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A quick snap at the front of number 10 was a must for guests from a Teesside college group with VIP invites to Downing Street.

Stockton Riverside College’s executive principal, Lesley Graham, and head of department for The Prince’s Trust, Gillian Hutchinson, were recently invited to Westminster as part of celebrations hosted by the Rt Hon. Gillian Keegan MP, Secretary of State for Education.

Taking in the sights, Lesley said: “It was amazing to be in the actual location that I’d seen so many times on TV, or from behind the iron gates, along with everyone else, when I’ve visited London.”

Gillian said: “It was a wonderful opportunity and certainly an honour to attend.”

Both are staff members of the Teesside-based college group, the Education Training Collective (Etc.), and invites landed for the two events just days apart. Lesley was nominated to attend a Local Skills Champions’ Reception, while Gillian represented gold award winners at a 25th anniversary celebration of The Teaching Awards Trust.

Lesley, who was nominated by Matt Vickers MP, said: “The reception was for those in the skills and training sector who have made a significant contribution to the sector.  I was honoured to be invited and particularly pleased to have the opportunity to invite one of our students along too.”

Joining Lesley as a special guest was Stockton Riverside College student Amelia, 17. Currently studying a T Level in Education and Early Years, Amelia said: “It meant so much to be given this chance to meet influential people and see a place I’d only seen on TV.

“I was excited to walk through the door of number 10 and to be able to say forever that I have been given the opportunity to do that.  I could never have imagined how big it would be inside and how incredible it is. I was surprised to see how humble and down to earth the MPs were.”

Representing the Etc. Prince’s Trust Team, Pearson National Teaching Award Gold winners of 2020, Gillian said for her, walking through the door was “like a tardis – it was massive inside”.

Upstairs she was met by a room full of fellow National Teaching Award gold winners from the last 25 years, and the awards’ founder and former filmmaker, Lord David Puttnam, who was also the producer of blockbuster, Chariots of Fire.

“It was incredible to meet gold award winners from over the years and all over the country who have used it as a platform to further develop and build skills,” said Gillian.

For all three the chance to walk along Downing Street, get a glimpse behind the door and climb what Lesley describes as “the iconic staircase” lined with photographs of various Prime Ministers, were standout moments.

Lesley said: “Myself and Amelia also got to visit the dining room where Boris Johnson and colleagues made their daily address throughout the Covid pandemic, which was pretty special.”

Gillian said: “I just loved getting to see behind the scenes.”  But for her, without doubt, a highlight was getting to see where Larry, the Downing Street cat and chief mouser to the Cabinet Office sleeps.

“On his own special cushion on the window ledge, behind the curtains,” she revealed.

Of Lesley and Amelia’s visit to the skills reception, Matt Vickers MP said: “It was a pleasure to invite Lesley and Amelia to the event in Downing Street celebrating skills in Stockton South.  It is always an honour to showcase, far and wide, the brilliant education establishments we have in Stockton and the amazing individuals who benefit from the training and learning on offer.

“Stockton Riverside College is a jewel in Stockton’s crown and under Lesley’s leadership goes from strength to strength, and Amelia is an inspiring individual who in doing her T Level is obtaining the skills she needs for her future.  I could not think of two more worthy guests to the event to show the brilliance we have to offer in upskilling and training right here in Stockton.”

BAA05122 Gillian Hutchinson (1) IMG 2725 IMG 2732 Gillian Hutchinson 2
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