South Shields Marine School student Xavier Branche is about to end his five-year and near 5,000-mile quest to launch a career – thanks to a financial SOS first.
The Guyana national saved £10,000 to take what he hoped would be a life-changing course at our world-leading training centre.
But he found himself in need of a little extra help to re-sit a two-week study unit within his one-year Officer of the Watch programme.
Rather than drop a message in a bottle, he appealed to the Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund, set up this year by South Tyneside College, of which the marine school is part.
The fund raises money for small grants to help students at home and educational initiatives overseas.
Its committee agreed to pay part of the £1,300 fee needed for him to try to gain a radio operator’s licence – making him the first person to benefit from it.
Xavier, 28, said: “I’m delighted to be the first to receive a grant, and very thankful for the generosity of the fund’s committee.
“I worked as an able seaman in Guyana to save the money I needed to enrol on the course so that I could get a good qualification, and I had to see it through.
“I saw an advert for the marine school years ago while at home, it has a great reputation, and that was when I started to save to come here.
“The qualification run by South Shields Marine School is only available in the UK and it opens doors worldwide – there is nothing like it in Guyana.”
The money came from Winterbottom’s Learning Hardship Fund element, which gives small grants to students in need of short-term educational help.
A separate Health and Wellbeing Fund enables UK students to study and progress more effectively, and a Business Start Up Fund supports budding college entrepreneurs.
Overseas, the college has already established links to support youngsters studying at the Youth Contact Centre in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
The trust also examines appropriate schemes in Sierra Leone and in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, where links also exist.
Les Watson, a former college chair of governors and the driving force behind the fund, said Xavier was an ideal candidate for support.
The retired maths teacher added: “It takes great dedication to work for five years to save £10,000 to support yourself through a marine course.
“What really impressed the committee was that Xavier had funded himself, and his dedication was clear.
“South Shields Marine School has the best facilities in the UK, and gaining a qualification here will be great for Xavier.
“The fund was established to help students who just need that little bit of extra support to get them to where they academically need to be.
“It’s a pleasure to be able to help someone who is clearly committed to their studies.”
Most marine school cadets have their course fees funded via sponsorship from shipping companies, who employ them when they qualify.
The Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fun is named in honour of Dr Thomas Masterman Winterbottom, whose financial legacy led to the founding in 1861 of the original marine school on which the college has grown.
Anyone who would like to support the Dr Winterbottom Charitable Fund should contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0191 427 3717.