During Colleges Week, Metro Mayor and well-known animal lover Dan Norris got up close to cats, reptiles and lots of small, fluffy creatures at Bath College’s Somer Valley Campus.

The region’s directly elected Mayor found out how the state-of-the-art Animal Care Centre in Radstock for furry and feathered friends is helping train up the next generation of vets and other animal care workers, plugging a national shortage.

Yearly enrolments for animal courses at the dedicated site, which started out of a potting shed almost 20 years ago to the day back in 1994, have risen rapidly in recent years - important as there is a shortage of animal care workers - including vets - regionwide, and nationwide.

Around 1,000 vet posts are unfilled year on year. Vets say this is because of a huge jump in pet ownership during the pandemic, the impact of Brexit on the workforce and the long-standing problems in the sector.

Mayor Dan Norris learnt how a career in these areas can therefore be both rewarding and lucrative, but top-quality training, like that provided by Bath College, is essential when he met some of the current crop of 69 learners.

He got to join the learners on the site’s ‘cattery’ housing eight felines looking for their forever home which is funded by Cats Protection, including a 15-year-old black cat called Tosca.

He learnt how the students provide the daily care for the cats on site, which gives them great, real-life experience working with animals, and allows Cats Protection to look after even more moggies across the West, before meeting other Radstock-based furry creatures.

Mr Norris said: “I learnt a great deal with these knowledgeable and passionate learners, not least the sheer joy of working with animals that are so intelligent and so rewarding to look after.

“I was very impressed with the facilities on site for the cats, goats, and other species on site, which is a super useful resource for the young people on these brilliant animal care courses.

“Bravo to Bath College for training up the next generation of vets and other animal care workers which is so vital for our West of England region.”

Over 90% of participants in programmes at the fabulous animal centre have gone on to access further training, apprenticeships or paid jobs in directly-related jobs.

Bath College CEO Jayne Davis said: "I have always felt that to understand the breadth, depth and diversity of the work FE colleges do, you need to spend some time in one.

“As part of the wider Colleges Week celebration, we are extremely grateful that Dan could come back to our Somer Valley campus and see more of the improvements made via Mayoral Combined Authority and ESFA funding as well as spend some more time with learners who will be the answer to some of the skills gaps, including regarding animal care, faced in the locality and region.”

Emma Meredith, Director of Skills Policy and Global Engagement at Association of Colleges, who are running Colleges Week, added: “It is great to see Mayor Dan Norris visit Bath College in support of Colleges Week 2023.

“The visit shows the value he places on colleges and on the skills training they provide for local people of all ages. It is also an excellent opportunity for students to showcase what they have learned to the mayor - and for him to try his hand at animal care.”

Bath College received £2.8 million from Dan Norris’s West of England Mayoral Combined Authority this year, including £1.7 million from the Adult Education Budget to run their courses, and £900,000 to do things like upgrade the college's construction and motor vehicle centres.