A TWO-year-old Dorset business has helped thousands find a way around the obstacles that prevent people training for a new career.

Bluestone College recently found itself alongside famous names like Sky, EDF Energy and Santander at the national Learning Awards, hosted at London’s Dorchester Hotel by Claudia Winkleman.

Founder Joe Turner conceived the business as a way for people of all ages to train in three core subjects – personal training, sports massage therapy and exercise referral.

The training, which is approved by the regulator Ofqual, is delivered over eight to 16 weeks. The full-day sessions take place at weekends, so that the student does not have to give up a day job or make themselves ineligible for benefits.

“We have a lot of people who want to upskill from their current job,” said Mr Turner.

“They might work in call centres or insurance and think they want something more in life. We allow the ability to upskill and retrain.”

The courses are fully funded so no fees are due up front. As with university degrees, the student only has to repay the fees when they are earning more than £25,000 a year.

They take place at the fitness suites of Village Hotels, away from the classroom environments that may have put some students off education. The courses are run in nine locations across the UK, from Sunderland to Bournemouth.

“Removing barriers to education is what we specialise in, both financially and in terms of location,” said Mr Turner.

“There are probably three colleges in the UK doing what we’re doing. We’re pioneers in what we’re doing.”

Mr Turner grew up in New Milton and Lymington and at one time wanted to play sport professionally. He worked for the Training Room, the Poole-based provider of vocational courses, and wrote textbooks for awarding bodies before becoming managing director of a London-based training company.

He returned to Dorset to develop the idea for Bluestone College, headquartered in Ferndown.

He said: “All I did was hired the best staff I’d ever worked with, got them into one big melting pot and said ‘This is my vision, now we’re going to disrupt the market – no one’s doing what we’re doing’.”

The business focused on delivering courses in person at a time when others were going for high profit margins by training online.

It won Investors in People status at the first attempt and has partnered with Help for Heroes to offer 40 free places for sick or wounded forces veterans.

So far, around 5,000 people have trained and the range of subjects it covers is set to expand. “Now that we’ve proved the model, we’re going to roll that our multi-sector,” said Mr Turner.

The company made the finals of the Learning Awards in the Innovation in Learning category, coming away with the silver award. Judges were looking for trainers that used ground-breaking methods to engage with learners.

Mr Turner said: “To be sat next to a college from America and a University from Australia was an honour for us as we only established Bluestone College just two years ago from our sofa.”

Jim Bryant, head of education at Bluestone College, said: “Coming up against such established brands is flattering for a budding company like us.”