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The Corporation

Posted: 07/12/17

Education awards for Geoff and Ben

A popular staff member and exceptional student at West Nottinghamshire College have been honoured at a glittering awards ceremony.

  • Geoff proudly accepts his award along with fellow ‘support staff of the year’ runner-up Helen Musson, from The Trinity Catholic School, Nottingham; joined by Kelly Ball, managing director of Access Training, the category sponsor.
  • Modest Ben (left) displays his accolade, joined by fellow ‘beating the odds runner-up’ Kayleigh Tate, from Nottingham Academy, and Dr Peter Watts from the University of Nottingham, the category sponsor.

Support coach co-ordinator Geoff Vincent and former construction student Ben Talbot were finalists in this year’s Nottingham Post Education Awards – an annual celebration of stand-out students and inspirational staff from across the county.

Now in its sixth year, the awards – held at the Crowne Plaza, Nottingham, on Wednesday 29 November – featured a host of categories, reflecting the diverse ways in which students achieve success and highlighting the staff who make a huge difference to their lives.

The event, attended by hundreds of people, saw Geoff and Ben named as runners-up in the ‘support staff of the year’ and ‘beating the odds’ categories respectively.

In his role, caring Geoff works with a range of vulnerable students, including youth offenders and looked-after youngsters, as well as anyone else who might need a helping hand from time to time.

With more than 20 years’ experience, Geoff has also set up a community youth centre used by many of the college’s learners, where he volunteers in the evening. He regularly helps students with issues such as securing bursaries or even ensuring they have food, money and accommodation. He also raises money for homeless teenagers in the local area and runs collections within college in order to purchase supplies for them.

His open-door policy places him in high-demand with students and staff, with Geoff known affectionately as “the font of all knowledge” when it comes to providing guidance on safeguarding and ensuring the physical and mental wellbeing of young people.

Geoff was nominated by health and safety manager Sue Fretwell for “always going the extra mile for learners that he is supporting and anyone who walks through his door and needs help.”

Sue said: “Geoff always puts the learners first and his home life frequently takes a back seat, even though he has three children of his own. Geoff routinely goes above and beyond the call of duty and makes sure that learners have food, clothes and access to bursaries and bus fares, especially in times when the college is closed such as over the Christmas period. He will find places for them to go and get food and even take them to food banks and hostels. He just wants to make a difference to the world of these teenagers in college and in the local area.”

Speaking of the recognition, Geoff said: “I felt very humbled to be invited to the awards. I was sat with some remarkable student nominees; one who’d become homeless due to a house fire a week before she was due to take her exams, and another who was undergoing chemotherapy in between all her exams. To me, they are the real winners.

“It meant the world to me just to be nominated. Simply knowing that people think I make a difference means so much.

“The types of issues myself and my team deal with on a day-to-day basis can be quite emotional and can take their toll. But I feel privileged to be able to play an active part in trying to help somebody either turn a corner, overcome barriers, or move forward with their life.

“The rewards sometimes come a few years down the line when you’re walking through town and somebody will come up to you and say ‘Can you remember me? You spoke to me about five or six years ago, and what you told me was right, and I’ve worked through things and now I’m doing something with my life’. That beats any kind of award you can ever receive.”

Meanwhile, Ben – who left the college in June after spending five years studying at its construction centre in Kirkby-in-Ashfield – was put forward by his former tutor, Adam Thompson, for successfully “surpassing obstacles in life, and still achieving a high standard of perfection.”

The audience heard that Ben, from Shirebrook, managed to combine the demands of his full-time college course while also working 40 hours-a-week in a retail job, in addition to taking on much of the domestic duties at home to help his mother, Tracy, who is a single parent.

He was also a student rep for the college for an Erasmus+ exchange visit to Estonia – his second year of participating in the project – helping Estonian students produce CVs in English so they could apply for jobs in countries where English is the first language. Highly-motivated Ben even took on additional course units to develop his subject knowledge.

Despite juggling all this, Ben – who joined the college in 2012 on the Level 1 Diploma in Carpentry and Joinery – achieved a host of qualifications throughout his five years of study, most recently the BTEC Level 3 Extended Diploma in Construction and the Built Environment, gaining triple-distinction stars (D* D* D*). He is now studying a degree in civil engineering at the University of Derby and hopes to peruse a successful career in the industry, eventually running his own business.

Adam said: “You may ask yourself why, and how, does this young man fit all this work ethic into his day-to-day routines? I can only assume this is down to pure motivation and dedication for a better future, which I admire. I’m so proud to be part of Ben’s learning journey. He really does deserve to have this award; not just for recognition but for inspiration for others. He is a credit to the college.”

Reflecting on his accolade, Ben said: “It came as a shock to learn I’d been shortlisted because I wasn’t expecting it. Even though I’ve now progressed on to the next stage of my education at university, it was good to still be recognised for things I did at college.

“It was a really good feeling to be one of the finalists and it will inspire me to want to do more things in the future. It just shows that if you put in the hard work and persevere in everything that you do, good things come your way.

“There were times when things got really hard, which almost makes you want to give up, but I just got on with it and most of the time I suppose I just saw it as normal life. I always came to college with the attitude that there’s always somebody worse off than yourself.

“I appreciate everything that West Notts has done for me. Not only did college help me with my education, the people I had around me helped mould me into the person I am now.”