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The Man in the Dinner Suit

Many years ago I was invited to an awards ceremony in Kirby, Liverpool. At the event I was asked to make the presentations to the successful NVQ students who had achieved their qualification.

As I arrived at the council hall on a very run down estate on a cold wet and windy November evening I was greeted by a smiling man in his fifties wearing a full dinner jacket and bow tie. The man opened the door and showed me to the hall where the presentations would take place. I must admit I was a little taken aback as on my many visits to Kirby I had not been greeted by a man in a dinner suit before. It was a good start to the evening.

Once the evening was underway there were 300 people in the audience and 150 presentations to make, a great celebration. Each name was called out and as a round of applause rang out the candidate would make their way to the front where I would hand them their certificate and shake their hand whilst offering my congratulations.

At the end of the evening the speaker announced there was a final certificate to be awarded. This award would be one that everybody in the room was very pleased about. The speaker explained that Michael was somebody whom everybody had come to love on the course; he was someone who was very kind and considerate for others and always had time for his fellow students. Michael had worked very hard to achieve his first ever qualification in his life. At 57 years of age he was the oldest candidate on the course and he had been able to secure a job at the end of the course too.

At this point the audience spontaneously stood and applauded whistles and cheers as Michael made his way down the aisle to collect his certificate. Astonished at the sense of good will I found myself shaking the hand of the man in the dinner suit who had greeted me at the front door. As I shook his hand he thanked me and hugged me, he explained that his father had died when he was 21 years of age. His father had worked for many years as a steward on the cruise liners out of Liverpool Dock and had left him the dinner suit in his will as one of his only possessions.

Michael spoke with tears in his eyes as he explained he had waited 34 years for a reason to wear his father’s dinner suit and tonight was the night. As I passed him his NVQ Level 1 certificate I felt very humble to be with such a great man. At 57 years of age he had learnt new skills, been recognised with a certificate and gained employment after many, many years unemployed. Through my tears I sought hopelessly to convey my thanks to him for helping me to see the value of the work we do everyday.

Many years have passed since this night, but I often recall his pride, the respect he earned from his fellow students and the hope which his skills, certificate and job had given him. I wanted to recall this evening in this blog to remind me of how important the development work is that we are all involved in. It is easy to take for granted the “outcomes” achieved, but each one of them is a life changing transformation. I have taken the spirit of this night with me for many years, to many countries, but I will never forget that night.

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