History of FuelRCA

 FuelRCA is the Royal College of Art professional development service. We help curious, creative people up their game and make smart choices about their professional lives.

In 2003 the Royal College of Art* commissioned John Bound to conduct a study into professional practice (later development) support for students and recent graduates, including career, business and life skills across all disciplines taught at the RCA. The aim was to help students and recent graduates identify where and how their creativity could be applied in the world, and to support them in developing the professional skills, networks and commercial sense they would need to thrive. John's 2004 report recommended that a central co-ordinating service and resource be established to complement the local, discipline-specific support provided by MA programmes. 

Building on the report recommendations the RCA proposed a College-wide professional practice role for InnovationRCA - a new centre for industry collaboration, which was supported by the Higher Education Innovation fund (HEIF) and directed by Professor Jeremy Myerson. Other aspects of InnovationRCA's portfolio included executive education, student IP commercialisation and founding membership of the Materials and Design Exchange. John Bound was appointed Head of Innovation Development, InnovationRCA, in November 2004 and invited to lead on implementation of the new professional practice service.

College buy-in

The 2003 study had been conducted as an action-research project, including a start-up summer school ('£Marketplace'), tutors' roundtable and a student census to identify their skill gaps and dream future roles. John Bound and alumna Julia Hutton also conducted extensive consultation with students, the Students' Union, Pro-Rector Alan Cummings, course administratrators, alumni and external experts including Linda Ball of the Higher Education Academy. Academic staff from across the RCA made valuable contributions, including Joan Ashworth (Animation), Liz Aylieff (Ceramics & Glass), David Crowley (History of Design), Rama Gheerawo (Helen Hamlyn Research Centre), Peter Kennard (Photography), Sam Livingstone (Vehicle Design), Qona Rankin (Dyslexia Unit), David Rayson (Painting), Michael Rowe (GSMJ), Ike Rust (Fashion Menswear), Anne Toomey (Textiles) and Jeff Willis (Communication, Art & Design). As a result, considerable buy-in already existed for the series of talks and workshops, online resources and mentoring that were envisaged for the new professional practice unit - on themes from tax and IP to presentation skills and funding.

Fit with academic development
FuelRCA’s early strategy was developed by John Bound and the core team in close consultation with Pro Rector (Academic) Professor Alan Cummings. Integration with the RCA’s academic vision has continued to be informed by regular meetings and collaborations with Head of Academic Development Chris Mitchell. The 2012 QAA Review identified professional development as one of two areas of best practice at the RCA, and it has since become established as a core aspect of the MA curriculum across all Schools. Programmes now include a description of their respective professional development expectations and discipline-specific provision in Student Handbooks, and FuelRCA has hosted several roundtable meetings to help tutors share best practice and identify emerging needs.

Fit with enterprise agenda
FuelRCA’s location in InnovationRCA has ensured that its strategy is informed and strengthened by the RCA’s innovation and enterprise agenda. Practical results of this have included start-up event collaborations with the RCA Incubator team and Pauline Watkins' excellent IP support for the Fuel Helpline. FuelRCA is also aligned with the 2012 QAA Guidelines for Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Education and NACUE Create's Insight & Inspiration Guide to enterprise education for creative subjects.

The 2012 QAA Institutional Review identified as good practice the Royal College of Art’s ‘continuing commitment to professional practice and employability evident in both the curriculum and the College’s attention to promoting links with industry and art and design professions'. This recognised the impact of both discipline specific initiatives within academic programmes and FuelRCA, the College-wide professional development service founded in 2005.

"FuelRCA’s talks, workshops, mentoring and website provide great support for RCA students and alumni. They cover a wide range of professional development topics and skills which help with graduates' transition into the real world, whatever their creative discipline". Ritika Karnani, Students’ Union President 2013/14

"FuelRCA know their market, their value proposition is clear and their delivery highly regarded". Plymouth University delegate to IEEC 2013.

"The expertise, commitment and professionalism of the FuelRCA team has been recognised by students, alumni, staff and external collaborators, as has the strength of the external network of expertise that has been developed around the FuelRCA offer in order to deliver an extensive service". Independent review of FuelRCA, 2012.

Origins of the FuelRCA identity
It was recognised early on that in order to engage with RCA students and alumni (as well as staff), a name and visual identity other than 'professional practice' or 'business studies' was essential. Artists and designers did not necessarily see themselves as business people or following a conventional career, and therefore the language, culture and ethos of the new unit needed to be fully embedded within the RCA community.

Corporate identity expert David Pike (ex Michael Peters Group) was commissioned to lead a series of workshops with students, staff and alumni that identified audiences, key deliverables and messages for the unit.  This resulted in a brand name - 'FuelRCA' -, which was proposed by RCA Students' Union Vice-President Graeme Raeburn, now lead designer at Rapha. According to David Pike's report, 'in addition to the associations of energy Fuel also takes in the wider sense of education and nourishment. It could more readily encompass all the activities of the Professional Practice and yet provide the grit and sharpness that the group felt would make it engaging.' The team was delighted when the Rector, Sir Christopher Frayling, approved the name FuelRCA for internal and external use.

Complementing the FuelRCA name, a distinctive visual identity was developed in collaboration with senior graphics tutor Jeff Willis. This included a logotype and strapline (think.work.live) which were later integrated into playful posters and flyers designed by Lorna Turner and illustrated by Walter Newton, both alumni of RCA Visual Communications. The identity was updated by Julia in 2009/10 to reflect a growing seriousness among students and enable the core team to easily produce posters themselves. Whatever the visual style, Fuel's identity has always been designed to primarily appeal to its main audience - the students and alumni of the Royal College of Art.

Further details of FuelRCA's brand development are here



Self-help, 24/7
FuelRCA’s integrated programme of events, website, a book collection, helpline and mentoring schemes was created as a trusted source of self-help information, guidance and inspiration for RCA students and alumni. Since their engagement is voluntary, the Fuel service has been made available in a variety of ways that its audience can choose from according to need - anytime, anywhere. A 2012 activity map shows the elements that make up the Fuel offer, which are also described by Lizzie Gossling in this 2014 video for student registration week.

Live events have been central to FuelRCA's offer since 2005 - introducing students to key career and commercialisation themes, facilitating inter-disciplinary networking and raising the profile of professional development and enterprise education across the RCA. They have frequently been held in the setting of the RCA Senior Common, which provides a stimulating yet neutral space for straight talking and social gathering. The RCA Students' Union cafes and bar have also hosted many Fuel events, often chaired or introduced by SU officers.

Event themes were initially informed by Fuel's annual survey of incoming students, with core skills ingredients ranging from tax and IP workshops to Show preparation talks, presentations skills training and CV writing clinics. £Marketplace, a 3 day start-up summer school, ran for several years under the guidance of holistic business guru Max Comfort, while a packed 2006 seminar on confidence proved very influential on our thinking. Guest speakers including Sebastian Conran, Al Rees and Freddie Robins discussed the realities of life as an artist, designer or communicator, and the role that confidence and other 'soft skills' can play in people's success or otherwise.

In 2009 the Fuel team attended a series of talks on wealth and societal values under the dome of St Paul's Cathedral and, as the financial crash worsened, a new strand of 'fuelling debates' was initiated by event co-ordinator Sarah Douglas. The aim was to engage with MA students - especially fine artists - through critical discussion of both the philosophical and practical aspects of money, work, creative practice etc. Professor Charles Handy, founder London Business School, and psychoanalyst Darian Leader addressed the nature of ambition at the first such event in 2010, setting the scene for several other discussions on the economy and life after art school. In this short video artist Celia Pym (Textiles 2008) included enjoying work, laughter, spirit, friendship, thriving and long-term learning in her ideas about success.

Following 2012 QAA guidance on the value of soft skills in enterprise education, topics such as communication, mindfulness and networking became a fixture on the Fuel calendar alongside the core curriculum of business and employability skills.  In 2012/13 website editor Hannah Black chaired several 'come and share' meetings where students were encouraged to learn from each other's experience of internships, collective working etc.

Fuel's careers and employability offer was strengthened in 2012/13 through the support of Dr Nadia Danhash (Director, InnovationRCA) and the regular involvement of career strategist John Lees, international recruiter Antoinette Lemens, life coaches Zena Everett and Rachael Stevens, the School of Life and LSE careers adviser Laura-Jane Silverman. An important strand of these events was the 'hidden' job market, and the notion that roles can be self-created through identifying your transferable skills, spotting opportunities for niche roles, and articulating the business case for them. In other words, an entrepreneurial approach to job creation.

To explore these ideas further an Employer's Forum was created, enabling senior alumni and others to share their experience of hiring art & design graduates and how best to integrate emerging creative talent into commercial or public sector roles. Industry Nights held in 2014 and 2015 enabled employers to meet and recruit graduating students at Show Battersea and Show Kensington.

New, low cost technologies made it possible to live video stream these talks and workshops, and Fuel soon built up an online following among students working in their studios, and alumni around the world. This evolved into the lunchtime 'dream job' webinar series, with guest speakers including alumni heads of design at Mazda and Sisley.

By 2014/15 the Fuel annual event programme had evolved into three phases - immediately applicable skills such as time management in the Autumn term; longer-term career contextualisation in the Spring and a mix of commercialisation and confidence-building events in the run-up to the Summer Degree Show. The latter included Janice Blackburn Masterclasses and a seminar on 'the commercial dimensions of a fine art practice' with art lawyer Henry Lydiate, Director of MOT International Chris Hammond and the artist/researcher Margarita Gluzberg.

From 2015/16 FuelRCA's focus will be on employability.

View FuelRCA event posters and photos 2005-15

RDI mentoring
FuelRCA's collaboration with the Royal Designers for Industry (RDI) faculty of the RSA was devised by John Bound and RCA alumnus Robin Levien RDI in 2007 and RDIs have since helped many RCA graduates with significant career decisions through 1:1 mentoring, workshops and the annual RDI Show Tour. We are grateful to RDI Masters Dinah Casson, Mike Dempsey, Malcolm Garrett and Chris Wise for their continued support and encouragement, and to Barry Akid and Melanie Andrews for their able co-ordination of the scheme. A list of participating RDIs is given here. 

PwC mentoring
Fuel's Sarah Douglas initiated FuelRCA's collaboration with the leadership development team at PwC in 2012, and this has led to a very successful series of 18-month business mentoring programmes for RCA graduate-entrepreneurs. Lessons from the 2013/14 programme are here and we are grateful to John Hughes at PwC for his imaginative co-steering of this project. 

The Fuel Helpline was inherited from visiting business tutor Jeremy North in 2005, and has since been managed by Barry Akid and John Bound. It provides confidential guidance on business and careers and is staffed by a panel of experienced mentors including Max Comfort, Susan Jones, Paul O'Toole, LJ Silverman and Pauline Watkins.

Library collection
The Fuel library collection was created in 2008 to provide a permanent and accessible resource for students and alumni, and includes over 300 books on topics from careers in art & design and tax to presentations skills, leadership and finance. The books were researched by John Bound and selected for their particular relevance to an art & design audience. We are grateful to Peter Hassel and Darlene Maxwell for their advice and other support for the collection. 

FuelRCA had an early online presence via the RCA intranet but this proved technically restrictive and was inaccessible to alumni around the world. In 2009/10 Tom Lucas and Annabel Fraser developed plans for a new website which would contain career and enterprise information, inspirational articles by and about College alumni, and links to external resources. The site would also enable Fuel to save time and improve efficiency by automating event booking and other administrative tasks.

Launched in 2011 and supported by social media and custom email software, the site quickly became the hub of Fuel’s service, and made it possible to add video streaming, podcasts and webinars to the existing live event and mentoring activities. Under Hannah Black’s editorship the site has developed a strong art & design voice, featuring images from the RCA collection and articles published to complement and promote Fuel’s events programme.


FuelRCA's was established within InnovationRCA, where its strategy and delivery has been overseen by Professor Jeremy Myerson (Director 2004-9), John Bound and Dr Nadia Danhash (Co-Directors 2010) and Dr Nadia Danhash (Director 2011- ). John Bound was Head of FuelRCA 2005-15.

Core team
In order to ensure a strong connection with the needs and concerns of its primary (student and recent graduate) audience, it was decided that FuelRCA's delivery team should always include part-time RCA alumni (i.e. art & design practitioners) who would be supported by student or alumni helpers and an extensive network of trainers, coaches and other experts in enterprise education. Hannah Murgatroyd (Communication Art & Design 2005) and former SU Vice-President Graeme Raeburn (Fashion 2004) joined John Bound and Helpline mentor Barry Akid to form the original FuelRCA team.

After Hannah and Graeme left to focus on their own creative practices, Fuel's strong relationship with the RCA Students' Union led to the appointment of former SU President Cia Durante Photography 2005) and SU Vice-President Tom Lucas (Communication Art & Design 2005) who respectively developed the Fuel events programme and print/online designs. Tom stayed on to develop the Fuel website, while other team members have included writer-editors Katie Feo (History of Design 2006) Annabel Fraser (Communication Art & Design 2008) and Hannah Black (Goldsmiths MFA 2013) and event co-ordinators Sarah Douglas (Painting 2005) and Elizabeth Gossling (Printmaking 2012).

Event helpers have included alumni Philipp Dorl, Lizete Druka, Lucie Eldridge, Sian Gledghill, Eugenia Ivanissevich, Stephanie Land, Tom Pope, Claire Poulter, Karolina Raczynska, Joel Trotter and Anna Wojdecka.

RCA staff including Stuart Croft, Alan Cummings, Nadia Danhash, Margarita Gluzberg, Peter Kennard, Joe Kerr, Clare Johnston, Miles Pennington, Al Rees, Freddie Robins, Jo Stockham, Pauline Watkins and Richard Wentworth have all spoken at Fuel events, alongside a wide range of alumni from Richard Seymour and Dirk van Doren to Lauren Bowker, Claire Catterall and Rosalind Davis. Visiting speakers, mentors and coaches have included Janice Blackburn, Alison Branagan, Max Comfort, Zena Everett, JP Flintoff, Charles Handy, Chris Hammond, Paul Jackson, Susan Jones, John Lees, Antoinette Lemens, Henry Lydiate, Mark McGuinness, Jessica Rayner, Laura-Jane Silverman, Wendy Smith, Rachael Stevens and Kate Terris.

Fuel has always enjoyed a close association with the RCA Students' Union, and team members Graeme Raeburn, Cia Durante and Tom Lucas were all former SU officers. AlumniRCA's Chris Green and Hannah Brown have been equally important collaborators, and Fuel's events and services have been open to graduates since its launch.

Among its many external advisers and collaborators, FuelRCA has particularly valued its association with Enterprise Educators UK, the national network which brings together over 1000 enterprise and entrepreneurship educators from 100+ UK Higher and Further Education Institutions. This has included participation in the annual IEEC conference, hosting a national seminar on student engagement with enterprise, and the 2011 appointment of former EEUK Chair Professor Andy Penaluna, Swansea University, as Advisor to the Fuel programme. Other significant collaborators have included NACUE Create, HEA and NCEE. 


In Autumn 2015 FuelRCA was restructured to focus on employability. The revised service will be delivered by staff at InnovationRCA, the Royal College of Art’s centre for enterprise and entrepreneurship.





The Royal College of Art's* origins go back to 1837 when its was established as the Government School of Design. Throughout its history the RCA has enjoyed a strong relationship with art and design practice, and as an entirely postgraduate institution it is closely integrated with commerce and public life across the world. Alumni include industrialist Sir James Dyson, artist Tracey Emin and Jaguar car designer Ian Callum.