From education to employment

Lemn Sissay inspires college network: highlighting the importance of community action

Author, poet and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay OBE

Author, poet and broadcaster, Lemn Sissay OBE, delivered a virtual ‘Landmark Lecture’ on behalf of London South East Colleges yesterday – inspiring staff and students from colleges around the country to get involved in volunteering.

As a great advocate for social mobility, Lemn spoke about his own experiences of growing up in care and his inspiring journey to success. He discussed the value of community action – highlighting his own charity, which provides Christmas dinner to care leavers – and the many benefits that helping others can bring.

The virtual event was part of the College’s Good for Me, Good for FE campaign; a nationwide drive to generate £1m of social value through volunteering and fundraising activities.

Staff and students from the 120 colleges that have signed up to the initiative were invited to attend the Lecture, with everyone having the opportunity to ask Lemn questions following his talk.

As a poet, playwright and broadcaster, Lemn has read on stage throughout the world and has made several award-winning TV documentaries. He has received many accolades for his writing and his poetry – including an OBE earlier this year for services to literature and charity. Lemn has also been the Chancellor of the University of Manchester since 2015.

Addressing attendees, Lemn spoke about the value of community actions and power of making something happen that has never been there before: “Raising money is not difficult. But there is value in the people, in the work they do and in the work you do. That has immense value.”

“We can be so cynical in life. But volunteering is the most uncynical and open way of connecting with the world.”

“Volunteer from a place that understands it can help you. And the magic is – it helps others too. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

Chair of London South East Colleges, Stephen Howlett CBE, DL welcomed Lemn to the virtual stage, highlighting his charitable work and commitment to supporting others: “Lemn’s story is extremely moving and the work he now does to improve the lives of so many people is inspirational.

“With his passion for community action and wealth building, Lemn was an ideal figure to deliver this Landmark Lecture to our Good for Me Good for FE college network and we are hugely grateful for his time today.

“Staff and students at colleges across the country are already doing huge amounts of good work within their local communities and we want this to be recognised and indeed, galvanised.

“I have no doubt that Lemn has provided us all with the extra motivation and inspiration we need to get out and make a difference – which will be a huge boost for our important, national initiative.”

During the Q&A session, Lemn was asked a range of questions and provided some fascinating and insightful responses. These included:

Who inspires you?
“I am really inspired by volunteers and their stories. By University of Manchester and the amount of projects they are involved in. I have people write to me and I hear about someone who has done something magical. Hearing their stories is just the best.”

How do you stay positive?
“I don’t always. Sometimes I get down. But one of the ways that helped me to stay positive was to stop drinking alcohol. For me, it was stopping something that was not adding to my life, but was actually taking away from it. I think I can stay positive because I know what matters. Volunteering has really helped.”

How can you get involved with volunteering if you haven’t done it before?
“Google volunteer local. Or find one other person that already volunteers and join them. It’s all about word of mouth with community action. Ask about opportunities. Start to talk about it out loud. People do love to speak about volunteering. There is a whole other world of volunteering and social enterprise and social action. It is all around us.”

If you were setting up a dinner, which three people would you invite?

  • Mohammed Ali
  • Maya Angelou
  • Oprah Winfrey

Today’s event was part of London South East Colleges’ ‘Landmark Lecture’ series – which has seen some of the most senior figures from the public services, business and charity sectors speaking to staff and students.

Previous speakers have included:

Former CEO of Lloyds of London, Dame Inga Beale

FE Commissioner, Richard Atkins

London Marathon’s Hugh Brasher

Stuart Lawrence,

Ofsted Chair Professor Julius Weinberg,

Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton,

Business Entrepreneur David Gold and many more.

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