West Suffolk College awards celebrate ‘outstanding’ students
- Credit: Gregg Brown
Challenges in life and daunting efforts against adversity were recognised at an annual awards ceremony.
From beating drug and alcohol abuse to voluntary work and from bringing up four young girls to fighting a debilitation illness, dozens of students were handed accolades at West Suffolk College’s Celebration of Achievement event.
Held at St Edmundsbury Cathedral, in Bury St Edmunds, on Monday, it attracted family, friends and supporters of the students, plus college staff and dignitaries from all over the west of the county.
A total of 55 students, from various age groups ranging from teenagers to those in their 50s, were presented with awards for outstanding achievement in their subject, community service and achievement in the face of adversity.
The keynote speaker at the event was Paralympian Brian Aldiss, who has represented Great Britain in the Beijing Paralympics in wheelchair racing as well as completing the London Marathon six times. Brian, who was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus, is now aiming to compete in the Rio Paralympics and then Tokyo in 2020 as part of the hand cycling team and told how he had just returning from competing in Prague. The 28-year-old, who is a member of West Suffolk Wheelers, said that he was “proud” and “lucky” to represent his country and that he “loved” taking part in his chosen sport.
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“I wouldn’t change anything for it and it has helped me to make friends all over the world,” he said.
Earlier college principal Dr Nikkos Savvas praised the students for their achievements and the support from their families. He also thanked the many businesses who sponsored the awards and prizes and for offering many of the students “real work and life experience”.
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Head of marketing and communications at the college, Yasmin Jeffery, who with her team helped to organise the event, said: “Our awards celebrate those students who have given their best and achieved outstanding results on their courses and in the community. We wish them all the best of luck in their future careers.”
The evening was compered by Gary Willis, the college’s director of performance, conservatoire east, who added a touch of humour to the occasion, and hundreds of the winners, sponsors and guests attended a drinks and canapés reception in the cathedral grounds following the presentation.
Craig Clackett, 43, Twinstead - winner of the Sudbury Learning Centre Learner of the Year Award
Craig is a single parent to four young girls aged 10, 11, 13 and 15, who was originally signposted to the Sudbury Learning Centre by Jobcentre Plus for careers advice. The former electrician wanted to gain qualifications and to find out what was available to him. Having lost his career due to health issues and being wheelchair bound, Craig went into the Sudbury Learning Centre to see how he could work towards a brighter, more fulfilled future.
He said: “After spending six years bringing up four young daughters on my own following my divorce, things took a turn for the worse when an undiagnosed back injury led to my being in a wheelchair. I had been an electrician, which was quite a physical job, but suddenly I was trapped at home and unable to work.
“It hit me hard – I struggled to come to terms with it and I was at my lowest point and felt useless. I was getting very depressed and being stuck at home was adding to my depression.
“I knew I had to get a grip to make our home a happy place again so I decided to call my local job centre and seek help. The adviser arranged a meeting. She advised me to visit the college so I left and drove straight there.
“It was the best decision possible because the staff welcomed me and listened to what I needed and advised me on all my options and what they could offer me.”
Craig first enrolled on the computer workshop, then English and maths functional skills. In 2013/14 he studied computing and gained qualifications in Level 1 word processing, spreadsheets and database and functional skills English and maths, where he achieved a Level 2 qualification in both. In this current academic year (2014/15) he is studying both English and maths at GCSE level.
Shaun Cole, 50, Iliffe Way, Stowmarket - winner of the Penelope Hewes Award for Achievement
Shaun was in the military for nine years and was a fifth generation of the Grenadier Guards. After becoming ill with a blood infection 12 years ago he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
After being introduced to art theory his passion for painting flourished. Art and his family have given Shaun’s life focus and he has been described as “an amazing student” even supporting others. He was nominated for the award by his tutor Derek Johnson.
He is progressing to UCS Ipswich to study for a degree in Fine Art BA (hons) and said: “I feel very honoured to have been given this award and I’m so pleased that my kids could come and see me receive it.
“Art helps me so much with my PTSD. It stops me from thinking. When I’m struggling I find that art is a good form of therapy for me. It has been a life saver, really.
“About five years ago I was very down and I wasn’t looking after myself. Discovering this new passion for art lifted me out of that gloom.”
Shaun, who has two children aged 15 and 12, is exhibiting his work in the Mall Galleries, in London, later this year.
He added: “I have loved my year at the college and I never thought about what I would do beyond that but my tutors were so encouraging and suggested I try out for a degree.
“I said I’m 50 and I have trouble getting around because I am in a wheelchair but they said that shouldn’t put me off. So I am very surprised to say I will be starting a degree course next year in Fine Art at UCS Ipswich.”
Aaron Williams, 21, Spring Lane, Bury St Edmunds - winner of the Community Prize
Art and design student Aaron Williams won the Community Prize for his work with the Chat 2 Change group that supports young people in care.
The 21-year-old was in care from the age of eight and this experience and insight has led him to become the chairman of the ‘Chat 2 Change’ group. This is a volunteer group that helps to improve systems in the social services and health care for the under 16s in care.
Head of the School of Art and Design, Derek Johnson, nominated Aaron, and said: “Aaron has been a fantastic student. His support of others has been exceptional. This prize is about his work above and beyond his course, though. He makes a real difference to young people through this leadership of the Chat 2 Change group.
“Aaron is also a dedicated Dr Who fan. He takes his recreations of creatures, props and the Tardis to visit various events. With his business partner, he has developed a company called ‘Who Hire’. Their stand at the Bury Christmas Fair raised more than £500 for charities.”
He has also campaigned against the use of bed and breakfast accommodation for care leavers which can leave young people vulnerable to the attention of unsuitable people.
He said: “I’m very proud that I have won the award. I have really enjoyed my time at college and my tutors have been very supportive. Learning more about 3D modelling has been great and I have used it to help me create my Dr Who props.”
Rachael Watson, 41, Eastgate Street, Bury St Edmunds - winner of the Governor’s Prize
Rachael had spiralled into drug and alcohol abuse after escaping from an abusive relationship.
She hit rock bottom after discovering her birth mother had died (she had been adopted) and decided it was time to get clean.
She entered a rehabilitation programme and once she was sober she decided to return to college.
Last September Rachael, who was nominated by her tutor Bridget Petherick, began her Access Diploma in Nursing with the dream of going to university to study mental health nursing – something with which she feels she has had much experience.
Up until recently she was running Toppers sandwich shop in the town centre (when she was not at college) but now works at The Lounge, in Bury, and also leads a weekly Narcotics Anonymous meeting.
In May she received an offer from Anglia Ruskin University to study mental health nursing, in September.
Rachael, who runs regularly as part of her fitness regime, said: “Winning this award means everything to me and my life has changed so much ... I couldn’t continue to live the life I was living three years ago.”