By Dave Baldwin
Lenworth George Henry didn’t seem destined for greatness. One of seven children from a Jamaican family in Dudley, he failed his 11-plus exam, went to the local secondary school and left at 16 with no qualifications. But he did have a science teacher, Mr Brookes, who encouraged his comedy ambitions by letting him use a reel-to-reel recorder to rehearse funny voices.
Now 61, Sir Lenny Henry is a much-loved comedian, actor, writer and bona fide national treasure. This month he visited Bradford as part of his book tour, Who Am I, Again? His show at the newly refurbished St George’s Hall promised funny and sad stories from growing up in the Black Country, covering school, friendship, family secrets and unashamed racism.
But without the encouragement of that kindly teacher, who knows how his life would have turned out. It is so important that children get the chance to follow their interests and discover their talents. In every classroom I believe there is potential greatness, just waiting to be unlocked.
It’s not just teachers and parents who hold the key. The old proverb reminds us it takes a whole village to raise a child, meaning that an entire community of people must interact with children for them to grow into well-adjusted adults. In Bradford, we are lucky to have a strong business community with a powerful sense of social responsibility.
This comes to the fore in the Bradford Manufacturing Weeks, delivered by Bradford Chamber of Commerce and backed by the Bradford Economic Partnership. This year’s initiative is on track to create 6,000 work experiences with 65 manufacturers involved, double the number of 2018’s inaugural programme.
Employers including Solenis, Acorn Stairlifts, Produmax, Keighley Laboratories and Melrose Interiors are organising work placements, school talks and site tours for 14-18-year-old school pupils. As well as helping boost apprenticeship numbers, these can also give young people a glimpse of the inspiring, innovative and rewarding enterprises creating wealth and prosperity across our district.
An estimated 45 secondary schools took part in this year’s scheme, which has won national praise. Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson said: “Following on from last year’s success, I know Bradford Manufacturing Weeks can go from strength to strength, with more businesses and young people involved.
“In my speech to Conservative Party conference, I said how apprenticeships and technical and vocational education are just as important and as valuable as going to university and are just as important to our economy. They can make sure Britain succeeds in the future.
“And it is excellent projects like this that can show young people some of the exciting and valuable opportunities there and give them the belief that with the right help and support they can achieve anything they want.”
Mr Williamson, a social sciences graduate of Bradford University, knows the importance of the state education system; he is the product of a Scarborough comprehensive school and is married to a former primary teacher.
Nick Garthwaite, managing director of Bradford-based laundry detergent manufacturer Christeyns, is the founder of Bradford Manufacturing Weeks. He said: “It’s fantastic to receive support from the Government which further demonstrates that we are on absolutely the right track with our initiative. We have created a model that is working and most importantly, a model which gives young people an insight into the wonderful world of manufacturing and in many cases, it is proving a game changer in their career decision-making process.”
Mr Garthwaite added: “That said, businesses, education providers and the Government have a lot more work to do to promote the apprenticeship programmes to make them become an even more attractive option. This is why Bradford Manufacturing Weeks is such an important part of our district’s business calendar and why we intend to grow the participants, the experiences and the momentum in years to come.”
Every pupil should be able to have meaningful encounters with employers in Bradford. We know this will dramatically increase their chances of success in the workplace. At a deeper level, simply encouraging young people to follow their interests and discover their talents can be incredibly powerful. As Sir Lenny says, “we all bloom towards the sunlight”.