AoC Gold Award Winners 2017

This year, we have five college alumni being recognised at the Gold Awards event in the House of Commons. 
David Hughes, Chief Executive of the Association of Colleges said: “Colleges provide a fantastic array of opportunities and it is an honour to be able to recognise those who have built on their time at college to shape a successful career. Congratulations to our Gold Award winners – I wish them all the very best for the future.”
Carole Stott, Chair of the Association of Colleges said:  “Congratulations to all the Gold Award winners.  It’s genuinely inspiring to meet college alumni and learn how much their time at college has helped them to succeed. They represent the important and life-changing work that goes on in our colleges every day.”


Nominated by Barnsley College

Stephanie Hirst

Broadcaster and presenter

"Absolutely thrilled to receive Association Of Colleges ‘Gold Award’ at the House Of Commons in Westminster tonight. Thank you to Barnsley College for nominating me & AoC for the award. It means so much."

Stephanie Hirst started her career studying media at Barnsley College in 1992 when she was 17, Barnsley College announced they were about to create one of the first BTEC Media courses in the country, and she knew instinctively that she just had to be part of it. Although she had no formal qualifications she contacted the college and luckily the tutor was so impressed with her work at a local radio station, Radio Aire, where she had worked from the age of 12, that they offered a place on the course.

Stephanie said: “I got to learn from some truly inspirational people at college, who taught me about the art of sound recording and mixing skills which I’ve used daily in my radio career ever since, winning me many plaudits and awards”

Stephanie hosted the commercial Top 40 show nationally between 2003 and 2006 and had huge success with Hirsty’s Daily Dose, a breakfast show on Capital FM Yorkshire and Vinyl Heaven on Gold. In January 2015, Stephanie started work on ITV's morning show 'Lorraine' as part of a strand called 'Change One Thing'. Along with other celebrities who have made changes to their lives, she helps viewers of the show who desperately want to change one thing about their lives. 

In November 2014, Stephanie was included in the Rainbow List 2014 - an annual celebration of the 101 lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender people in the UK who make a real difference. Stephanie is delighted to have been included again in 2015.

Stephanie is a real supporter of Barnsley College and very proud of her town and her roots, she said: “I have to say thank you to Barnsley College who helped me become who I am today. There has always been a real sense of unity at Barnsley College and during my time here my tutors instilled in my peers and I that anything was achievable.”

Nominated by Barking & Dagenham College

Shaun Escoffrey

Actor, Singer, Songwriter

“It’s such an honour to be put forward for one of these awards. It just shows the impact that the college had on me. It’s only now that I look back and realise how much I learnt. That experience is invaluable and I still use those skills I learnt back then in my daily life now.”

From 1995-1997 Shaun Escoffery studied at the School for the Performing Arts & Technical Theatre at Barking & Dagenham College and has gone on to enjoy success as an Olivier Award nominated actor on the West End stage and as singer and songwriter.

Shaun was on track for a very different career initially, enrolling on a construction course at the College but his keen interest in singing and performing saw him to switch to a performing arts course instead.

In 2001 Shaun signed a record deal with Sony and has performed all over the world and has supported major artists such as Beverley Knight, Angie Stone, Mica Paris and Erykah Badu. From 2008 – 2014 Shaun has played the lead role of Mufasa, king of the lions, in the London production of the worldwide smash hit, The Lion King.

John McDermott, who taught Shaun, talks about his generosity of spirit:

“Shaun has always been a strong supporter of Barking & Dagenham College, for example, calling in occasionally to talk to students about the music business and offer advice and encouragement.  And when the School of Performing Arts organised a series of concerts to raise money for the Tsunami Benefit Appeal in 2005, Shaun gave up three evenings to appear free of charge and in the process gave a considerable boost to audience numbers.”

Shaun, a talented Gospel singer from a young age, explains how his training helping launch his career: "My training in Performing Arts at Barking & Dagenham College really put me in good stead for the realities of the entertainment industry. The lessons I learnt were invaluable. It's a great place to start for anybody wanting to begin their journey in the Performing Arts." 

Nominated by Queen Mary's College

Sima Kotecha

BBC Reporter

 “It feels great to have won, it’s a real honour. It goes to show that you don’t need to be a straight A student to do well in life. I was born in a council house and didn’t come from a wealthy family but when you reach for the stars, anything is possible.”

Sima attended Queen Mary’s College between 1996 and 1998, studying A Levels in Business Studies, Theatre Studies and English Language. T was during this time that Sima fell in love with the English language and its construction and history. Sima also spent a lot of her time in the colleges purpose built professional theatre (Central Studio), singing, and acting, directing and helping to produce plays and began her love affair with radio by gaining valuable work experience at the local hospital radio station.

Sima believes that it is at Queen Mary’s College that she gained more confidence and enjoyed the close intimacy between herself as a performer and the audience. She maintains that she still carries this infinity for the audience with her today when she broadcasts to millions, whether it’s on the radio or TV.

After leaving Queen Mary’s College Sima attended university at Goldsmith’s College and her first job was at BBC Radio Berkshire in 2003 and after a spell with the BBC’s bureau in Brussels she moved back to London in 2012 and switched to Radio 4’s World at One and PM Programme as a reporter.   Sima has also been an on-screen correspondent for Newsnight on BBC2, the BBC News Channel, BBC World, Breakfast TV and TV News. She has made regular appearances on the main BBC News TV bulletins and presents the BBC1 TV news at 8pm.

Despite her busy schedule Sima recently returned to Queen Mary’s College where she took time to encourage and inspire students using examples of her experience at and beyond College she demonstrated that, with hard work and passion, it is possible to get a rewarding and successful career in journalism. 

Nominated by Winstanley College

Phillip Breen

Theatre Director

“It’s such an honour to be put forward for one of these awards. It just shows the impact that the college had on me. It’s only now that I look back and realise how much I learnt. That experience is invaluable and I still use those skills I learnt back then in my daily life now.”

From 1995-1997 Phillip attended Winstanley College in Wigan and gained 5 ‘A’ Levels in Politics, English Language, Performing Arts & Theatre Studies all at Grade A before progressing to Trinity College, University of Cambridge where he achieved a BA(Hons) and MA(Cantab.) in Social and Political Sciences. Whilst at Cambridge he directed and performed as part of Footlights and his production 'Far Too Happy' was the first Footlights production since 1981 to be nominated for the Perrier Award.

Most recently he directed Jigoku no Orpheus (Orpheus Descending) by Tennessee Williams which had its opening night on 7 May 2015 in Tokyo before it transferring to Osaka in June.   Over the Christmas period 20014-15 Phil directed Thomas Dekker's The Shoemaker's Holiday for the RSC which was described by The Birmingham Mail as 'One of the most poignant things I've seen in years ... This is theatre at its brilliant best'. 

Amongst other previous triumphs, Phil directed The Merry Wives of Windsor for the RSC which was reviewed by Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph as ‘an uproariously enjoyable evening and I recommend it highly’.  He directed the York Mysteries in York Minster in 2016 with a community cast of hundreds and a new production of Cyrano de Bergerac in the Spring.  He will shortly be directing his own adaptation of Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence in Sheffield.

Phil remembers most fondly his politics and drama teachers in particular as inspirational and he credits the College with setting him on the right path, giving him the support and the challenge he needed to be the very best. On being asked if he would agree to be nominated for this award, Phil was delighted and said, ‘Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat worrying what would have become of me if I hadn’t gone to Winstanley College’

Phil is a committed supporter of students from less privileged backgrounds and is determined to lend his support to students progressing from unprepossessing backgrounds by being an active alumnus mentor. 

Nominated City College Plymouth

Chris Gates

Managing Director, Princess Yachts

“Colleges do great things for their communities so it’s great that we have awards like this to recognise achievements – I think we should be doing even more!”

Chris Gates is Managing Director of world-leading luxury yacht builder Princess Yachts, one of the largest employers in Plymouth. The company represents the City in every corner of the world with its fleet of yachts and epitomises the best of British manufacturing, from its quality craftsmanship, design and engineering pedigree, to the refined elegant and luxury interior styling of its craft.

Chris is a charismatic Plymothian who has worked his way up through the ranks from mechanical and production engineering apprentice, to the boss of a global brand. He is an inspiration to his 2,000+ workforce; over the last 27 years, there isn’t an area of the business where Chris hasn’t been hands-on in some capacity.

After completing his Apprenticeship at Gleason with the then Plymouth College of Further Education in 1981, Chris kick-started his career within this large US engineering company, before joining Princess Yachts in 1989 as Production Controller, becoming Manufacturing Director in 1991 and Managing Director in 2008.

Chris said: “My time at the College was hugely influential in putting me on the path that has brought me to where I am today. As an apprentice, I had the best of both worlds - a fantastic educational experience at the College, with supportive lecturers who were always there to guide and support me, alongside real industry experience on a day-to-day basis. I wasn’t just working, but had a structured path that gave me opportunities to gain qualifications while learning my craft. At the end of my Apprenticeship, I had the confidence to take the next steps in my career and I’ve never looked back.”