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How The Treat Kitchen benefited from the GRADS for D2N2 project

A look at how NTU are connecting our graduates with local SMEs

This support is part-funded by the European Regional Development Fund

Through the GRADS for D2N2 project*, Nottingham Trent University (NTU) is supporting small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) based in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire with a package of free and subsidised support to help them identify their skills and talent needs, and benefit from graduate talent in the region.

In September, we caught up with local business, The Treat Kitchen, to talk about the benefits they have experienced since taking on a graduate placement.

The Treat Kitchen sour chocolate

The Treat Kitchen

The Treat Kitchen are a confectionary wholesaler that originally started five years ago with the vision to bring traditional flavours into the 21st-century. Starting with a single shop in Nottingham city centre, the business experienced a period of expansion over the next few years, eventually running six stores across the East Midlands and South Yorkshire.

However, they eventually took the decision to move away from high street retailing in order to focus on bespoke production and innovation and moved into the wholesale market, a change that became their sole focus around two years ago.

Since then, they have experienced rapid growth and now count Harrods, TK Maxx, Wilko and a number of football clubs among their customer base.

The Treat Kitchen have a long-standing relationship with NTU, having worked closely with the university for a number of years. In addition to the support received from GRADS for D2N2, they have also worked with the Grads4Nottm project.

Jess Barnett, sales director and co-founder commented: "Grads4Nottm really appealed to us as it was focused on creative businesses and we were looking for new inspiration. This was a success for us and we wanted to look at other ways to work with the university."

After speaking with NTU's Employability team, she was made aware of the GRADS for D2N2 project and decided to explore the option of taking one of our graduates on a six-week placement.

Santa Brice, Creative Lead at The Treat Kitchen
Santa Brice, Creative Lead at The Treat Kitchen

Santa Brice, the graduate

Santa has always been passionate about art and design, and studied for a degree at the art college of Daugavpils University in her home country of Latvia. Afterwards, she started a family and took a break from her own career to raise her son.

Nine years ago, she moved to the UK with her family and after a period working odd-jobs, she decided to go back to school. After completing an Access to Higher Education course in Business, she enrolled at NTU for a degree in Fashion Marketing and Branding.

Following graduation she wanted to get back on the career ladder and quickly found a graduate placement opportunity for as a digital marketing intern at The Treat Kitchen.

Santa said: "During this placement I undertook a wide range of duties, but quickly realised that I wanted to be more involved in the design side of things.

"Because of this I was able to get involved in everything from poster and brochure design, to product photography and packaging development.

"I was able to use the skills I'd learned throughout my education, and they were looking for someone to create a new vision for the brand, so it was a really good fit."

Since completing the placement, Santa has gone from strength to strength, having been promoted to the role of Creative Lead. She now works alongside the head of product development, and line manages a full-time studio artworker. She has also supported work experience opportunities for seven creative interns.

I had such a long time out of work and came from a low-income background before returning to NTU as a mature student. I would definitely recommend a graduate placement to anyone that has the opportunity.

Santa Brice

"It was an opportunity for both sides to find out if we were a good fit, which we were. Every day I felt like I was getting better and better, and there are loads of opportunities to progress at a small company.

"This kind of role helps to build your confidence to pitch your own ideas, but you also learn how to deal with the times when they aren't accepted, which is really important."

The impact

Jess said: "Before getting involved in the project, we were experiencing a skills gap in packaging design, particularly around Adobe Creative Cloud, so were looking for someone to fill it.

"Our design team are our USP as many other companies outsource this work. By keeping it in-house we're able to be really innovative and speedy in production.

"When we took on Santa we put her through training on food and labelling legislation, but she was already very skilled in the design side so she really hit the ground running and made a big difference.

We really value the support from NTU and the relationships they establish with the local business community. Opportunities such as placements are so important as they help to give graduates commercial experience and a vocational grounding so that they can put the skills learned on their degree to good business use.

Jess Barnett

Supporting social mobility and widening participation

NTU is at the forefront of social mobility. The university recruits a quarter of its home undergraduates from households with a combined income of £15,000 or less, and has an impressive graduate employment rate. Four out of five graduates secure graduate entry jobs or training six months after graduation, and the GRADS for D2N2 programme is a contributing factor towards this.

The university is a signatory to the Social Mobility Pledge, and is also a co-lead on a national centre to research and develop best practices for universities on how to improve social mobility.

Find out more about GRADS for D2N2

To find out more about the ESF High Level Skills programme and the wider support that NTU can offer, visit our website.

You can also contact us via any of the below channels:

* The GRADS for D2N2 project is part-funded by the European Social Fund and is part of the ESF High Level Skills programme. The programme is delivered by NTU as part of the High Level Skills consortium which also includes Derby College, Nottingham College, the University of Derby, and Nottingham City Council.