This research explores the value and challenges of establishing and maintaining a master's-level professional learning community. The research has a focus upon participants on the Masters in Teaching and Learning (MTL) in one higher education institution (HEI) in the south-east of England. The impulse for the design of the MTL was concern on the part of the UK Government that schools placed in the category of 'National Challenge' suffered from an unsettling turnover of staff and low pupil attainment. The MTL was thus designed with the aim of addressing these issues through a new and rather different master's programme that merged the boundaries between school and university. This three-year longitudinal study draws upon work undertaken with 30 MTL participants on the value of a learning community. Through narrative enquiry, participants' voices have been captured, focusing in particular upon a consideration of critical incidents. Participants' voices highlighted the demands of working in challenging schools and the value of the MTL community which has evolved. The significance of this community in terms of supporting the development of shared rituals, a critical, empowering discourse and structural and emotional enablers is explored in this paper. The findings interrogate the challenges faced by participants in National Challenge schools and celebrate the emergence of an enabling professional learning community, rich in potential to create powerful relationships, affirming practices and teacher agency. The learning community has been seen to counteract alienation and provide emotional support for early career professionals practising in demanding contexts.