There was no champagne, no gowns or mortarboards. One or two of the students had dressed up for the occasion, but most had not. Parents stood in small groups, unsure quite what to expect perhaps, but expectant nonetheless.
We were at Heathfield’s Community Centre on a foggy evening for a graduation ceremony with a difference. It marked the end of a training scheme specially designed for young people who didn’t fit into college or university, and — deep in East Sussex — simply couldn’t easily reach training anywhere else. The projector was playing up a bit, but nobody seemed to notice. A couple of councillors gave speeches. And then, as awkward as it was wonderful, the purpose of this gathering came to pass.
One by one, the graduates came to the stage to receive the certificates that marked the end of their ten week training scheme here. Thomas, who had thought the future held nothing, now had a job logging and he loved it. Emanuel Louis, softly spoken, revealed his plan to join the ambulance service. Bryony, so scared she could hardly ascend to the stage, smiled at the clapping audience as we heard about her job at Waitrose!
I’d been invited as a guest after running one of my employability skills workshops back in April — brought in with my video camera and autocue to give them a jolt and show them that they could do something that scared them. If I’d played the smallest part in that, it had been a privilege. Heathfield Works! , this scheme calls itself, and it deserves the exclamation mark.