Deputy Mayor praises “life-changing opportunities” for young people in Hastings

Published: 6 Jul 2018

Councillor James Bacon, Deputy Mayor of Old Hastings, spoke at a special event on Wednesday (4 July) to celebrate the personal and academic achievements of students on our Hastings Scholars Programme.

Councillor Bacon, who is also a trustee of The Magdalen and Lasher Charity who support the programme, spoke of his pride at the work the charity is doing in Hastings.

“It was such an honour to hear about the inspirational stories and achievements from the Scholars at Villiers Park over the course of their programme,” said Cllr Bacon.

“The opportunities that Villiers Park have provided these young people are life-changing and I am confident that they will use these skills to follow their dreams and eventually support and inspire others to reach their full potential.”

The celebration event was organised by Villiers Park and hosted at Sussex Coast College, and Mayor Cllr Nigel Sinden was also in attendance to hand out awards in recognition of high achievement for many students on the programme.

Each year, the Hastings and Bexhill Scholars Programme supports 120 highly able young people aged 14-18 from less-advantaged backgrounds, helping them to raise their ambitions, overcome the barriers they face and develop essential skills for their futures.

With students hosting, speaking and performing during the event, a running theme throughout the evening was confidence, as students highlighted how much the programme had helped them improve.

“It’s helped me a lot with my confidence, and a lot with public speaking,” said Sinead, a Year 12 Scholar and award winner who gave a speech during the event.

“I would not have done this today if it wasn’t for the Scholars Programme. It’s been an amazing journey for me, I’ve been able to start as this shy, timid girl and turn into this great, outspoken, confident person.”

Currently 25% of young people receive free school meals in the Hastings area, of which only one in 200 will statistically achieve the grades needed to make it into a top university. The Scholars Programme supports young people from similar backgrounds from Years 10-13, through a comprehensive four-year programme that includes one-to-one mentoring, workshops, residential courses and the opportunity to lead enrichment projects in their school. To date 300 local students have now benefited from being a Villiers Park Scholar.

“I think there’s a wide range of people that come to Villiers Park, from people who are anxiety ridden, to people like myself who are just a tad outgoing,” said Eleanor, a Year 12 Scholar who spoke at the event.

“Villiers Park has helped me hone my confidence to enable me to speak to big crowds like this. Honestly it’s one of the best programmes I could have asked for.”

Seventy-five gold standard awards were presented for all the students who met their goals and displayed great educational progress, as well as four Mike Baker Scholar of the Year awards for exceptional commitment to the programme and achieving. These four winners were: Katie Wade Year 10, Ben Blatcher Year 11, Sinead Alexander Year 12 and Yasir Yusuf Year 13.

We spoke to Year 13 winner Yasir, from Ark 6th Form Academy, who won for his great commitment to the Scholars Programme and enthusiasm for leading and directing debates in all Villiers Park activities.

“One of the speakers today said it’s hard to actually quantify the success of Villiers Park, but the impact it has is immense in terms of personal skills, leadership, teamwork and organisation. It’s been great.” said Yasir.

Having attended a Villiers Park residential course on P.P.E (Politics, Philosophy and Economics), as well as recently taking part in a work experience placement at the House of Commons arranged by the charity, Yasir is currently thinking about a career in politics, and looks forward to continuing his studies of PPE at university.

With exam season recently finished, many more of these students are also looking towards university and new career pathways as they complete their time on the programme. Last year, the Villiers Park Scholars Programme saw 76% of students gain a place at university, compared to a national average of 34.6%.

This year’s Scholars have offers from top Russell Group universities such as Oxford, King’s College London and Edinburgh.

“We were delighted to be joined by so many Scholars and their families to celebrate their achievements over the past year,” said Alex Grant, Programme Manager of the Hastings Scholars Programme. “The evening was a great platform for the Scholars to show how far their confidence has improved whilst on the programme, with some excellent student speeches throughout. This is why we do what we do.”