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On 16th July, Caritas St Joseph’s celebrated its annual end-of-year achievement day. 152 students were presented with medals of achievement, in recognition of their hard work this academic year.

The achievement day was structured slightly differently to previous years, in order to maintain social distancing. Instead of a large ceremony in the grounds of the centre, with all students gathered together, the ceremony moved into the building, with the medals being awarded in students' classrooms by a member of the Caritas St Joseph’s management team or a tutor. This did not detract from the students’ eager anticipation and excitement.

The medal presentation included a video message from Bishop Paul McAleenan, in which he thanked all the students, families and staff for the work that has been done at the centre this year. He also congratulated the students on receiving their medals, telling them all, ‘I am delighted for you. You deserve it. Well done!’

This year’s achievement day marked the end of a challenging academic year for the centre and all those it serves. Due to lockdown and COVID-19 restrictions, the centre had to close at the beginning of January 2021, reopening at Easter. Despite this closure, the team at St Joseph’s continued to reach out to its students and families. The staff assembled and distributed over 1500 resource learning packs for families and students to work through from home. These resource packs continued to be sent to homes, even after the centre reopened, to ensure that students who still needed to shield could partake in the work safely. In addition, over 3000 telephone calls were made to families, to make sure that they too felt supported in such uncertain times.

Keeping students and families connected to the centre, even if they could not be physically present, was of paramount importance to the St Joseph’s team. Thanks to a partnership with the Good Things Foundation and funding from DevicesDotNow and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, 33 students at Caritas St Joseph's were provided with tablet devices, allowing them to connect more easily with friends, family and their courses.

Gail Williams, Centre Manager at Caritas St Joseph’s, said:

‘It has been a very difficult academic year keeping the students and staff safe but our systems have worked and we have been very lucky keeping the workplace COVID secure. If we get a positive test, it is easy to isolate our classes and not have to close down completely. The students learnt very quickly what the new systems were and now it is second nature to them.

‘The pandemic has changed everybody’s mindset on life. We are just so very grateful to all of our funders that helped us to re-open and stay open helping our students back to learning and to a place where they find family and friendship and can learn in a safe and loving environment.’

Banner image shows (L) Tiziana Mecocci, Lifelong Learning Manager for the Activity Centre with a student and (R) Geetha Katuwawala, tutor in Musical Showtime, presenting a medal of achievement to a student.