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Alumni Achievement Awards recognise University's talented graduates

The ten honorees ranged from NGO founders and arts directors to entrepreneurs and diversity champions

Although much of the year has been spent under restrictions because of Covid-19, University of East London alumni have demonstrated the ingenuity and resilience which is an essential legacy of their education.

The second Alumni Achievement Awards celebrated and recognised the diverse achievements of the University’s growing and vibrant alumni community – locally, nationally and globally.

Opening the event, Charlie Werren, alumni engagement manager, said, “We received over 500 nominations across the eight categories, which is fantastic and truly highlights the breadth of talent we have among our alumni community.”

Although held virtually, this was the second year of celebrating the achievements of graduates. The ten honorees ranged from NGO founders and arts directors to entrepreneurs and diversity champions.

The Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award was given to Imran Khan QC, who grew up in east London, and studied law at the University, which was then known as the North East London Polytechnic, graduating in 1987. The award celebrated Mr Khan’s achievements including fighting for justice on behalf of the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence who was murdered in a racially motivated attack in south east London in April 1993. 

Accepting the award, Mr Khan said, “I have always grown up believing all of us have a responsibility to give something back if we are successful. One of the things I wanted to do was give back to my community and one of those ways was when I was offered the opportunity to become patron of UEL’s Legal Advice Centre – I jumped at the chance. I still believe there are many people who don’t get representation but need assistance and I hope I can help do that with the University.

“I’ve not done 10 per cent of what the other winners have, I've just done my job. I am proud of being part of UEL. It’s one of the proudest achievements of my life.”

Chief marketing officer Vanessa Varvas and other members of staff also took time during the evening to update alumni and guests on the University’s 10-year strategy, Vision 2028, as well as new initiatives including the University’s Career Zone, Career Passport and Track My Future.

The winners of the eight awards, together with excerpts from the citations:

The East London Glocal Engagement Award: This award recognises the alumni or group of alumni who have made a valuable contribution to the local community.

Winner: Victory Oyakhilome

“Our winner tonight is the founder and CEO of the Girls in Charge Foundation. Our winner is creating a world where girls can have the chance to speak out. The foundation has made a tremendous impact since it was set up; working with over 10,000 girls through various programmes in five African countries, and also in the United Kingdom.”

Winner: Darnell Shakespeare

“Our winner is a hugely inspiring community performing arts practitioner, director and producer in east London. In 2019, he took on the role of co-head for the young people's team at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and most recently in 2020 he was invited to teach as a guest practitioner for the applied theatre degree at the University of East London.”

Mental Wealth Advocacy Award: This award is for the alumni or group of alumni who have embedded or have been an advocate for the importance of Mental Wealth in their working lives.

Winner: Rhyana Ebanks-Babb

“The winner of this award is being recognised for the development of The Power of 7, a self-care guide. The guide was launched for Mental Health Awareness Week which covered kindness as the theme and our winner this evening describes the guide as her way to help others who have been struggling with their mental and emotional wellbeing by offering simple and effective resources.” 

Industry 4.0 Award: This award highlights an alumni or group of alumni who are pioneering in their approach for activities that embrace the next industrial revolution: Industry 4.0.

Winner: Constantin Singureanu

“Since graduating our winner has gone on to found Pufferr, a hub for digital growth and innovation leveraging several trends defining the digital marketing landscape: automation, outsourcing, partnerships and cloud computing. They have won a variety of awards, not only for themselves but also for their clients: Including two 2019 UK Business Awards, Four Drum Agency Awards.”

Alumni Diversity Award: This award is for the alumni or group of alumni who champion diversity and inclusion by leading on or overcoming barriers within their working lives.

Winner: Samantha Uwadie

“Alongside her full-time job and Masters, she led on the implementation of St Mungo's Positive Action Strategy. Due to her work, St Mungo's saw a nine per cent increase of BAME staff at senior levels. In addition, two Trustees from BAME backgrounds were recruited and a year later, a CEO.

“She facilitated training to over 300 volunteers and presented ground-breaking workshops to the workforce such as The Myth of the Angry Black Woman and Breaking the LGBT+ Stigma in BAME Communities.

Alumni Engagement Award: This award recognises the alumni or group of alumni who have engaged with or volunteered for the University and made a significant contribution to the University through activities including.

Winner: Abdal Ahmed

“This winner has managed sports competitions in the borough and has worked to deliver over 70 competitions for schools in Tower Hamlets, has overseen the ground-breaking interfaith games in the south of England for the Association of Muslim Schools, provided free community coaching to deprived youngsters who struggle to access sports and recreational opportunities.  

“He is a Race Equality Board member for the London FA and is also on the Grassroots Forum for Kick It Out as well as being on the London Football Association disciplinary panel.”

The Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Award: This award recognises the alumni or group of alumni who have made a transformative contribution to the local, national or international community through an enterprising business venture.   

Winner: Adriane Bet

“After graduating our winner founded 'Muddy Boots Kids Clubs', which runs high quality OFSTED registered holiday camps for children aged two to eight years old. Muddy Boots was founded after our winner realised that children were being given fewer and fewer opportunities to be outdoors, with the knowledge she learnt during her time at the university paired with her extensive history of working as sports coach for different schools she made a change to the world of Kids Camps.

The Rising Star of the Year Award: This award recognises the alumni, aged 30 or under, who have distinguished themselves professionally since graduating from the University of East London and are likely to inspire the next generation of alumni.

Winner: Akesha Reid

“Our winner has been working in hair and beauty journalism since graduating from UEL and most recently she was the Digital Editor for Hairdressers Journal International, the leading trade title for Hairdressers in the UK and now works freelance across trade and consumer media with by-lines on sites like Refinery29 and Cosmopolitan, as well as consulting with salons and brands on their social media strategies.

“Straight after completing her degree she took on the role of Editorial assistant at a national magazine, and just two years after working in this role she was given the opportunity to take on the role of Editor, meaning she was an Editor of a National Magazine at just 22.”

Winner: Abbie Nicholls 

“Our winner opened her first performing arts school in Chelmsford, Essex with Jigsaw Performing Arts in 2018, and will be opening a second franchise soon.

“She continues to work as a drama practitioner alongside running her own business and also works with a company who offer performing arts education for young people with additional needs.

“She also takes part in community projects, which deliver performing arts workshops to adults with learning disabilities, choreographing for their annual shows.”

Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award: This award recognises the alumni who has distinguished themselves for their excellent and sustained contributions and achievements in their chosen field over their professional lifetime. 

Winner: Imran Khan QC

“Our winners’ firm, founded in 2000 is described by the Chambers and Partners Directory as a ‘highly regarded serious crime practice that acts for legal aid and privately funded clients on highly complex cases.’ In 2018, he was appointed a Queens Counsel.

“Not only has our winner tonight had a distinguished law career but he has also been the patron of UEL’s Legal Advice Centre, since 2013 which is a learning facility for students in our Royal Docks School of Business and Law.”