Zoom, Teams and other remote meeting apps have really come into their own during the pandemic, enabling us to continue to deliver courses, events and support when we couldn’t be together physically. Most of us will have celebrated remotely in some way over the past two-and-a-half years: birthdays, weddings, religious holidays - all done over the screen, across continents and time zones.
But let’s be honest: nothing beats being in a room with family, friends, colleagues and peers when there’s something to celebrate. Which is why we are so thrilled to have been able to run our first in-person Celebration Events since 2019.
Villiers Park Celebration Events are an opportunity for us to recognise some of the amazing progress and achievements our Future Leaders have made over the past year. Invited guests, including family, friends and supporters, get to hear more about the Future Leaders’ projects from the young people themselves; and we frequently welcome alumni who return with inspiring stories of their work or further study.
We kicked off proceedings at the end of June with an informal event in Norfolk, where the Future Leaders Programme has been running at three schools in Norwich since November. While planning a larger celebration for next year, we wanted to acknowledge the exceptional progress some students have made this year. It was a pleasure to present Eleanor and Ruby with the Diana Hiles Celebration of Progress for their work on a Leadership Challenge project which supported building confidence in younger students to engage with the Drama syllabus.
It is so important for our supporters to see the Future Leaders’ development, and we were pleased to welcome guests from Trinity College, Cambridge, Sopra Steria and the Magdalen and Lasher Charity. We were delighted that the event was opened by Liam Collins, Principal at Ark Alexandra Academy - our hosts for the evening - who talked about the importance of collaboration, and how it sits at the heart of the work with Villiers Park.
The evening was compered by a Year 12 Future Leader, Rebecca, from East Sussex College, Hastings, and we heard from a range of young people about their experiences this year including completing their Leadership Challenge projects, the House of Commons work experience week, the support of coaching, and a visit to the University of Sussex.
We were delighted that the Diana Hiles Celebration of Progress were presented to Talar and Bella, by Amber Silk of Trinity College, for their work on anti-racism and the importance of ecology respectively. The Mike Baker Future Leader of the Year Awards went to Shannon, Sebastian, Ben and Faheda, and were kindly presented by the Mayor of Hastings, Councillor James Bacon.
It’s always very special to have our supporters in attendance, seeing first-hand the impact of the work they enable. We were thrilled to welcome members of Sopra Steria’s Partnerships Team to our Swindon Celebration Event, along with Chrissy Baker, wife of the late Mike Baker whose legacy generously supports our Programme.
We were also delighted to have Future Leaders Molly and Fatema as our speakers. Fatema spoke her recent House of Commons work experience and the many transferable skills she learned. Molly, one of our Future Leaders of the Year, talked about the impact of each element of the Programme and how it has supported her to gain a coveted place on the St James's Place Degree Apprenticeship Programme.
Amongst many others, awards were given for Leadership Challenge projects which:
Our Future Leaders were truly in the driving seat this year, as they decided that they would host the event as well as star in it! Summa and Myla were excellent comperes, proving how much they’ve developed their confidence and presentation skills.
Jamie B and Jamie F were the recipients of the Diane Hiles Celebration of Progress for running an entirely independent Leadership Challenge project and setting up a Maths tutoring support system for younger students respectively. This acknowledges the importance of the journey, not just the destination or outcome.
Our Future Leader of the Year awards are named in honour of the late BBC Education correspondent and Villiers Park trustee Mike Baker. Our Tyneside winners epitomise the legacy he helped create with the Future Leaders Programme. Eric Morgan, trustee of the Reece Group - a longstanding and significant supporter of our Tyneside Programme - presented the Mike Baker Awards and spoke about the talent in the region, and the opportunities needed to unlock it.
Until next year...
Our Future Leaders have achieved many amazing things this year. All of our award winners have been enthusiastic and motivated in their endeavours within the Future Leaders programme, and they have developed skills which will benefit them for a lifetime. It was inspiring to hear about their achievements.
We hope all our Future Leaders, their families and our supporters have a wonderful summer, and we look forward to welcoming you back in September.