Inspirational Billy wins national award

A ‘truly inspirational’ South Essex College student has won a national award by being named the Association of Colleges’ ‘Young Student of the Year’.

Billy Gibbons, who studies Public Services at the college’s Southend Campus, beat off competition from across the country and received his award at a glitzy ceremony in Birmingham on Tuesday evening. 

Billy was recognised for his outstanding academic achievement while facing a number of barriers, as well as his charitable work within the community.

The 18-year-old from Westcliff has achieved a distinction in every assessment during his course so far which would be an outstanding achievement for any student, but Billy has attained this with a profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. 

Billy also has significant speech and language delay, developmental delay and an auditory processing impairment. He communicates using ‘total communication’ which combines British Sign Language, lip reading, speaking and listening. He also has mild cerebral palsy affecting mainly his lower limbs. Alongside all of this he also helps as a carer for his twin sister.

Despite the barriers he faces, his tutors say he is one of the most determined students they have ever met who does not strive for the recognition it brings him, but because he wants to be the best version of himself.

Billy said he was shocked to have won.

He said: “I am so proud of myself because everyone at the awards deserved to win. This has definitely given me the extra confidence to know I can achieve great things and will help me when I leave college and decide what to do next.

“It means a lot to me because I work hard and I’m fortunate to have amazing support at the college to help me. I think the biggest thing anyone can do is believe in themselves.”

Billy is also extremely active within the local community. He recently went to Buckingham palace to receive his gold Duke of Edinburgh award for his volunteering work with charity 'Kids First'. This charity is part of Thurrock and District Cerebral Palsy Society offering support and opportunities to children in the community. While doing this he was also working as a volunteer in a PHAB shop and has also volunteered within the Royal Association for Deaf People, helping out with sailing trips.

He also plays cricket for Essex Ability, swims with Runnymede Swim Club and has completed training as a fire cadet within Essex County Fire and Rescue Service.

Billy’s tutor Donna James said he was a true inspiration to all.

She said: “This award is truly deserved. Billy shows others that there are no limits to what you can achieve. He never complains about his situation, he simply works out solutions to any issues he faces without drama or negativity. 

“He can inspire people facing all types of barriers whether this be a disability, a family issue, a mental issue or a health issue, that if you focus on your goals, remain positive and work hard good things will result. He is a true inspiration.”

The awards were announced on Tuesday 19 November at an evening of celebration at the Association of Colleges’ Annual Conference, showcasing some of the ways that colleges are transforming the lives of more than two million people across England and how vital colleges are to the future of the British economy in the 21st century.