My first face-to-face encounter with The Duke of York was on a walkabout in Tech City, the cluster of nearly 3,000 businesses around the Shoreditch area of East London. HRH has a keen interest in technology and in promoting investment in this area, both within the UK and the wider world.
On this occasion in October 2011, he was on a visit in the area with the Head of the Tech City Investment Organisation, meeting businesses and other organisations which were helping to make the area a success. The College campus lies right in the middle of the Tech City area, so was a natural stopping point and we soon got talking about the ideas the College had to better support local businesses and give local residents the skills that they need to find employment in the sector.
The Duke immediately acknowledged our analysis that we had three problems affecting business growth and employment in the area: many local young people did not aspire to work in the sector, local businesses weren’t giving local young people the opportunity of employment, and local education providers like ourselves hadn’t really been addressing the technology skills needs of this rapidly emerging cluster. I spoke about the development of our University Technology College, a new school we are sponsoring for 14-18 year olds, which focuses on technical education in health and digital technology. I also described our idea to create a new Tech City Apprenticeship programme. HRH immediately recognised the value of these ideas and the strong fit with his own interests in practical learning and new technologies.
At the end of our meeting he simply said, ‘I think these two new ideas are excellent and I would like you to think about what I can do to help’. The Duke left me thinking about how a Royal connection could help to promote our activities, something I followed up with his Private Secretary within days.
My first thoughts were about support for the University Technology College. As an emerging idea, it was hard to get local head teachers to recognise the value of this new initiative, particularly as it involved students leaving their schools at the age of 14. I knew that if I invited the 50 head teachers in our target catchment area to come to the College I would be lucky to get ten to attend. However, if I were able to offer them the opportunity to hear about this initiative from The Duke of York, and to do so at Buckingham Palace, then the chances of success were significantly greater. A few discussions and a set-up meeting later, on a chilly February afternoon, 49 out of 50 invited head teachers were inside the Palace being thoroughly briefed by HRH and the Principal of the UTC on what the new school was going to offer and from me on new apprenticeship opportunities. I also had the almost unique opportunity to drive my preferred mode of travel, a Ducati motorbike, through the Palace gates.
Later in 2012 we were able to persuade HRH, with very little arm twisting, indeed with complete enthusiasm, to become the first Patron of Hackney University Technology College. In October, The Duke of York came and met the first students and performed the official opening ceremony. In spring of 2013 he returned and spent over an hour in a UTC classroom hearing about what our students had been getting up to. These opportunities gave our students a unique chance to engage with HRH, something about which they feel very proud.
Returning to late 2011, and my further thoughts about ways of using the Duke’s interest in apprenticeships to best effect, we worked with HRH’s team to organise a dinner at the College’s training restaurant, for local, national and international Tech City businesses. This dinner, co-hosted by The Duke and myself, targeted 20 of the most exciting businesses in the technology field, including Microsoft, Yelp and Apple and local companies, Mother and The Trampery. Once again a full turn out followed.
Within 12 months of our first meeting, the College has been able to launch our Tech City Apprenticeship development programme, involving businesses large and small in new high level apprenticeships in programming and digital media. By time of Apprenticeship Week in March 2013 The Duke of York was able to co-host the College’s annual apprenticeship lunch, this time having the opportunity of meeting some of our very first Tech City Apprentices.
The connections of HRH have helped us move well beyond the technology sector and the local area. Through his role as Patron, he introduced us to the Evening Standard’s Ladder for London Campaign. This highly innovative initiative led by Editor, Sarah Sands and Features Editor, David Cohen, had developed a partnership with a London training provider, to sign up over 650 new apprenticeship places for London in 2012. Through new links with the Evening Standard, Hackney Community College has been able to create a consortium of five further education colleges, which aims to deliver another 1,000 new apprenticeships for Londoners in 2013.
Our first 18 months of Royal support culminated at a reception on 19 March, again in Buckingham Palace, to launch the extension of the Ladder for London. Over 140 businesses accepted The Duke of York’s invitation to hear about the brilliant work being done by the Ladder for London and to sign up to offer new apprenticeship places.
The College, Hackney UTC and the Tech City Apprenticeship Programme have come a long way since October 2011. Undoubtedly we would not have come so far, or so fast, without HRH, The Duke of York’s support and I would not have learned about the under-cover parking for motorbikes at the Palace!
Ian Ashman, Principal, Hackney Community College