Bradford Means Business Meets Diana Bird, Principal and CEO of Shipley College.
Shipley College is a Further Education college, situated in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Saltaire. The College offers excellent education and training provision on campus, online, and at employer and community premises across West Yorkshire. We deliver full-time courses for school leavers, apprenticeships, and supported internships, and part-time courses for adults looking to gain skills for professional and personal development.
We work closely with local businesses, the West Yorkshire Combined Authority, and our staff, students and other stakeholders to provide a curriculum that addresses the current and future skills needs of businesses and ensure that our students are developing the skills, knowledge and behaviours that will enable our economy to thrive.
My role is to deliver the governors’ mission for the College to provide the highest quality, inspirational education and training that meets and exceeds the ambitions of individuals, businesses, and communities.
What excites you about your job?
What excites and motivates me are the limitless opportunities to make a difference, for our students, our staff and the wider community that the College serves. I see the impact on a daily basis, whether it’s a young person securing a place at university, an adult finally passing their maths GCSE, or a whole cohort of students being inducted into their placements at our local hospital. I am reminded every day of the impact that the College has on the lives of our students and by extension on the businesses and the wider Bradford community. Every day brings new challenges and opportunities and it’s never ever boring.
What is the proudest moment of your career?
Securing this role as Principal and CEO at Shipley College. I have lived in the area for most of my life, went to Titus Salt School and have worked at Shipley College for most of my career. It’s quite unusual in the sector for a principal to belong to the community they serve, and I consider it both an honour and a huge responsibility. Standing in front of my team in September to deliver my first speech as Principal was a moment I’ll never forget.
What advice would you give to someone wishing to join your industry?
Be brave! Be prepared to try new things, take calculated risks and ask when you need help. You will learn at least as much from the mistakes you make – and how you respond to them – as you will from your successes. Be creative, look at an issue from every conceivable angle and then seek out feedback from your stakeholders. No one ever changed the world by playing it safe but it takes courage to forge a new path!
What makes a good boss?
A good team! And I’m very lucky to have a fantastic team at Shipley College. I’ve spent most of my career here and have grown up and learnt new skills alongside other long serving members of staff. I know their stories and they know mine, and that creates a culture of mutual trust and respect in which we can work together to achieve shared ambitions for our community.
What do you do to unwind after a long day in the office?
I like to head to the gym, for a swim or a run, to clear my head and transition from work to home mode. But I also try to get out of the office during the day to walk around our beautiful campus in the village of Saltaire and talk to the students, staff and our wider community. It’s a great way of keeping in touch with what’s going on on the ground and getting some fresh air at the same time.
What is it you love about Bradford?
It’s got to be the people. Bradford is a culturally and ethnically diverse city. Throughout my career I have championed community-based learning across the city and I have seen first-hand how the community steps up to support and care for each other. I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s words, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.” Although I was born in Leeds, I’ve lived in Bradford since I was a child and I’m very proud to call Bradford home. I couldn’t see myself living or working anywhere else. I’ve got to extend a big thank you to the Bradford City of Culture 2025 team for giving us permission to be proud of our city and providing a platform for us to shout loudly about what a great place this is. Great people, great place!
What was the first job you had and how much did you get paid?
I took over my brother’s car washing round when he turned 16 and got a “proper” job. I used to get 60p a car, £1.20 if I did inside and out. When it was rainy and cold, my dad would remind me that people were relying on me to show up as promised. My parents instilled in me a strong work ethic and that has proved excellent preparation for a career in the Further Education sector.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
Unsurprisingly, I wanted to be a teacher. As a child, I would line up my toys on my bed and copy the lessons I’d seen my teachers deliver at school. When I was offered my first part time teaching post at Shipley College, I remember making a deal with myself – I would give it a month and see if I was up to the job. Twenty years on, I still get a buzz from being in the classroom, whether that’s delivering sessions to students or to members of my team. It’s a great feeling when you see someone have a ‘penny drop’ moment and knowing you played some small part in that.
Who is your idol and why?
My idol is Maya Angelou, the poet, writer and civil rights activist. I first encountered her autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” as a teenager, and she inspired in me a lifelong commitment to taking action to tackle discrimination and champion equality and justice.
Name four people dead or alive you would like to go to dinner with?
My favourite people to have dinner with are my family – my four daughters and my partner. I’m lucky in that I get to enjoy their company often and anyway, that’s five. So, to make the most of this offer, for one night only, I’d fill seats at the table with inspirational people and spend the night in awe: Jacinda Ardern, Freddie Mercury, Barack Obama and Miranda Hart.
Who is the best person to follow on social media, and why?
I like to follow my students and staff on Linked in, both current and past, to see what great things they’re doing or have gone on to do. Their stories inspire me through the most challenging of days.
What is your favourite book?
That’s a difficult question. I love to read although these days that’s a treat that’s usually reserved for holidays! I always pack a book by Dorothy Koomson – if I had to pick just one then it would have to be My Best Friend’s Girl, which is the first book of hers that I read.
What was the best holiday you have ever been on and why?
As a working mum of four, holidays mean precious time with my daughters, free from the demands of work. Of all the places we’ve been to, our favourite place is a small town in Majorca, right by the sea. The location, food and weather are always fabulous but hands down the best thing is definitely the company!
What one thing could you not live without?
A cup of tea! There’s not much that can’t be put right over a cuppa with a friend.
What would your superpower be?
To slow down time. There are so many things I’d like to do and I’m constantly having to prioritise which means there are some things that don’t make the cut. If I could slow down time then my ‘to do’ list would definitely get longer but there would be plenty of ticks!
If you were stranded on a desert island and you could have a luxury item, what would it be?
A guitar. I’ve always wanted to learn to play – I took a beginner course last year at college which I really enjoyed but I’ve not really kept up with the practice. Maybe if I was stranded on a desert island for a few years I might finally master it.
What is your happy song?
Day of My Life by American Authors. Great to sing along to in the car, and always makes me think of holidays with my daughters at Center Parcs.
If you could retire tomorrow what would be the first thing you would do?
I’d go back to university. One of my daughters is applying for university at the moment and so my weekends are spent travelling up and down the country attending open days. I’m really excited for her but must admit I’m a little bit jealous too! I’d have very happily been a professional student!
What is the craziest thing you have ever done for charity?
I did a 6-mile midnight walk to raise money for Children in Need last year. One of my colleagues set out to do 100,000 steps in 24 hours and a group of us got him off to a good start by setting off at midnight from College to walk on the local highways and byways to Bingley and back. Students and staff from the College kept him company during the day doing laps round Robert’s Park so it really was a group effort.
Please tell us a joke!
There’s a fine line between a numerator and a denominator. Only a fraction of people will get this joke!