RGU celebrates opportunities for young people in honorary graduation ceremony

Robert Gordon University (RGU) has held an honorary graduation ceremony to mark the importance of creating equal opportunities for young people from all backgrounds.

The university has awarded honorary degrees to Nicola Benedetti, Scottish classical violinist, and Mark Williams, Chief Operating Officer of Streetsport, for their respective contributions to transforming the lives of young people through the power of music and sport.

The ceremony was held yesterday (Monday, March 9), and celebrated Nicola and Mark’s ongoing commitment to providing opportunities for young people, promoting inclusion and encouraging participation.

Professor John Harper, Principal of RGU, said: “RGU has a mission to transform people through the provision of a skills rich, professional education. As part of this, the university has a long-standing commitment to widening access, enabling a wide range of individuals to benefit from higher education no matter of background or circumstance.

“This ethos relates closely to the work of Nicola Benedetti and Mark Williams who have both made a significant contribution to transforming the lives of young people by respectively increasing access to music and sport to raise potential and build creativity, discipline and skills.”

Nicola Benedetti is one of the world’s leading advocates for quality music education, the role of arts and culture in the wider community and the transformational effect it has on all young people. She has been committed to education projects since the age of 15 and in the past 12 months, Nicola has worked with over 4,000 students and 700 teachers.

Recognising that music education raises potential, Nicola has recently established a charitable organisation. The Benedetti Foundation strives to unite the world of music education through uncovering and sharing its best practices, and celebrating its greatest advocates. It creates explosive, life changing experiences around mass musical events for teachers and young people that are dedicated to music participation on all levels. The Benedetti Foundation is devoted towards pulling together individuals and organisations that too often work in isolation. It also produces a signature series of orchestra-based weekend workshops – The Benedetti Sessions - to address, equally, the needs of young musicians and of teachers.

Nicola Benedetti said: ‘I am delighted to be awarded an honorary degree from Robert Gordon University in recognition of the work I do with young people – thank you so much. I have been committed to education work since I was 16 and this is something that has always felt totally natural to me.

“I believe wholeheartedly that music, if taught well, can provide life-changing experiences for many young people. I feel an increasing responsibility towards an ambassadorial role for quality in a culture dominated by intense commercialism, and I have advocated strongly and loudly for the importance of quality arts in our education system and will continue to do so to with purpose and intensity.”

Mark Williams has been instrumental in the development of Streetsport, which was introduced in 2006 as a partnership between RGU and Police Scotland to tackle youth crime in Aberdeen. Now coordinated with the support of the Denis Law Legacy Trust, the programme delivers free weekly sports and creative activity sessions for young people in areas of high youth annoyance and deprivation. Initially running as a part-time programme delivered in a handful of locations, Streetsport is now a full-time programme operating across Aberdeen every week night.

The initiative has helped reduce reports of youth crime, anti-social behaviour and wilful fire-raising by over 80% and provides platforms for many participants to achieve positive destinations in life. It has also and has been recognised by a number of awards over the years, including a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service and the TSB Community Partner award at the National Pride of Sport Awards.

Mark Williams said: “I’m incredibly honoured and humbled to be receiving this recognition from RGU and I must thank all of the staff, volunteers, trustees and supporters for all their help and support since I started at the university 10 years ago.

“I’m very proud of how much Streetsport has grown but I also can’t wait to see how we can grow even further in what is an extremely exciting time for the charity. Seeing young people thrive because of what we do is truly motivating and inspires all of us within the Trust to do more each day.”

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