This year's winners and runners-up

We are proud to announce all the winners and runners-up for this years awards.

Young Student of the Year (16 to 18-years-old)

Sponsored by

WINNER Billy Gibbons

South Essex College of Further & Higher Education

Billy Gibbons is an incredible student who does not recognise the word barrier, despite the fact that he has overcome so many. 

Billy has achieved a D*D* in his 90 Credit Diploma in Public Services at South Essex College, obtaining a distinction in every assessment. This alone would be an outstanding achievement for a student not facing barriers, yet Billy has attained this with a profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. He also has significant speech and language delay, developmental delay and an auditory processing impairment. Billy communicates using British Sign Language and lip reading, his focus in lessons is testament to the grades he has achieved. He works so hard, takes on board feedback and asks questions to ensure he meets the highest grades possible. Billy also has mild cerebral palsy affecting mainly his lower limbs, however he throws himself into all practical elements of the course and always strives to be better. In addition, Billy also helps as a carer for his twin sister, yet takes all of this in his stride. 
Billy recently went to Buckingham Palace to receive his gold Duke of Edinburgh Award, as part of this award he volunteered for the charity 'Kids First'. This charity is part of Thurrock and District Cerebral Palsy Society offering support and opportunities to children in the community. He achieved his award whilst also working as a volunteer in a PHAB shop. Furthermore, Billy has volunteered for the Royal Association for Death People, helping out with sailing trips and completed work experience for three weeks in a Newcastle school. Billy is also active and plays cricket for Essex Ability and swims with Runnymede Swim Club and has even completed training as a fire cadet within Essex County Fire and Rescue Service.
Billy won South Essex College Student of the Year in our own Celebrating Success Awards. He shows others that there are no limits to what you can achieve and never complains about his situation, he simply works out solutions to any issues he faces without drama or negativity. Billy inspires people facing all types of barriers, whether this be a disability, a family issue, a mental issue or a health issue, believing that if you focus on your goals, remain positive and work hard, good things will result. He also inspires others to go above and beyond, to volunteer, to join in and take part to the best of your ability.
All of the amazing things Billy does, he does for himself and from his own drive. He does not strive for the recognition it brings him, he does them because he wants to be the best version of himself. This drive and passion is the key to success in whatever he puts his mind to. At South Essex College, we look forward to seeing Billy progress even further on the second year of his course and are privileged he chose us to succeed with. 

RUNNER-UP Macy Sheil

Trafford College

Macy Sheil, despite undertaking A levels in Psychology, Sociology and Politics, has made it her mission to inspire as many people as possible at Trafford College and across the region.

Macy has a clear vision of her goals, which include studying politics at university whilst maintaining her activist duties. She would also like to work at a grass-root community level within government and eventually progress to becoming an MP or MEP.

After suffering spinal injuries, Macy endured chronic pain and severe mental health issues. Disappointed with the lack of adequate support and because she felt she wasn’t encouraged to be ambitious, or to do and be her best by her sixth form school, Macy decided to leave and join Trafford College. 

Determined to be as proactive as possible, within her first year Macy signed up to become a student ambassador, joined the equalities committee, became co-founder of the Green College Assembly, won a student of the year award for her student ambassador work, was recruited as a ‘This Girl Can’ ambassador, and volunteered politically within the community. Confident, reliable and a fantastic advocate of the college and invaluable at school and community events, Macy has boundless energy and enthusiasm and is 100% committed. The organisations and individuals she meets have been so impressed with Macy, that she has been offered a number of work experience and paid placements.

Tackling burning youth issues, Macy suggested a partnership between the college and local community support agencies, including choosing a charity to benefit from a series of student fundraisers, such as the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, set up to tackle violent crime following the 20 year old’s death.
Recently, Macy met with Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham to present her findings on solutions to violent and knife crime and discuss mental health and environmental issues. She also interviewed Trafford Mayor, Tom Ross and presented on the causes and effects of knife crime on GM youths, as a result he offered Macy the opportunity to shadow him as a work experience placement.

Macy regularly campaigns to educate her fellow students through the Green College Assembly, in order to make the college more eco-friendly. When Mayor Burnham heard of her mission, he set her the challenge of becoming the first plastic waste free college in Greater Manchester. 

Macy volunteers politically in the college and within the community and recently volunteered for Oxfam, yet also finds time to canvas for her local party, as well as attending protest marches for issues she is passionate about and young women’s conventions and talks. 
Macy is an inspirational young person who is completely self-motivating and on a mission to educate and change her world for the better. She grabs every opportunity with both hands and dedicates her spare time to helping others, and making a difference at college and in the community.

RUNNER-UP Sibgha Amin

Stoke on Trent College

Sibgha Amin has been an integral part of Stoke on Trent College. On top of her impressive list of extra-curricular fundraising, support and mentoring activities, Sibgha maintained 94% attendance, completed all work by required deadlines and managed to secure a place at Keele University to study psychology with counselling. 

Sibgha gave up much of her own time to act as a peer mentor, supporting learners with emotional, social and education difficulties. Her dedication to become a peer mentor meant she was confident to actively approach distressed learners and support them. An avid member of the Student Council, Sibgha immersed herself within the learner voice community, attending all conferences and offering positive, proactive solutions to the problems raised. Working with the senior management team, Sibgha volunteered to represent the college and became a spokesperson for young people on the Stoke-on-Trent City Council Prevent Board. Here, Sibgha discusses key issues, shares best practise and influences future policy to ensure young people are kept safe from extremism. 
In June her hard work, determination and outstanding personal achievements were recognised, when she won the prestigious Celebrating Success Student of the Year Award. Sibgha’s knowledge, empathy and understanding of people’s backgrounds, religion and culture ensured that she can build solid, trusting relationships and deserves special recognition for all she has achieved through applying herself to her learning, the college and the local community.
Sibgha has been a driving force behind developing links between the college and the wider community, including organising a mother’s day tea, attended by the Lord Mayor and Local MP’s, to raise over £500 for All Saints Church, after it was vandalised. Sibgha also organised a harvest festival, resulting in a full car load of food donated to a local homeless charity and followed this up by collecting produce for local foodbanks. 
Sibgha has been such an asset to the college, that a part time role was created for her to remain as a paid Student Ambassador. Through this role, Sibgha is leading on a project to change perceptions of the childcare and health and social care sectors, working with over 35 high schools, existing students, employers and MPs. The aim is to challenge stereo-types, encourage more male students into the sector and highlight the pathways that these courses can lead to. 
Her charismatic ability to lead others to better themselves sees her now training an ambassador to follow in her footsteps and take a lead within the college’s enrolment process to welcome and reassure new students. Her consistent can do attitude made her a key member of the Student Council, recognised for striving to find solutions no matter how complex the issue. 
Sigbha can be consistently relied upon to positively promote student life, career progression, and further education. Her personality, skills and calm demeanour ensure that she can find a connection and hold the attention of a variety of audiences from nursery children to MPs. Sibgha’s passion is to help others to achieve their goals and she inspires her peers to continually strive to succeed. 

Adult Student of the Year (19+)

Sponsored by

WINNER Ryan Kimber

The Isle of Wight College

Ryan has an immense passion for life, which he passes on to others around him, liked and respected by staff and students. He was nominated by his engineering peers to be a student of the Year.Ryan is a dynamic role model, his positivity and smile is contagious, despite all of the health related issues he has endured. 

Ryan Kimber enrolled at The Isle of Wight College in September 2015, his engineering studies were going well until January 2016, when he was diagnosed with brain and spinal cancer, causing Ryan to endure an exhausting schedule of treatments, numerous operations and a long recovery period. 

Ryan knew that he had to improve his English GCSE and during his cancer recovery, he successfully achieved a grade C, before returning to his engineering studies at CECAMM* in September 2017. 
* Centre of Excellence for Composites, Advanced Manufacturing and Marine at The Isle of Wight College

Ryan continued to make significant progress and all of the work he submitted was at an exceptionally high academic standard and in 2019 he achieved D*D*D* in his Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Engineering. 

Earlier this year, nominated by his tutors, Ryan received an award from the High Sheriff of the Isle of Wight in recognition for his achievements in overcoming adversity and becoming a positive role model. Ryan was also nominated for, and won, the Pearson’s BTEC Engineering Student of the Year 2019. 

Ryan has an immense passion for life, which he passes on to others around him, liked and respected by staff and students. He was nominated by his engineering peers to be a student governor, which involved attending meetings representing students’ views and opinions. At college, students of all levels received technical support from Ryan, including one-to-one guidance for those going through personal difficulties.

Alongside Ryan’s college work he undertook numerous work placements within a variety of engineering and manufacturing companies, including Gurit (UK), Vikoma and Blue Neida 62. As a result of his successful placements, Ryan was headhunted by GKN Aerospace to design a project for their craft apprentices. Accordingly Ryan spent countless hours, day and night, discussing, designing and implementing a hands-on skill builder.  
Ryan is also a volunteer for CLIC Sargent, his way of giving something back, as the charity provided support to Ryan and his family throughout his cancer treatment. Ryan was also invited to join the opening of their new facility, which enables families to stay overnight whilst loved ones are receiving treatment. 
Debbie Lavin CBE, Principal of The Isle of Wight College, says “It has been a real pleasure to work alongside Ryan on the governing board, where he very quickly earned the respect of his peers and fellow governors. In corporation meetings he was mature, level headed and articulate, making a positive contribution to the work of the board.”
Keri Hughes, curriculum lead for engineering, says “One of Ryan’s most admirable qualities is his extremely humble personality. During an award application process, Ryan was asked to write a personal statement as to why he should win. Ryan being Ryan, sat at his computer for six hours straight and could not put pen to paper, we discussed this and his opinion was that he hadn’t done anything greater than anyone else, he was simply being himself.”


RUNNER-UP Roxanne Willoughby

The Northern College

Having almost no formal qualifications, the academic achievements and successes Roxy has enjoyed are inspirational in their own right, but to do so as part of the process of overcoming such extreme barriers as she has, shows a lot of courage. Numerous students have spoken of their admiration for Roxy. When Roxy shares her story, she creates hope and belief. 

Roxanne Willoughby has survived incredibly difficulties to succeed against the odds. At 18 she was homeless, subject to violent domestic abuse and addicted to alcohol. Periods in a women’s refuge, home detoxes and attempts to get her life back on track faltered. Roxy ended up living with and caring for a man diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and eventually had a child by him. He then left Roxy to be a young single mother struggling with alcohol and mental health issues. A few years later a new relationship led to severe domestic violence which culminated in a tragic, vicious attack that left Roxy with numerous broken bones, missing teeth and a serious bleed on her brain. 

Struggling with PTSD and with support from various agencies and organisations, in 2016 Roxy visited Northern College. Despite being covered in bruises and limping she found that nobody judged her and that she was accepted. Finding confidence in the positive reaction she received, Roxy signed up to several short courses and made rapid academic progress, completing the Level 2 Diploma, Functional Skills and then successfully passing the Access to HE Level 3 Diploma in Social Sciences. 
At college Roxy’s confidence improved so much, that she was elected Student Union Female Welfare Officer, two years running. Through this role she has helped countless other female students with a wide range of personal issues, signposted individuals to agencies for further support and worked towards the empowerment of women and gender equality. Showing tremendous courage, she used her own awful experiences as a platform to help others. On numerous occasions she emailed staff highlighting concerns about a student’s wellbeing or mental health, which has led to early interventions and support. Without Roxy, many students would have found the pressures of college life and the residential environment very difficult to handle. 
In the wider Doncaster community, Roxy has founded and organised a group called ‘Toll Bar Tara’ which helps underprivileged families and children to access local services, as well as providing community spaces, fundraising activities and events such as tea parties, children’s events and entertainers, Christmas visits, performances and teddy bear picnics.

Roxy has now been offered an apprenticeship with the Prison Service, supporting male prisoners and also has the option to study for a degree in Social Work and Community Development. 
Roxy is an inspiration to single parents and her fellow students, who see somebody who has survived unimaginable hardships, overcome numerous barriers and is now moving on to dedicating her life to helping others and public service. She is an inspiration to anyone who has ever suffered domestic violence, homelessness, addiction, PTSD and other mental health issues.



RUNNER-UP Malcolm Thwala

Hugh Baird College

Malcolm’s diligence, attitude, desire to succeed and friendliness has had a very positive impact on inclusivity considerations amongst his peers. Malcolm is extremely family orientated citing his mother as his inspiration and is keen to commence paid employment once his visa has been processed and is returning to college in 2019/20 to further his studies within the higher education directorate.

Since arriving from Zimbabwe in 2013, Malcolm Thwala has actively sought opportunities to improve his life chances and to make a positive difference within the community.  

Finding it difficult to make friends, Malcolm volunteered at a local FireFit Youth Hub in Toxteth, Liverpool. It did not take long for his infectious enthusiasm, patience and people skills to be recognised and he became a volunteer community leader. 

At the Hub, Malcolm has mentored over 50 young people from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds and nationalities and from some of the most deprived areas in the country; working on a one-to-one basis and supporting them to harness the positive influence that exercise and team sports have, aiming to minimise the influence of anti-social factors. His work enables disillusioned young people to develop the resilience they need to make positive life choices, using his own experiences to inspire individuals to pursue volunteering opportunities or by enrolling on to further education. Malcolm volunteers seven days a week and although he regularly finishes late, he always ensures that it does not impact upon his academic study.
Whilst attending Hugh Baird College, Malcolm gained his GCSEs in English and maths at grade 4 and successfully completed a two-year Level 3 Motor Vehicle Mechanics qualification. Although finding the programme challenging, Malcolm worked hard in his own time to read around key subjects and master his skills. This diligent and industrious approach allowed him to then support peers with tasks they were finding difficult.
Malcolm has represented the views of his peers on feedback panels and was a valued member of the College’s Student Council, and reported back offering innovative ideas and solutions rather than listing issues. Malcolm often emboldened and encouraged quieter council members to speak, by making it clear that all students have a valid contribution to make.

Malcolm’s background and ethos of community involvement has led him to become an active volunteer with Savera, a national organisation seeking to eliminate ‘honour-based’ abuse across the UK and abroad, and has recently been appointed Vice Chair of the Savera Youth Advisory Board. Malcolm has used his digital technology skills to produce a short film about forced marriage which was presented at the Liverpool national youth conference, has worked on a national campaign titled, ‘I’m speaking out’, completed a photography project exhibited at the London National FGM Centre and is now working with a local cinema to produce a film on gender identity.
Malcolm’s work with female, ethnic minorities is particularly inspirational. His projects take a fresh, innovative approach to raising awareness of key issues especially within local schools, which provides an excellent opportunity to communicate important messages to younger generations. 


Apprentice of the year 

Sponsored by

WINNER Tia Whelan

Leicester College

As a female in an atypical role, Tia has had to overcome many challenges and barriers within a male-dominated environment. Now a well-respected apprentice, Tia’s passion and dedication changes mindsets and inspires, encouraging other women and young girls to get into the trade she is passionate about.

Tia Whelan is the first female to be hired by UK Gas. Tia completed a three-year plumbing course at Leicester College and was keen to become a gas apprentice. After receiving over 20 knock backs, Tia successfully applied for a maintenance apprenticeship at UK Gas. Since starting, UK Gas have recognised her skills and passion for construction and are keen for her to progress and become Gas Safe. 

Tia currently completes full bathroom and kitchen refurbs, using her plastering, carpentry, plumbing, electric, painting and decorating skills. Tia has shown so much passion for all the trades and is keen to learn, that she is a key part of the all male UK Gas team and has worked on some brilliant projects such as District Heating, tenanted and void council properties and social housing. Tia regularly gets called out on jobs where there are vulnerable customers such as the elderly, or women that have been victims of domestic abuse and by building rapport has received terrific feedback from customers and other operatives.
As a result, the Director of UK Gas has realised the need for more females in the workplace. Tia is a brilliant role model and is changing mindsets and stereotypical views of females within the construction trades. 
Tia is also a passionate College Ambassador and a wider ambassador for Blaby District Council promoting the ‘Women into Construction Programme’. Tia visits schools, colleges, apprenticeship fairs, career events, open days and local businesses, speaking to and providing practical demonstrations primarily to young people and in particular girls, encouraging them to think differently about the sector. She also at UK Gas takes on work experience students to shadow her.
Tia’s family have been a great source of encouragement and have motivated her to not give up on her dream career. Tia therefore represents an ideal role model for the community and is a live example that women can work in construction.
Tia is very confident when speaking in public and she often does this promotion and engagement work in her own time on top of her apprenticeship. However, she has to work twice as hard as her peers as she is dyslexic and struggles to put words together on paper. Nevertheless, Tia is currently working at distinction level, her dedication and motivation to continue learning beyond the apprenticeship and develop her skills will enable her to become a full multi-skilled tradeswoman within the construction sector.

RUNNER-UP Luke Leech

Bournemouth & Poole College

Luke Leech always wanted to work in the Care sector and started a Health and Social Care course at Bournemouth and Poole College, which he successfully completed along with a work placement in a local care home. Luke's employer states that he has made a significant impact on his organisation

During his studies, Luke was keen to try an apprenticeship, but daunted at the prospect of attending interviews and facing rejection. Luke has Asperger's Syndrome and an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) and was worried about managing working and studying at the same time. In addition, Luke was aware that he was joining a female dominated sector and would likely be the only male in his workplace and potentially at college as well. 

With support and determination, Luke was successful at interview and gained employment as an apprentice at a local nursery. Due to his successful performance at the nursery, Luke was given the added responsibility of being a key worker to four children. 
Luke has made a wonderful contribution to the wider community by adopting a role where he works with children with learning difficulties and feels he can really empathise with the parents and children, due to the challenges he faced in his own schooling and that he can really help them develop. Luke has gone on to provide a network of support and has been recognised locally. 

After his Level 3 apprenticeship Luke plans to go on to take a degree course in child psychotherapy. His apprenticeship has allowed him to develop new skills and he has inspired others by seeking out additional training to help him do his job to the best of his ability. 

Luke has also been inspirational in championing males working in childcare and has been nominated by his employer as Apprentice of the Year in the National Apprenticeship Awards. 

Luke is so very passionate about his subject and reads outside of what is required, regularly sharing articles and ideas with his peers inspiring them to try new things with the children they work with and has even introduced origami. 

. His research into the Montessori Method, coupled with a natural aptitude for childcare allowed him to hit the ground running. He is popular and well respected by parents and co-workers, and the children in the nursery. I’m aware that Luke has Aspergers Syndrome, but can honestly say that on a day to day basis you wouldn’t know. The coping strategies he has developed are another example of what an extraordinary individual Luke is. An example of Luke’s proactive approach is that he noticed one of the children was using sign-language, he immediately took the initiative asking to be sent on a sign language course in his own time, allowing him to more effectively support the child. Not only did this help the child, it showed leadership qualities leading by example, with other staff shortly afterwards following suit.

If Luke wanted to stay with us permanently, I would be delighted and I know he will go far in his career. 

RUNNER-UP Lauren Polson

London South East Colleges

Lauren is an inspirational, hard-working young woman who has always been hugely supportive of her peers, while being focused on her own ambitions. 

Lauren Polson joined London South East Colleges at 14, cooking was her passion and her secondary school didn’t offer the GCSE subjects she wanted. Having taken the decision to leave school, Lauren joined the first cohort of the college’s 14 to 16 provision. Lauren’s passion and commitment was clear from the beginning and she achieved 5 A-C GCSEs including English and maths and a Level 1 City & Guilds in Hospitality.

Lauren successfully progressed, achieving a Level 1 and 2 BTEC in Hospitality and Catering, and was appointed as a Level 3 apprentice at the student led BR6 restaurant, developing her skills further, while helping to train other students. Lauren’s talents were spotted by the management at D&D London, while taking part in a college led event and has now joined the company’s talent team, recruiting staff for all of its UK sites and internationally.

As an apprentice and a student, Lauren has always been willing to step up to support vocational education and has been involved in several PR campaigns, taking part in national radio interviews, Talk Radio, and appearing in the local press.
Lauren also featured in two of BR6 restaurant’s promotional videos used for our AA Student Restaurant of the Year award applications, both of which made the final of the competition and never  hesitates to volunteer for charity events, leading her front of house team with passion and excellent service and was instrumental in BR6 receiving a Pearson Teaching Award and the first London restaurant to be awarded a Highly Commended AA Rosette and People 1st Gold Accreditation.

Lauren was asked by the Career Colleges Trust to speak to delegates at its annual conference and presented to over 100 employers, FE principals and tutors, talking about her experiences at college and the importance of employer led education.

Not only has Lauren been the first to step up at these events, but she has also encouraged and inspired fellow students to get involved and led from the front; despite being younger than many of them. She has great leadership skills and is committed to the industry.
Lauren’s new role at D&D London and progression onto the company’s management development scheme will give her the opportunity to develop her career, while promoting hospitality careers to other young people. As a female achieving in a male dominated industry, Lauren is a fantastic role model, keen to share her passion and success with others. 

Lauren has demonstrated how it is possible to be successful outside of the A Level/degree system and is now years ahead in her career. For Lauren, moving from school into FE was NOT a second choice, it was her FIRST choice; an important message for young people and parents when deciding their futures. 
Lauren stands out because she is passionate, a great advocate for high quality vocational training and recognised with several awards including Apprentice of the Year. She is a credit to London South East Colleges and most importantly a credit to FE, representing how the sector supports young people into great jobs via vocational routes and an employer led curriculum.

Higher Education Student of the Year

Sponsored by

WINNER Benjie Kusita

Bradford College

At Bradford College we are very proud of Benjie’s achievements, she emulates and represents how to overcome adversity by sheer determination and a passion to work within the creative industries. 

At Bradford College the staff on Benjie Kusita’s programme have been overwhelmed by her determination and commitment. Benjie is in her final year of a BA (Hons) Media Makeup with Special Effects degree. 

English is not Benjie’s first language, she is from a Thai background, and her culture and family do not support her career choice. She is also a single parent of a six year old, called Leo. It has been very difficult for Benjie to manage life as a student with the challenges of being a single parent, with little family support.

Benjie works with her mother in a Thai massage therapy business. Due to long business hours and her mum’s expectations, Benjie has to study in the little time available and often through the night, arriving at college via a long commute on only one to two hours sleep.

During her first year, Benjie experienced the challenges of academic essay writing, annotation and verbal articulation. This hindered her self-confidence, because she is capable and intelligent. During her second year, Benjie received some English support, but she still continued to struggle; to compensate, she prepares and researches module content during the holidays.

The standard of Benjie’s practical work however is exceptional in terms of effort, quality, breadth and depth. Visually, her work is inspiring and creative and she enters competitions to improve and perfect her skills, networking within the industry. 
During the summer of 2018, Benjie, self-funding, entered the London Brush Wars competition. Based on a Circus theme, her submission was accepted, but unfortunately due to personal reasons she could not attend and had to retract her entry. The head judges, clearly impressed, placed a notice on social media showcasing her image, commenting how ‘amazing’ her work was. Subsequent social media comments from famous TV/film makeup designers were incredibly complimentary with Benjie receiving industry recognition. 

Benjie’s entry for the Brush Wars competition impressed her tutors and inspired her peers to enter the 2018 War Paint competition at Pro Beauty North, Manchester; in the past it has been difficult to get students to enter competitions, but Benjie has set a precedent. 
Benjie’s positive social media posts motivated and inspired her peers to push ‘that bit harder’ and ‘go that bit further’. This would have not happened without Benjie’s hard work, commitment and vision. In 2019 the college had three students entering the London Olympia competition including Benjie, and again all self-funding.

Not only does Benjie work consistently hard as a mother, student, employee, business partner, but she has set up two other businesses to promote her creative work; a headdress business, Headkase and an eyelash business, Benjie Lashes. She supports other peers with her practical skills guidance and friendship, and is a fantastic role model and inspiration to tutors, as a result of the challenges she has overcome in diversity, equality and academic study.

RUNNER-UP Henry Green

Weston College

Henry is a humble young man who does not appreciate how inspiring he is to others. His experiences at both college and university have been vast and he has shown how much someone can progress with the difficulties he has and how he can be an example to others.

Henry Green started Weston College in September 2013 as a Further Education student having just completed his secondary school education and walked into the college feeling unsure, with high levels of anxiety associated with being on the autism spectrum. Nevertheless, Henry progressed quickly completing a Level 2 Travel and Tourism course followed by a Level 3 and on to a FdA Tourism Management at UCW and has just completed a BA (Hons) Business Management with Sustainability degree gaining a 2.1. 
Whilst at Weston College, Henry struggled with the social aspects of his autism but challenged himself to attend trips, travel with his peers, and do volunteer work whilst making huge efforts to attend specialist support sessions with autism practitioners in order to find strategies and ways to progress and develop his learning. As a result, Henry became a student ambassador and has taken part in training others, about what it is like to be on the autisim spectrum, by speaking at staff development sessions and suggesting ways in which academic staff can support learners who struggle with similar difficulties. 
Henry has also spoken to students on the inclusive practice degree sharing his experiences and promoting ways in which they can develop their working practice. This has impacted on the support provided to students on programmes and has allowed him to enhance his own skills in presenting and interacting with people. Henry has also used his experience and knowledge to write articles for ‘The Mighty’; a digital health community created to empower and connect people facing health challenges and disabilities. He has written various accounts about his experiences of being on the autism spectrum, has acted as an advocate to enhance understanding of the autism spectrum and teach others about the difficulties people on the spectrum face on a daily basis. Henry’s efforts to overcome the issues he faces socially are continuous and often demanding, yet he still continues to actively make progress.
Henry has demonstrated an ethos of overcoming difficulties including social difficulties, which relate to his disability. Difficulties such as when to talk to people, how to talk to people and where to talk to people, meant that at times Henry struggled to interact with anyone at all, and found that in addition to the learning he had on his course, he also had the additional learning of how to interact and interpret the world around him. Instead of accepting that this was simply something he found difficult, Henry actively challenged himself to find strategies to interact with the world around him.

RUNNER UP Matthew Chilvers

Loughborough College

Matthew is a credit to Loughborough College, his family and above all he himself, wants to provide opportunities and build the confidence and skills of young people, whilst demonstrating that being autistic does not hold you back.

Matthew Chilvers joined Loughborough College in 2013, studying an NVQ Level 2 in Activity Leadership and then a Level 3 Diploma in Coaching and Supporting Physical Education. Being autistic, Matthew was able to attend the specialist RNIB college at Loughborough and found the environment so supportive that he progressed on to a BTEC Level 3 Diploma in Sport and Exercise Fitness, achieving a D* D* and then on to an HND in Sport and Leisure Management in which he also achieved a distinction for all but one of his modules. Next year Matthew will start a BA Hons in Sports Management course. 

Since the age of 15, Matthew has been volunteering and supporting the head coach at Desford Lawn Tennis Club, and during this time has achieved his Level 1 coaching award allowing him now to deliver coaching sessions for those with disabilities, affected by cancer, have mobility issues or are older. Last year, linked with a special school in Hinckley, Matthew was part of the coaching team that enabled children and young people with autism to take part in tennis tournaments. The disability work Matthew has been involved with was recognised by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA), and the club was awarded the LTA Disability Programme of the Year Award 2018.

Matthew believes his HND achievement will show employers what he is capable of, as he is very aware that more needs to be done to help autistic people engage in employment, currently NAS statistics show that only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid work. Matthew now has the confidence in his own ability to produce high-quality coursework and deliver presentations, which has helped him in his role as a volunteer coach and gain a part-time Events Assistant job at Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council.

Matthew’s aim is to eventually set up his own business delivering beginner level group tennis coaching sessions. Matthew strongly believes it is important to be able to give people with special needs the opportunity to participate in sport, improve their health, have social contact and gain confidence. 
Through his volunteering, Matthew acts as a role model for those with special needs, and was recognised in 2018, when he was selected as the East Midlands BBC ‘Get Inspired Unsung Hero’. This resulted in Matthew representing the East Midlands at the televised Sports Personality of the Year Awards in Birmingham and being included in the first Guardian and Dimensions charity ‘Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ list, Sports, Arts and Entertainment category. 

Furthermore, Matthew has been invited to be a member of the Sport and Recreation Alliance Youth Advisory Panel to help more children engage in physical activity. Matthew hopes that his experiences as a young autistic person will help the panel understand some of the barriers that young people with disabilities face.