From education to employment

Celebrating world-class talent with honorary degrees at graduation

Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE DL.

As May draws to a close, so does the latest chapter in the University of Chester’s springtime graduation ceremonies.

Thousands of students from the Faculties of Education and Children’s Services, Arts and Humanities, Business and Management, Science and Engineering, and Social Sciences will receive their degrees at Chester Cathedral this week. This concludes the backlog of in-person events which were unable to take place during the pandemic.

Joining the soon-to-be graduates will be a rollcall of the great and good in industries spanning the worlds of television, music, motoring, photography, sport, and technology.

Tuesday, May 24

  • In Ceremony 2 Stephen Hough will receive an honorary Doctor of Music award.    

Stephen Hough combines a distinguished career as a pianist with those of composer and writer. Hough was the first classical performer to be awarded a MacArthur Fellowship and awarded a CBE in the New Year’s Honours 2014. He was awarded Northwestern University’s 2008 Jean Gimbel Lane Prize in Piano, won the Royal Philharmonic Society (RPS) Instrumentalist Award in 2010, and in 2016 was made an Honorary Member of the RPS.

He has performed with many of the world’s major orchestras, given recitals at the most prestigious concert halls and has appeared with most of the major European and American orchestras. He regularly contributes articles for The Guardian, The Times, The Tablet, Gramophone and BBC Music Magazine and wrote a blog for The Telegraph for seven years.

He is also a published novelist and essay writer; a visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music; holds the International Chair of Piano Studies at his alma mater, the Royal Northern College in Manchester and is also a member of the faculty at New York’s Juilliard School.

He said: “It gives me special pleasure to receive this honorary degree in the great city of Chester, so close to where I was born and grew up.”

  • In Ceremony 3 Baroness Floella Benjamin DBE DL will receive a Doctor of Letters award.    

For more than five decades, Baroness Benjamin has been involved in children’s television across the world and is best known for the iconic children’s programmes Playschool and Play Away.

As well as her stage film and television appearances, in 1987 she founded her own production company and produced hundreds of children’s programmes for major broadcasters, many of which were award winners. Most recently, these include Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies, Chuggington, Sarah Jane Adventures and she is a regular on CBeebies Bedtime Stories.

Since 1973, she has campaigned for diversity both in front and behind the camera and now advises the BBC and ITV on their diversity policies. She sits in the House of Lords where she passionately promotes children’s television and UK film, and has fought for tax credit for UK children’s productions and animation. She has also secured changes to child performance regulations.

In 2006 she was made the first black woman Chancellor of a UK University. She has written over 30 books including Coming to England, which tells the Windrush story. Her latest picture book edition of this story is a number one best seller, and the BBC film adaptation won an RTS Award in 2004. 

As a regulator, Dame Benjamin sat on the Ofcom Content Board for three years and was a member of the BBFC Advisory Board for several years. She also sat on the NFTS Board for 17 years and was Chair of BAFTA – Television, creating the Children’s BAFTA Awards, now in their 20th year.

She has received an OBE for her contribution to children’s broadcasting, a Special Lifetime BAFTA, an Royal Television Society Award, a British Kinematograph Sound and Television Society Fellowship, an Honorary Fellowship of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and the ACA-JM Barrie Award for her lasting legacy to children.

She has just finished writing her autobiography What are You Doing Here? which will be published by Pan Macmillan in June. She is the Chair of the Windrush Commemoration Committee which is charged with creating a National Windrush Monument, to be unveiled at Waterloo Station that same month.

She said: “I left school at 16 and graduated from the University of Life, where I studied empathy and common sense with a mission to change the world for children, because childhood lasts a lifetime. So, I feel incredibly honoured to be receiving this Honorary Degree from the University of Chester.”

Wednesday, May 25

  • In Ceremony 4 Christine Gaskell CBE, DL will receive an honorary Doctor of Business Administration award.    

Christine spent most of her career in the motor industry and from 1995 until 2012 she was a member of the board at Bentley Motors, with responsibility for over 4,000 employees worldwide. Under Christine, Bentley invested significantly in improving the skills and capability of its workforce, to regional and national acclaim.

Throughout her career she has been actively involved in promoting learning and skills and in 2012 she was awarded an MBE for services to training and apprenticeships. In January 2019, Christine was awarded a CBE for her services to Cheshire and Warrington.

From 2011-2020, she was the first Chair of the Cheshire and Warrington Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP). She was Chair of the 38-strong LEP Network, Vice-Chair of NP11 – the group of Northern LEPs – and sat on the LEP Review Committee. Christine was also a member of the Industrial Strategy Board, the Transport for the North Board and the Digital Skills Partnership Board. Christine holds a number of other non-executive roles and is also a Deputy Lieutenant of Cheshire.

She said: “This honour is a testament to and recognition of the contribution I have been able to make with the support of others to the vibrancy of the Cheshire and Warrington economy and I am deeply honoured to receive it.”

  • In Ceremony 5 Lady Redmond MBE will receive an honorary Doctor of Letters award.    

Lady Redmond MBE came into office as Lord-Lieutenant of Cheshire in August 2021. She is a chartered accountant and spent several years in the profession before establishing, with her husband Phil, also one of the University’s honorary graduates, one of the largest independent television drama production companies in the UK.

She has held many senior non-executive, governor and trustee positions including with National Museums Liverpool, Riverside Housing Association and Alder Hey Hospital NHS Children’s Charitable Trust. She continues to support many charitable and not for profit organisations.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and was awarded her MBE in 2011 for services to the community. Alexis held the office of High Sheriff of Cheshire during 2018/19.

  • In Ceremony 6 Susan Flood will receive an honorary Master of Science award.

Sue Flood is an award-winning photographer and filmmaker, author, zoologist, adventure travel leader and public speaker. Her work takes her all over the world, but she has a special passion for the wildlife and landscape of the Polar regions and is one of the very few women photographers who returns again and again to Earth’s harshest and most demanding environments.

Her first trips to the Poles came during her 11 years in the BBC’s Natural History Unit working on such globally acclaimed nature documentaries as The Blue Planet and Planet Earth with Sir David Attenborough.

She has published two books inspired by her travels – Cold Places, featuring images from both Poles and Emperor: The Perfect Penguin. Her many accolades include multiple awards in the Travel Photographer of the Year, International Photographer of the Year and International Garden Photographer of the Year competitions; a Best in Festival prize in the International Conservation Photography Awards; and a Royal Photographic Society Silver Medal.

She is a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, Explorers Club and Royal Geographical Society. She is also an ambassador for Julian Lennon’s environmental charity, the White Feather Foundation, and a partner of Girls Who Click, a charity encouraging more girls and women into photography. Finally, Sue was recently appointed Photo Ambassador for the prestigious luxury cruise company Ponant and reached the North Pole for the eighth time, on board its hybrid electric icebreaker.

Sue was born in North Wales, grew up in Hawarden and attended The Queen’s School, Chester. She lives with her husband Chris Graham near Bala in North Wales.

She said: “I’m thrilled, honoured and humbled to receive this honorary degree. When I was at school in Chester, I was greatly inspired by Sir David Attenborough to dream of a career as a wildlife filmmaker. Imagine my joy, then, when after pursuing my ambition by studying zoology, I landed a job working with Sir David on some of the BBC’s most acclaimed landmark series such as The Blue Planet and Planet Earth. This led, in turn, to my new career as a wildlife photographer and as a public speaker. Both roles firmly focused on sharing the wonders of the natural world, the importance of protecting it and on spreading the message to young people, especially girls, that whatever your dreams are, you can make them come true.”

Friday, May 27

  • In Ceremony 9 Laura Deas will receive an honorary Master of Science award. 

Laura Deas is an international skeleton athlete who has represented Great Britain at the past two Olympic Games, winning a bronze medal at PyeongChang 2018. She became part of Team GB history by becoming both the first and only Welsh woman to win a Winter Olympic medal. As part of the first Winter Olympics podium to feature more than one Team GB athlete, she stood alongside her teammate Lizzy Yarnold. She has also won multiple World Cup medals and competed at five World Championships over a 13-year career.

Laura said: “I’m thrilled to be receiving this honorary degree from the University of Chester. I’ve felt a strong connection with Chester since growing up in the area, and it means a huge amount to have my sporting achievements recognised by such a highly-regarded institution.”

  • In Ceremony 10 David Pollock will receive an honorary Doctor of Business Administration award.    

David founded technology services provider Chess in 1993, naming the company after his two eldest children, Charlie and Jessie.

Chess has been in the The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For, ranking number one in 2018, and has been in the top 100 for each of the past 14 years. David was also awarded Best Leader by The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to Work For in 2017 and 2018 and received the Innovation in Business Award for his unique happiness training in 2016.

He was named EY UK Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007, Telecoms Industry Entrepreneur of the Year 2008, Institute of Directors’ Cheshire Director of the Year in 2009 and was made a Deputy Lieutenant of Cheshire in 2012.

His business career began aged 16, promoting bands and DJs to his school friends. At 19, he hitchhiked around the world, moving to Los Angeles and New York in his twenties to work on TV shows, commercials, and music videos production.

Over his career, he has founded many businesses, across a range of sectors, including utilities, property, energy, organic food, online marketing, and employee engagement, however Chess has been his primary focus for the past 30 years.

David moved from CEO to Executive Chairman of Chess in 2018, remaining at the heart of decision making at the Alderley Edge headquarters.

David is a keen fundraiser and an active supporter of the Prince’s Trust, chairing its North West Development Committee for 10 years until 2020. He is a Vice-President of East Cheshire Hospice and was a Trustee of Active Cheshire.

This July, he is taking on the bike challenge Raid Alpine Geneva to Nice, 770km, 18,000m of climbing in six days in aid of Cure Parkinson’s.

He said: “I am truly honoured to receive this Honorary Doctorate. The journey of life has been my university, never missing an opportunity to gain knowledge on how best to inspire, motivate, focus and guide people.”

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