It’s fair to say it’s been a busy academic year for 23-year-old Tom Horton.
In addition to achieving a first in his four-year French and History degree at the University of Chester, he’s also been busy volunteering at the Oasis Academy Immingham, an experience that has seen him raise considerable funds for the school. Not content with putting his efforts into fund raising, he’s also taken on two telecom giants, filmed a feature for national television and become an Olympic Sports Ambassador!
And Tom’s love of volunteering and achievements have now been recognised by the University of Chester as winner of the Kirsty Craig Associates Award for Enterprise at the Valedictory Volunteering Awards 2016.
“Having sponsored the Award for Enterprise for over 20 years now we have high expectations and a key requirement was for students to demonstrate enterprise in volunteering work,” explains Kirsty Craig, Managing Director at Kirsty Craig Associates. “And Tom has certainly done this and was head and shoulders above anyone else – quite a remarkable young man.”
Tom is from Immingham, a port town in North East Lincolnshire and his volunteering journey began when Oasis Community Learning took over his local school.
“I was impressed and motivated by their ethos and vision to achieve educational excellence at the heart of the community,” explains Tom. “For me the building of ‘hubs’ in the local area to create safe neighbourhoods that provide integrated and diverse services to the benefit of the people and whole community, in addition to first-class education, was inspiring and I decided I wanted to get involved.”
So Tom joined the team at the school and quickly got to work. Tom continues: “The school had a soft play area already set up so that families had somewhere to bring their children. However, there was not much opportunity for parents with toddlers in the area.”
So Tom realised that further investment was required to improve the facilities available and identified an opportunity to hire out the amenities to raise much needed cash. Tom continues: “We don’t charge a lot to hire out the facilities for private parties and every penny goes back into the school to further improve facilities. To be honest the response has been fantastic, so much so that I’ve now engaged with a working group to undertake a feasibility study into the development of a permanent facility in the town.”
But his activities have not been concentrated solely on the school. In response to a former tutor complaining about broadband speeds in Immingham, Tom made a commitment to help. He continues: “I was aware that there was some match funding available from the Department of Media and Sport to help bring superfast broadband to rural and hard to reach places. So I got together with local MPs, business people and councillors and managed to secure some funds.”
Tom then contacted BT who refused to help so he then got in touch with Virgin Media and they decided to undertake a feasibility study. However, the results were not to Virgin Media’s liking and they also turned Tom down.
So rather than abandon the project Tom decided to take a different approach. “I knew that publicity was going to be vital so I door knocked the town to try and build up a picture about what local residents thought and whether they would be willing to contribute financially to bring superfast broadband to the area.”
Tom also arranged for local TV crews to film vox pops and the local radio station also covered the story. However his big break through came following a conversation with BBC’s Rip Off Britain. “At first they weren’t particularly interested but when I mentioned that I was a student that had volunteered to help the area they decided to spend a whole day filming with me. And once I had them on board Virgin Media decided to invest and we now have a brand new superfast broadband infrastructure!”
And if that wasn’t enough to keep Tom busy he was then contacted by the International Olympic Academy and invited to become an Olympic Sport Ambassador! “68 young people from around the world, including myself, were invited to attend a two-week seminar held in Ancient Olympia to learn about Olympism and the Olympic Movement. We were educated about the values and motivated to use our knowledge in promoting the Olympic ideals in our own country.”
Not being the sporty type, upon returning to the UK Tom realised that he was not the best person to promote the Olympic message. So he’s currently raising funds to send 15 students to train as Olympic Ambassadors. “I’ve made it very clear to them that this is not a holiday and that there will be an incredible amount of hard work involved, particularly on their return to the UK!”
Upon receiving the award Tom said: “I’m truly humbled and delighted and want to thank Kirsty Craig for the award and for supporting students. I hope that what I’ve achieved over the past year demonstrates that being entrepreneurial relates to community activities as well as those in business and I’m looking forward to continuing my work when I commence a new role with Oasis Community Learning.”
On presenting the award Kirsty Craig said: “We really had to cajole Tom to enter the award but we are absolutely delighted that he did as his contribution to the local area really has been outstanding. The professionalism and maturity he has displayed, not to mention his determination to make a difference, made his entry really stand out. To be honest both myself and the other judges were gobsmacked with what he’s achieved. Tom is a remarkable young man with a very bright future I think”
And Kirsty’s view of Tom’s achievements are shared by Maria Skinner, Student Skills Development Manager at the University of Chester: “Tom’s achievements are some of the most impressive that Student Support and Guidance have ever had the pleasure of assessing for the Valedictory Awards.”
PHOTO: pictured from left to right are Kirsty Craig, Tom Horton and Tim Wheeler, Vice Chancellor of the University of Chester.