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Sophie Whitfield

Sophie Whitfield, an apprentice painter and decorator, decided to take up an Apprenticeship as a way of changing career. Previously a chef, Sophie was beginning to tire of the unsociable hours and started looking at other careers that would still allow her to be creative, but would give her back her weekends and evenings. 

This is proving a very successful move for 28-year-old Sophie, who was named the regional winner of the Johnstone’s Young Painter of the Year competition, and Sophie’s eyes are being opened to the different opportunities available within this particular industry. 

Sophie said: “I am originally from Newcastle, but my partner had studied at City College Plymouth and he’d had a positive experience. I thought an Apprenticeship would suit me most as I like the blend of being in college but also learning on the job – this style of learning suits me.

“The sessions at the College often let us do something completely different to what we are doing at work, which means you get real variety in your training. Decorating is a creative job, but you are often acting on the wishes of your client. At the College you can really bring your own ideas to life. We’re also encouraged to get involved in the different competitions.”

Sophie added that she’d enjoyed some incredible opportunities through her employer – BLKC Decorators Limited – too, such as travelling to Amsterdam to work on an “Insta apartment” for the company Made, and working on Plymouth’s iconic lighthouse, Smeaton’s Tower.

“I have had some amazing experiences,” Sophie said. “These have really opened my eyes to where painting and decorating can lead. I’d assumed it would be a normal yet enjoyable job, but I’m beginning to realise what opportunities are out there if you want them.”

Sophie said one of the best things about the College was the encouraging and supportive staff, especially her tutor, Syd. Even during lockdown, Sophie said Syd would respond within minutes to her queries or if she needed advice. 

About her next steps, Sophie said: “I would love to do a level 3 qualification if possible: I am keen to study different painting techniques that are more specialised. I’ve been experimenting with upcycling furniture and other items since the lockdown and I think that is something I would like to continue and maybe take forward as a career. I don’t have a solid plan just yet; I’m just enjoying exploring all the different options that painting and decorating can offer.”

Painting and decorating lecturer, Syd Dart, said: “Sophie has done fantastically well. She has had some brilliant on-site experience with her employer, working abroad and undertaking conservation work on a historical landmark. Coupled with this, Sophie’s commitment to her college work has been exemplary; her hard work and effort came to fruition earlier this year when she was awarded first place at the Johnstone’s Young Painter of the Year competition.

“Sophie’s experiences and success so far will certainly inspire anyone who is thinking of moving into a career as a painter and decorator.”