist tutors, Georgia planned to progress her studies at Coleg y Cymoedd to strengthen her chances of obtaining work experience.

She signed up for the college’s BTEC Level 3 Aeronautical Engineering course having witnessed the impact of its flourishing industry in the South Wales valleys.

At the college’s annual Career Festival, ‘FutureFest’, Georgia met with a representative from AerFin Aviation, a leading specialist in aircraft and engine component support services based in Bedwas, Caerphilly.

AerFin were recruiting apprentices studying BTEC Level 3 Aeronautical Engineering at Coleg y Cymoedd, which presented Georgia with an ideal opportunity to progress and get one step closer to her dream career.

Georgia was successful in securing the apprenticeship with AerFin, and so impressed their management, that she was offered a job in the workshop, becoming the company’s first female trainee mechanic.

Simon Bayliss, Chief Operating Officer at AerFin, spoke of Georgia’s success: “Georgia has fitted in well. She is seamlessly transitioning from the college classroom into the work environment, despite its challenges. She is really putting into practice the principals that she has learned at Coleg y Cymoedd and it’s looking as though she’s going to be a success in the engine shop.”

At college, Georgia continues to excel, having entered Inspiring Skills Competition Wales twice, and making great bonds with staff and peers. Her sister hopes to follow in her footsteps by gaining an apprenticeship at the college too.

Georgia said: “I’ve had the very best of both worlds by studying at Coleg y Cymoedd. They’ve given me so many opportunities to go further, from building my confidence and my CV by taking part in Skills Competitions, to making links with prospective employers, like AerFin, at their Open Events and career fayres. They’ve opened so many doors for me, and it’s because of them that I’ll be starting a degree at University of South Wales in September 2024.”

Georgia’s positive experience has led her to encourage other young girls to pick up a STEM apprenticeship too: “I would say to other young girls who are thinking about applying for an apprenticeship in Engineering or a similar subject: do not be afraid. There is nothing to worry about. Everyone is so supportive and welcoming. There are local, high-paid jobs available, and because the aeronautical engineering industry is booming, they will be around for a very long time.

“There is so much room to progress – even more so if you are a female – because the industry has been male dominated for such a long time.

“An apprenticeship can offer so much more than just going to college: I’m now being paid to learn. I don’t have to juggle college with a part-time job, I can just focus all my attention on my future. Both the college and a UK-leading aircraft specialist are down the road from me too, which is such a bonus.”

Matthew Tucker, Assistant Principal for Business Services at Coleg y Cymoedd, commented: “Georgia is a great apprentice and puts 100% into everything she does. She is a brilliant example to others as she is committed to developing her knowledge and her relationship with her employer. She stands out as she is very supportive of her peers and is happy to help whenever she can.

“She is inspiration for encouraging other females to discover the multitude of opportunities in science. We wish her every success in the future and have every faith that she will do well.”

Discover apprenticeships at Coleg y Cymoedd:

N.B. Georgia was 19 at the time of filming, (2023).

Simon Bayliss was SVP of Operations at AerFin at the time of filming, (2023).

Megan’s career is flying at aerospace company thanks to apprenticeship with Coleg y Cymoedd

As an Engineering Apprenticeship Ambassador and former Coleg y Cymoedd learner, Megan Christie’s career is flying with GE Aerospace Wales (GE), Nantgarw, where she is member of a team that repairs, maintains and overhauls commercial aircraft engines.

Megan, 21, from Georgetown, Tredegar, excelled during her time as an Aeronautical Engineering apprentice at Coleg y Cymoedd with GE, gaining distinctions in each of her 40 assignments, and winning the college’s Apprenticeship Award in 2023.

Not only this, but she went on to win an Inspiring Skills Wales award and a team silver medal at the WorldSkills UK National Finals in 2022 and has most recently been shortlisted for the prestigious Apprenticeship Awards Cymru 2024 as an Apprentice of the Year finalist.

During her time at the college, Megan gained valuable skills and experience and is continues to make a positive contribution to her employer, GE’s goal of overhauling engines in the fastest and safest possible way.

After completing her college studies in 2023, Megan is now studying for an Engineering degree with an Integrated Master’s degree in Design Engineering (MEng) through the Open University which will take nine years and lead to her ultimate goal of becoming a Chartered Engineer.

In her role as an Apprenticeship Ambassador, she speaks at schools and colleges, takes part in STEM activities and attends career fairs to promote engineering as a career. She also mentors new apprentices at GE Aerospace Wales.

“The skills I have picked up from working in a multitude of aircraft engine repair workshops within my apprenticeship have allowed me to gain transferrable knowledge and skills that I will carry with me for the rest of my career,” said Megan, who would like to become a design engineer.

“It has also given me opportunities to work within the local community as an apprenticeship ambassador. A personal highlight was when I was invited to speak to engineers at Coleg y Cymoedd. It was lovely to see where I started and what I had achieved since leaving, and it was all thanks to my apprenticeship.”

Assistant Principal for Business Services at Coleg y Cymoedd, Matthew Tucker spoke of Megan’s time at the college: “Megan has been an exceptional apprentice; she has embraced every opportunity given to her and is a great role model. Megan’s tenacity and ability to make the best out of any situation will definitely help her have a successful future.”

Partnering with over 1,200 local and national employers, Coleg y Cymoedd is one of the most diverse apprenticeship providers in Wales and is nominated for three awards at Apprenticeship Awards Cymru this year:

· Apprentice of the Year: Megan Christie of GE Aviation,

· Tomorrow Talent: Jacob Marshall of Combined Engineering Services, and

· Large Employer of the Year: for their work with Transport for Wales.

Organised by the Welsh Government and supported by the National Training Federation for Wales (NTfW), the awards highlight the outstanding achievements of employers, apprentices and work-based learning practitioners. Winners of the awards will be announced at a special ceremony on 22nd March 2024.


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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