Digging Deep

“You need to start by unlocking the potential of these individuals, which gives them hope, because we’re living in a time where lots of young people don’t have hope.”

Sometimes in life, we meet people whose personal stories stay with us, regardless of the passage of time or miles travelled. People who are never forgotten, even when the bonds that once bound us together have long since faded.

For Graham Kill (Mining Engineering, 1987) and a group of his fellow Mining Engineering graduates, that special person was Brian Dawson. His commitment to overcome adversity and break through barriers 40 years ago has now inspired new scholarship support to help those following in his footsteps today.

Graham Kill in orange overalls standing near some mining equipment.

The story starts in 1983 when Graham spent a year working at Cotgrave colliery – just south of Nottingham – before starting his Mining Engineering degree.

“I was completely dislocated,” said Graham. “Living away for the first time and then working in a very alien environment with people that spoke differently and had a very different social background.”

It was while working at the colliery that Graham met Brian and formed a friendship that would last throughout their time together at the colliery and university.

“Quite often things underground would break or stop working, so we would sit down, have a cup of tea and a chat. It was during one of these chats that Brian told me his story.”

Brian started working down the pit straight after leaving school. For those in Brian’s local community and among his family, this was the expected career path. But after several years working at the colliery, Brian realised he wanted to push himself and get a degree.

“He was a bright guy but never had the opportunity due to family and economic circumstances,” Graham told us. “He wanted a lot more and studied for his ONC (Ordinary National Certificate), then HNDs (Higher National Diploma), which took years. And this is all while he’s working full time underground on shifts – days, nights and afternoons in rotation. It was really tough.”

Despite the obstacles in his way, Brian achieved the qualifications he required and joined Graham as an undergraduate on the Mining Engineering course in 1984.

“There was a close bond between all of us on the course and Brian – aka Tigger - was a big part of that,” said Graham. “He was someone different because we were all youngsters, almost straight from school, but he had a house and a family.”

Although the scholarship is a way to get people into the engineering profession, more importantly, we wanted to help others that don’t have things along the way to help them, or supportive families. Just like Brian.
Graham Kill

Once Graham graduated, he lost contact with Brian, who sadly passed away. During a reunion with his fellow Mining Engineering graduates, they decided they wanted to honour Brian’s memory and encourage more young people to take up engineering. This led Graham and a group of alumni to pull together and help fund scholarships, with Brian as the inspiration. Alongside Graham, the group includes Andy Lapworth, Richard Longstaff, Andy Gardner, Graham Makin and Matt Sutcliffe – who all met while studying Mining Engineering in the 1980s.

“Although the scholarship is a way to get people into the engineering profession, more importantly, we wanted to help others that don’t have things along the way to help them, or supportive families. Just like Brian,” added Graham.

“There are so many barriers that disadvantaged students face and some fall at the first hurdle because they want to come to university and have the skills, but just don’t have the funds to afford it.”

For Graham and his friends, the scholarships they have funded offer an opportunity for individuals, like Brian, to overcome the financial challenges they encounter on their route to university. What’s more they provide them with financial support during their studies to experience university life to the full.

“If you support one person, they go on to support their family, or their children and there’s a knock-on effect that changes their life,” said Graham. “It’s very hard to think of how you’re going to solve world problems, like malaria or world hunger, but as an individual if you can focus on another individual and help to change their course, then that’s very profound.”

Graham and his fellow donors have already seen the first scholarship students start their degree at Nottingham. We spoke to Tamoor Aziz, pictured above, (Electrical Engineering) and Ben Koudougou (Mechanical Engineering), who are among four students that have benefitted from the scholarships so far.

“I wanted to come to university to learn more about electronics by getting a degree because it isn’t something I can learn about without further study,” explained Tamoor. “I knew instantly that getting the scholarship would make a big difference to me, so I was very grateful. I have purchased the equipment required for personal projects so that I can further build on my skills as an engineer.”

Meanwhile, for Ben Koudougou, the scholarship has allowed him to pursue other activities outside of his degree. “I was over the moon when I heard that I was going to receive the scholarship,” said Ben. “I was previously worrying about how I was going to balance working a parttime job with such a time-intensive degree. The scholarship provided me with the opportunity to focus on my studies, especially in recent times with the rising cost of living.

“I have also been able to take part in American Football for the university, which has membership and equipment fees. Last year we managed to reach the National Championship!”

Finally, Ben has a message to all those who donate to our scholarship programmes. “First of all, I would say a huge ‘thank you’! It is great to know that alumni are looking out for current students like me, and that there are people out there, in our corner, who want to help us succeed.”

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