Sophie Ainsworth, Founder and CEO of RAiISE, shares her latest update!
After taking October to settle into University, November has definitely made up for having a quiet month! Meetings, conferences and, excitingly, an awards ceremony! Every year the Association of Colleges host their annual conference, discussing all aspects of the education sector and best practice in colleges around the country. Alongside this conference runs the Student of the Year Awards, featuring three categories celebrating students and apprentices who have achieved significant things during their time at college.
I was nervously awaiting the imminent results day when I received a call at the end of the summer from Nelson and Colne College, where I had spent the last two years completing my A Levels. I was absolutely delighted to be told I had been chosen as the college’s Student of the Year. At this point I was unaware of the scale of the award. The way I understood it, I had been chosen by my college as their Student of the Year, but what I didn’t realise was that I had been put through to the Association of Colleges shortlist! In fact, it wasn’t until a couple of weeks later that I discovered I had made it into the final three in the Young Student of the Year category, which focuses on students aged between 16 and 18. I was absolutely amazed to have got so far in a nationwide competition!
The ceremony was held two weeks ago in Birmingham. Naturally, my thoughts were consumed with what I was going to wear (this was definitely an occasion for new shoes!) The evening was a brilliant night celebrating colleges which were making an incredible impact in education. It was wonderful to meet all of the other candidates to hear all about the work which they had been doing over the past couple of years. I was particularly inspired by Joyce Abumujor, who was an Adult Student of the Year nominee. She shared with me her story of growing up in a very oppressive community in her home-country of Nigeria. She talked of leaving to come to England where she has gained qualifications in plumbing and bricklaying. She was now expanding her knowledge even further and studying for a law degree, with hopes of using this to return to her home and fight for women’s rights to education.
By the end of the night, after eating far too much of the delicious food, I was absolutely delighted when it finally got to my category and I was announced as the winner! It was incredible to be given this prestigious award after having the last few years of my education being so bumpy (to say the least) after my lupus diagnosis. If anything, I saw this as a true indication that having a complicated and debilitating condition such as mine, really shouldn’t have to stop me, or anyone else in a similar position, from achieving academically. I’ve always enjoyed school and academics and, whilst my illness changed a lot of things about my life, I hope that this award can show that it did not change that. This was made all the easier by the high standard of support I have received from not only my hospital, Alder Hey, but also, vitally, my college. The individual health care plan, which was created at the start of my course by myself and the college nurse, made my A Levels so much easier and the support from my teachers was unwavering.
The receipt of this award has really made me all the more passionate about ensuring that all students, no matter what their health needs, are given the correct support to achieve their potential. It was so wonderful to get this recognition for the work which has been going on with RAiISE for the last couple of years, but I’d also like to give a special mention to all our Trustees: Jenny Preston, Sammy Ainsworth, Marie Rowe, Simon Stones and Robyn Challinor who are so passionate about the work we are doing together and are absolutely vital members of this team. As always I am also so grateful and want to give my thanks to everyone who has supported RAiISE in any way, attended a workshop or fundraiser or contributed to our growing network of exceptional young people who are living every day with complicated and incredibly challenging invisible illnesses.