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Alumni updates

Five Years

On dark brown wooden flooring, the ‘Five Years’ book is place tilted. The wording ‘Five Years’ is on the top right corner, and on the bottom right corner is ‘Ian Knight – Z70 Photography’. The imagery on the book is a sunset view of the sea with a lighthouse in the distance.
Five years of calendar photographs all collected in one book by Ian Knight.

BSc (Hons) Information Systems graduate, Ian Knight, took a step into the photography world a few years ago, and through self-teaching, supportive online resources and a lot of perseverance, has become an award-winning amateur photographer with a new book!

“Throughout my life cameras have always been part of it, long before the digital age was here, and I have been capturing moments of my own history along the way.”

Ian’s new self-published book, ‘Five Years’ is a collection of images from calendars sold over the past five years and extras not previously available in print. With only 50 of these books printed, and only 30 available for sale to the public, Ian is sharing the beauty of the world, one photograph at a time.

“Staffordshire is a beautiful and diverse place to be based with so much history, culture and nature right on our doorsteps, there is always something new and exciting to photograph.”

Ian Knight graduated from BSc (Hons) Information Systems in 1992.

Social media links

Photography portfolio

A Voice of Poetic Justice

Gary is smiling into the camera, he is wearing a patchwork jacket with imagery of nature-related such as trees, mushrooms, and rainbows.
Gary Oliver, graduate, poet-lyricsmith, writer and best-selling author.

BA (Hons) Drama and Theatre Arts graduate, internationally renowned and acclaimed poet-lyricsmith, writer and best-selling author Gary Oliver Keith-Falconer has published his most recent book, ‘Woodun Indians’. The Cop 26 Special Edition, is a poetry book of Urban Rhymes, Global Stories and Eco-Poetry to raise awareness of the climate crisis, Woodun Indians is out now on Quhwah Publications.

Gary is a founding member of the DJ School Association, Stoke-on-Trent Caribbean Carnival, The Kids Karnival and U7 Urban Arts and Cultural Centre where he is currently the executive director. He currently also hosts a successful podcast about social comment, cultural poems and current affairs called 'All Colours' and is still active performance poet. Much of his formative years were spent as a rave DJ/MC/Promoter at local, regional and international clubs, venues and events. Such as Shelly’s and Entropy night clubs Longton, Home and Hacienda Manchester and Helter-skelter, Deja vu and Sin City, and many may more.

Recently Gary, under his stage name MC Ragga, had produced two albums called Hell Live Hate Dubs and Hellelujah Dubs gaining worldwide success and acclaim. Other previous publications include the acclaimed Dear Love Powa, Contemporary Common Criminal, MC Rave- his first Novel and Sonnets of Solace published in lock down.

Gary Oliver Keith-Falconer graduated from BA (Hons) Drama and Theatre Arts in 2006.

Social media links

Press release of Woodun Indians

COVID couldn’t stop their love story

In a grass field, Emma in her wedding dress, and Vic in his suit with an orange vest stand side by side smiling. Emma and Vic have one hand pointed out, holding small smoke flares, Emma's is pink, whilst Vic's is orange. The smoke provides a border for the top and sides of the photo.
Congratulations Vic and Emma!

Who doesn’t love an alumni marriage? We certainly do and send huge congratulations to Vic Casambros and Emma Tyson!

Vic, a Film Production Technology graduate, and Emma, a Digital Film and 3D Animation graduate met whilst studying at the Beaconside Campus in Stafford back in 2010. During the time that Emma completed her last two years of study, as many of you will surely remember, Vic was the elected Students’ Union Deputy President. Then when Emma graduated in 2012, they moved to London together.

From London to Folkestone in 2018, they started a family and now have a little two-year old daughter named Tala.

With Vic unable to “take a hint” and pop the question, Emma proposed on leap day, 29 February 2020! (We think this just adds to the romance!)

Unfortunately, due to the COVID pandemic, Vic and Emma had to reschedule multiple times, but it was a case of third time lucky when our alumni couple made history and became the first ever to get married at Fort Burgoyne in Dover on 31 July 2021!

Vic Casambros graduated from BSc Hons Film Production Technology in 2010.

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Here’s Jonny

Jonathan Wilkes is staring directly into the camera with a slight smile. He is wearing a black t-shirt. Behind him is a dark grey background.
Stage star and Staffordshire University honorary doctor Jonathan Wilkes.

Stage star and Staffordshire University honorary doctor Jonathan Wilkes talks to Horizon about his work and ambitions.

With his cheeky chappy persona and that ever-present smile, Jonathan Wilkes is best known as a TV presenter, musical theatre star and the co-founder of Soccer Aid - which has raised £40 million for Unicef.

What is less well known is that the Stoke-on-Trent-born lad, who has starred in 14 pantos in his home city, now spends much of his time working behind the scenes nurturing stars of the future.

Wilkes Academy, the performing arts college he runs with wife Nikki Wheeler, trains a steady stream of young performers who have gone on to secure lead roles in musicals not just in the West End but around the globe.

“The Lion King, Mamma Mia, Starlight pretty much any West End musical and we’ve trained people with lead roles in it,” says Jonathan, known as Jonny to his friends.

“Hundreds of our alumni are performing all over the country and all over the world.”

Jonny also spends much of his time producing high end stage shows for P&O cruise ships, including a show he put together with TV presenter Stephen Mulhern.

Rather than starring in the shows himself Jonny writes, directs and produces the productions - often finding himself able to provide opportunities for Wilkes Academy graduates along the way.

“I get everything set up and then, once I’m happy with it, I leave the show to run. I keep going back to make sure that everything is exactly as I want it to be.

“Astonishing, a show I put together with Stephen Mulhern, is on six P&O ships. It’s a show we love doing and we’re very proud of it.

“I’m about to launch a new show called Festival onboard a new P&O ship called Iona.

“Last year 30-odd of our students graduated on ships all over the world. The ships are brilliant, they’re like a floating city, and the theatres are as good as any you’ll find on land.”
Jonny and Nikki set up The Wilkes Academy in Wiltshire eight years ago. It’s grown to have a faculty of more than 45 staff, more than 250 current students and 16 performance studios.

“Nikki is the principal and the boss,” says Jonny modestly. “She’s the driving force behind it. I’m the spokesperson more than anything.

“My job is to make sure everybody is happy and to look for job prospects for our graduates. Before the pandemic, 86% of our students went straight into a job.

“P&O Cruises scholarships are a big big thing for us. Our alumni grows stronger and stronger every single year.”

The Wilkes academy offers a three year Staffordshire University musical theatre degree. Jonny, an honorary doctor of Staffordshire University, is delighted to have yet another link back to his home city.

“It’s a strong partnership and the first year of the course has been incredibly successful, which pleases me so much,” he says. “It ticks a lot of boxes for me, and of course it’s great to be part of anything that puts Staffordshire on the map.

“We have students coming in from all over the country and the world to study for a Staffordshire University degree with us.”

It would be impossible for someone who loves performing as much as Jonny does to step away from the stage completely.

He still does a lot of work for charity including performing at and compering events for hospices and other good causes in Staffordshire and Wiltshire.

Jonny has starred in the Regent Theatre pantomime in Stoke-on-Trent for 14 years, a gig that he is clearly very passionate about. An announcement about the 2021 pantomime has not yet been made.

“I’ve been coming out of retirement once a year to go on stage for panto and convince myself I can still do it,” he says.

“For 15 years I did eight shows a week. I’d never close the door to going back to that but right now I’ve got other ambitions to be going on with. Me as a performer takes second place to that.”

Jonny has appeared in countless theatre productions over the years, presented TV show You’ve Been Framed before Harry Hill and reached number 24 in the UK charts with his single Just Another Day.

He set up the bi-annual charity football event Soccer Aid in 2006 alongside fellow Stoke-on-Trent son Robbie Williams.

They’ve attracted world-famous celebrities and football legends to take part over the years including the likes of Alan Shearer, Gordon Ramsey, Olly Murs, Woody Harrelson, Sir Mo Farah and Usain Bolt among many others.

That glittering celebrity lifestyle is a far cry from Jonny’s childhood in Baddeley Green, Stoke-on-Trent; although signing for Port Vale FC at the age of seven and then playing for Everton FC as a teenager did give him a taste of what was to come.

He’s still an ardent Port Vale supporter and returns to watch his team as often as possible.

“Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire is a big community,” he adds. “I love being a part of that and having as many connections with Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire as I can.”

Jonathan Wilkes graduated from Honorary Doctor of the University (DUniv) in 2009.

Social media links

Wilkes Academy

The Art of Exploration

On the left side, Levison is staring directly into the camera. Behind him is a grey background with various shading. At the top cascading down are the words "Levison Wood", "The Art Of Exploration", "Lessons in Curiosity, Leadership and Getting things done" in either white or yellow coloured text.
'Forget routine; now is the time to embrace the unknown, step out of your comfort zone and open the gateway to the Art of Exploration.'

Honorary Doctor, world renowned explorer and award-winning author, Levison Wood shares his most personal story yet in his latest book “The Art Of Exploration” - 'Forget routine; now is the time to embrace the unknown, step out of your comfort zone and open the gateway to the Art of Exploration.'

Published by Hodder & Stoughton, Levison talks about his secrets of discovery for the first time in this revealing manual of what it means to be an explorer in the modern age. The man who has walked the Nile, the Himalayas and the Americas discusses his lessons from a life on the road, how he managed to turn a passion into a lifestyle, and what inspired and motivated him along the way.

With chapters on curiosity, teamwork, resilience, and positivity this is a book that provides a tool kit - no matter your age or profession. As Levison says, 'these lessons can help you to fulfil your potential for living a happy life, regardless of your circumstances'.

With Levison's passion for adventure shown throughout his voyages, this book is a must read for any current and future explorers!

Levison Wood graduated from Honorary Doctor of the University (DUniv) in 2017.

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Read the adventure

Staffordshire graduates named in Her Majesty The Queen’s Birthday Honours list

Aida is smiling into the camera whilst leaning her left arm on a table. Wearing a green sleeveless top with a Srebrenica flower. Behind her is a banner - At the top is the Srebrenica flower, the words “Remembering Srebrenica”, and a photo of graveyard below.
Graduate Aida Haughton has been awarded an MBE for services to Remembering Srebrenica.

A huge congratulations to our two Staffordshire graduates named in Queen’s Birthday Honours!

The published list recognises the achievements and service of extraordinary people across the United Kingdom including Aida Haughton (BA (Hons) Modern and International History) and Corinne Boden (BA (Hons) Social Welfare Law, Policy and Advice Practice) who have both been awarded MBEs.

Aida, who works as a housing support administrator with YMCA North Staffordshire, has been awarded an MBE for services to Remembering Srebrenica.

As a survivor of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the 47-year-old has been determined to ensure people never forget the genocide committed in 1995, where thousands of predominantly Muslim men and boys were murdered and buried in mass graves.

“Though many people do not realise, hate speech and classification to ‘us’ and ‘them’ represent one of 10 steps of genocide, so as a Bosnian war survivor I use my experiences in raising awareness on harms of hate and discrimination. The army of volunteers, individuals and community groups I have met over the years taught me so much and I feel privileged that together we continue to do good, no matter how big or small.”

Corrine Boden has been awarded an MBE for services to the community - Corrine has led Stoke-on-Trent Foodbank, turning it into one of the top 20 foodbanks across the whole of the Trussell Trust’s 1,250-strong network. During the coronavirus crisis, record numbers of families have turned to the organisation for support. Corinne has also helped to coordinate a citywide response with the local authority and voluntary sector during the pandemic, delivering essential food.

Corrine said: “I am truly honoured to accept this MBE, and do so on behalf of the volunteers, donors, trustees and staff, whose committed support have made it possible to continue our vital services to local people during this demanding time.

“I’m just a normal person from a humble beginning – if this can happen to me it can happen to anyone.”

Aida Haughton graduated from BA (Hons) Modern and International History in 2021.

Social media links

Read the full article here

Mission: Story of revenge

Paul is standing, staring directly into the camera and smiling. He is wearing a black t-shirt with a light brown jacket over it. Behind him is a plain light grey wall.
Mission: A boy, his father and an unforgivable lie - A must read mystery!

Sociology graduate Paul Forrester-O'Neill has launched his debut novel, Mission: A boy, his father and an unforgivable lie. Published by Hookline Books, it has been submitted for the Booker and Costa Prize and is getting rave reviews from readers - “Superbly constructed narrative with a wonderfully original storyline that makes you want to keep turning the page.”

With three plays performed at the Stoke-on-Trent Repertory Theatre, the Staffordshire writer has made the most of lockdown and provided us with a psychological fictional storyline that leaves us wanting more!

“A boy and his father are separated by an unforgivable lie. Twenty years later they meet and his dying father tells him of the men who cheated him and the town of Mission that spurned him. John plans his revenge. What follows is a twist of guile and brutality, mud and gold, as his father's enemies are played by the young man with the crooked snout and the pocketful of hatpins.”

Intrigued? Yes, so are we, this promotional blurb is indeed clever… Hatpins? See you at the back page!

Paul Forrester-O'Neill graduated from BA Sociology in 1980.

Social media links

Read the mystery

Love Island mobile drama out for pre-order!

A beach in the background and at the forefront is a mobile phone. On the phone screen are various chat groups that range from “Girls Chat – What do you think of the new boys?” to “Love Island – Islanders, please gather by the firepit”. At the top of the image are the words “Love island” and “the mobile drama”.
Adam and Shib create the new Love Island mobile drama!

Advertising and Brand Management graduates Adam Lowe and Shib Hussain are back again, and they’ve brought the drama!

The co-founders of Unrd, an interactive app that allows users to watch a story unfold in real-time through messages, social media and videos, have gone even bigger and released their first TV ad for their new app, I’ve got a text!

In partnership with ITV, it’s time to experience ‘Love Island the drama’ on I’ve Got a Text! Explore the phones of fictional love islanders as they flirt their way into drama in order to gain the prize money and find the love of their lives. With additional original romance stories to enjoy, pre-order now and get the romance started on 28 June 2021!

Adam Lowe and Shib Hussain graduated from BA Hons Advertising and Brand Management in 2009.

Social media links

Explore Unrd

Silver and gold

A silver bracelet takes up the majority of the right side of the image. The bracelet is a few inches tall with laser cuts that are slightly spread at an angle. In the bottom left are the words “Ellina Pollitt”, and “Parametric Silver Bracelet”.
The award winning piece!

In the highly anticipated Craftsmanship and Design Awards ceremony 2021, graduate Ellina Pollitt won the Laser Technology Gold award, and the Alpha Laser award.

The 2021 ceremony was streamed live from the Goldsmiths’ Hall and celebrated design and craftsmanship across jewellery, silversmithing and allied trades. The ceremony included a new section, Laser Technology, which involves utilising laser technology in part or full throughout the production of the finished piece of work.

Ellina’s award winning piece was the parametric silver bracelet – Impressing the judges for it’s “Pure, clear style”, using skilful techniques to achieve the highly precise cutting and level of finish.

Congratulations Ellina!

Ellina Pollitt graduated from BA Hons 3D Design Maker in 2019.

Social media links

Watch the Craftsmanship & Design Awards ceremony

Alumni face off in professional soccer cup final state side

On the left is Rich Gunney looking towards the right. Rich is wearing a zipped up dark blue jacket. On the right is Freya Coombe standing on the pitch whilst looking to the right with their arms crossed.
Alumni face off!

On May 8 2021 two former graduates faced off in opposing dugouts in the NWSL Challenge Cup Final.

Freya Coombe of Gotham FC and Rich Gunney of the Portland Thorns are both coaches in the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) in the United States of America.

Both Freya and Richard were in the same year group and were both Sports Science students graduating in 2003.

Both have pursued careers in coaching and currently are applying their craft in the US working with World Cup winning players and Olympic gold medallists at the highest level of the professional game.

In what would have been a sell-out capacity 25,000 Final but for the pandemic, both graduates' respective teams had progressed to face off in what was an exciting final. The game was televised nationwide and featured a host of the very best female players in the world. The game was an exciting spectacle ending in a 1-1 draw and decided cruelly by a penalty shootout. Portland came out victorious to lift the first trophy of the 2021 season but both coaches will now turn their attention to a full 24 game schedule to decide league champions for 2021.

Congratulations both!

Richard Gunney and Freya Coombe graduated from BSc Hons Sports Science in 2003.

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Read the full article

Design Lounge bounces back!

Anabia Jamshed is looking into the camera with a smile. Her brunette hair is held back by an alice band and wearing a black long sleeved button up shirt.
"Having grown up in a household where art/interiors were almost ‘second language’, I always looked towards embellishing interior as well as exterior spaces"

Anabia Jamshed, MA Interior Design graduate was one of a few business owners based in the UAE included in a feature in The National to discuss how herself and other independents refused to give up when faced by the Covid-19 pandemic, and how she got creative using videos and social media to promote her work and market her designs.

Anabia designs and creates, then sells unique customised embellished household and décor pieces such as candle stands, trinket boxes and key hanging cabinets on an online platform that is licensed by Dubai’s economic department. Whilst she faced a huge struggle during the first two phases of the pandemic lockdown, her passion and drive and adaptability to the new market to increase business eventually paid off and means the sales are beginning to pick up.

“Each of my creations presents a story in itself. It must never be out of any context at all. After all, this is the era of personalising, storytelling and emanating a nostalgic, cosy, snug and homey vibe.”

Anabia has a super eye for stylish design and interiors and you can view and be inspired by her ideas and works of art on her business page on Facebook. 

Anabia Jamshed graduated from MA Interior Design in 2019.

Social media links

Read the full article on The National

Royal Television Society’s Midlands Student Awards 2021

A young brunette girl is holding a white flower, on the right next to her is a slightly older blonde girl looking at the flower. The words "Callie" and "A short film by Georgia Leigh Taylor" is written in white in the middle.
Callie, a short film by Georgia Taylor which won in the categories ‘Scripted’ and ‘Craft Skills - Writing’.

A huge congratulations to recent graduates Georgia Taylor and Thomas Read who took home two awards each at the Royal Television Society’s Midlands Student Awards 2021!

Georgia, who studied Media (Film) Production, was praised for her film Callie which won in the ‘Scripted’ and ‘Craft Skills - Writing’ categories. It is the second year running that Georgia has excelled in the competition after earning two awards for her film One-Eighty last year.

The coming-of-age film Callie tells the story of a young woman who learns to welcome change rather than fear it, with the help of a wiser-than-her-years little girl.

“Callie for me is all about when you reach a big changing point in your life. It’s also about letting go of your childhood in order to move onto the next chapter of your life but still holding it dear to your heart. Basically, it’s about living life to the full and really taking the bull by the horns, life’s too short not to.”

Fellow winner Thomas, who studied Digital Film and Post Production, triumphed in the ‘Non Scripted’ category for his film Living Off Grid, which takes a look at life inside Pembrokeshire eco community Brithdir Mawr. Comedian and guest judge Lenny Henry described it as “a really beautiful, effectual documentary-style film”.

Thomas was also recognised alongside course mates Natalie Argent and Tom Connor in the ‘Craft Skills – Camera’ category for a music video made for Brixton-based rapper and singer Bushrod’s single Lowkey.

Georgia Taylor graduated from BA (Hons) Media (Film) Production in 2020.

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Watch our graduates take home the awards

Double act

A black background with the Carse & Waterman Productions logo. A small blue rectangle with cartoon eyes is centred near the top, and below in large white and blue text says “Carse & Waterman Productions”, productions has two horizontal lines on either side.
An award-winning company bringing your brand to life.

Graduates Daniel Waterman and Gary Carse, animation specialists at Carse and Waterman in Stoke-on-Trent have been called on by Ant and Dec for their expertise to produce some of the visual effects for their famous Saturday Night Takeaway show.

Working with the production team, Daniel and Gary helped create the illusion of blowing up celebrities such as Jermaine Jenas, Alison Hammond and Stephen Mulhern, along with Ant and Dec’s evil clone characters. However, Daniel, the visual effects supervisor and co-owner of Carse and Waterman has clarified that “No TV personalities were harmed in the making of the show.”

This is not the first time Carse and Waterman have worked with TV shows over the years, including The Keith and Paddy Picture Show, There’s Something About Movies, and Inside Number 9.

Daniel Waterman and Gary Carse graduated from BA Hons Design: Animation in 2011.

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Read more on their experience


Candi (wearing jeans and a brown coat) is standing on one foot, her legs and arms spread out wide with an open smile on her face. Behind her is a garden path, fairy lights along a tunnel with various shades of blues in the distant background.
“Be your own ROLE MODEL, HERO and NUMBER ONE FAN!” - Candi

Founder of My Best Life, Author of #Winning, Politician, Positivity Influencer, Professional Mentor, the list could go on, but these are just a few things which describe the fabulous Advice Studies graduate Candi Chetwynd. With a deep-rooted conviction to make people happy, Candi has launched her new website: My Best Life!

My Best Life is a place to reach your full potential and Candi is there to guide and support you with personal projects, free coaching, and virtual camps – in her own words “Tents not needed; you all have a pitch!”.

As Candi says in her book #Winning – “Say goodbye to self-doubt and hello to the endless benefits of self-worth.”

We highly recommend that you take a look at the new website and be sure to follow Candi’s social media pages for your daily dose of encouragement and positivity. We all need this kind of positivity in our lives!

Candi Chetwynd graduated from BA Hons Advice Studies in 2009.

Social media links

My Best life

New era for Wrexham AFC

Fleur Robinson standing, smiling, football shirts hanging in the background, demonstrating that Fleur is in a football changing room

Hitting the football news last week was the headline that Fleur Robinson would be taking the top job as CEO at National League Wrexham AFC and would be leaving her role as Commercial Director of Burton Albion Football Club after a 25-year association with the club.

This news was hot on the tail of the announcement earlier this year that Wrexham AFC - the oldest club in Wales and the third oldest football club in the world - had been bought by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenny.

Fleur, a graduate in Business and Innovation from 1995, has an outstanding reputation as a trailblazing businesswoman in football, and has enjoyed tremendous success at Burton Albion, recently taking the non-league club up to Championship. Fleur has also developed her reputation for her commitment off the pitch and has worked tirelessly to create links between the club and community which have been a huge part of BAFC’s success.

Fleur stated, “There are not many jobs that would have pulled me away from Burton, a club I have helped develop from the second tier of non-league to two seasons in the Championship, but the prospect of joining Wrexham at the start of what I believe is about to be an incredible new era for the club was too exciting to pass up."

Go Fleur! We are immensely proud of your success and will all be watching and waiting to see what happens at Wrexham AFC next.

Fleur Robinson graduated from Business and Innovation in 1995.

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New era at Wrexham AFC for Fleur, new owners and fans