Writtle News

Honorary degrees for two inspirational founders of disabled charities

September 2014

Image for press release
(NOTE: This is an archived press release.)

Two people who have worked tirelessly for disabled people through the charities they have co-founded will be given Honorary Degrees at the Writtle College graduation ceremonies.

David Constantine MBE, co-founder of mobility charity Motivation, and Anne Mitchell MBE, co-founder of Barrow Farm Riding for the Disabled, will be presented with Honorary Doctorate Degrees of the University of Essex at this week’s ceremonies.

More than 320 students will be gaining awards this year at the three ceremonies at Chelmsford Cathedral this Thursday and Friday (4 and 5 September).

Nearly 240 students will be given BA (Hons) or BSc (Hons) degrees, which are accredited by the University of Essex, with nearly 30 gaining First Class Honours. Masters and Doctorates will also be presented.

College patron and celebrity horticulturist Alan Titchmarsh MBE will again present the awards at the two ceremonies on Thursday – his fourteenth year of doing so - alongside Professor Todd Landman, Executive Dean (Social Sciences) at the University of Essex. Chelmsford-based Alex Dowsett, the British professional road racing cyclist, will present the awards at the ceremony on Friday alongside Dr Dominic Micklewright, Dean of Academic Partnerships at the University of Essex.

Dr Stephen Waite, Principal of the College, said: “Writtle College has had another exceptional year and the Graduation Ceremonies are always a very proud day for students, their parents, and staff.

“David Constantine and Anne Mitchell thoroughly deserve their Honorary Doctorates for their tireless work for disabled people and they are inspiring role models for our grandaunts.”

While a student at Writtle College in 1979, David was left severely paralysed following a diving accident during a holiday in Australia. He went on to complete and gain his National Diploma in Agriculture in 1983.

For 23 years, his mobility charity Motivation has been transforming the lives of hundreds of thousands of people across the developing world. Founded with two colleagues, Motivation designs wheelchairs for use in some of the world’s poorest countries.

Around 80 million people in the developing world need a wheelchair. Second hand, donated equipment is often seen as the logical solution; in reality, they are part of the problem, causing infections, postural problems and life-threatening pressure sores. Motivation’s wheelchairs are fitted to meet an individual’s exact needs, and are designed to be robust enough to work on the rough terrain often found in the developing world. This helps gets people mobile and confident, whilst also keeping them healthy. This approach led to a collaboration with the World Health Organisation to develop guidelines and training for the provision of appropriate wheelchairs. Motivation has now trained specialists in over 45 countries to provide the right wheelchairs, in the right way.

The charity also plays a significant role in helping to develop grassroots sport around the world, with a sports wheelchair range commissioned by the International Paralympic Committee at London 2012.

David said: “I owe an enormous amount to the staff and fellow students at Writtle College, whose generosity and understanding after my injury meant I was able to complete my course, even whilst I was still in hospital. During that challenging time, their support was invaluable.

“I also have the College to thank for my first active-style wheelchair – the first chair that made me feel confident and independent, and didn’t make me feel self-conscious. That’s when I realised that the right wheelchair brings freedom, and that’s the seed from which Motivation was born.”

Anne Mitchell, who was given an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours earlier this year, started Barrow Farm Riding for the Disabled, at Highwood, near Chelmsford, with her parents in 1976. Since then she has provided many children and adults with special needs and disabilities the opportunity to gain skills and enjoyment through riding and carriage driving.

Through Anne’s hard work and dedication, the charity has grown from its small beginnings to providing riding and carriage driving for up to 130 disabled children and adults a week.

In addition to her charitable work, Anne has supported numerous students through their training to become equestrian professionals and inspired many people to become involved, through volunteering, to enable the charity to provide its services.

Anne said: “This award came as a huge surprise to me and I feel very honoured, especially as someone who hasn’t been through the Higher Education system. But it’s not just about me; this is recognition for everyone at Barrow Farm.”

Undergraduate and postgraduate students from courses in Agriculture, Conservation, Floristry, Horticulture and Management will be presented with their awards in the first ceremony on Thursday and Writtle School of Design – including Landscape Architecture & Garden Design, Art & Design and Interior Architecture & Design courses - in the second. On Friday, students from Animal Science, Sport and Equine courses will be honoured.

This year, Dr Anya Perera will be given a National Teaching Fellowship from the Higher Education Academy in recognition of her work to enhance the quality of the student experience, giving undergraduates and postgraduates the support they need to excel academically, professionally and personally.

The Duchess of Kent Academic Award will be presented to FE Horticulture Lecturer Ben Wincott for his work to secure recognition for the College at the highest level at flagship events, including a gold medal in the Young Gardeners of the Year competition at the Ideal Home Show 2014.The Duchess of Kent Merit Awards – which honour support staff for their exceptional contribution to the College - will be presented to Victoria Gentle, Human Resources Adviser, and Rebecca Hughes, Press and Publications Manager.

Student-led Teaching Awards will also be presented at the ceremonies while the Students’ Union RAG (Raise and Give) charities, Farleigh Hospice and the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution, will each receive cheques for £2,000 raised from the year’s activities.

Writtle College’s international community includes students from 60 countries worldwide and this will be reflected in our graduates this year, including those from Brunei, Ghana, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Tanzania, South Africa, Guatemala, India, South Korea, Japan, Iraq, Iran, Spain, Sweden, Italy, France, Portugal, Poland, Germany, Norway and Cyprus.