Throughout the year, in the midst of presenting athletics coverage, travelling to Rio for the Olympic Games, invaluable work with my charity partners and spending quality time with my husband and children, I always enjoy coming back to Leeds – a city I’m extremely fond of, as I spent most of my childhood in the area and still have family there.
When Leeds Trinity University approached me to become its first chancellor in January 2013, I was honoured. The specialist institution in Horsforth, six miles north of the city centre, promotes values I wholeheartedly support, from its pioneering work placements, excellent facilities in media, journalism and sport, to its rich Catholic history spanning five decades. I am proud to be part of a university that has not only been guided by its faith foundation, but also continues to be inspired by it.
Founded as two teacher training colleges with an intake of 300 students in October 1966, Trinity College and All Saints College were developed to train the next generation of teachers, a profession in high demand during the 1960s thanks to the post-war baby boom. The mission of the university then – and now – was to provide exceptional educational experiences in a diverse community, and these ambitions are just as valid today.
In its early stages, the institution focused on opportunities for young people from poorer families with a mission to actively support social justice. It recruited students who were the first in their family to go to university, and this is something I can relate to.
I went to a Catholic high school and sixth form college in Leeds, and in September 1991, I was the first person in my family to go to university. I left for the College of St Hild and St Bede at Durham University, and spent three years studying law with a vague idea I might be a barrister. In fact, I missed sport massively, having competed for almost 10 years as a gymnast, and I soon started volunteering in the local media and gaining as much work experience as possible. It all paid off: I started work at Metro Radio in Newcastle as soon as I’d graduated, and was offered a presenting job at Sky Sports two years later.
Gaining work experience is something that helped me hugely during my time at university. It allowed me to discover what I wanted to do as a career after gymnastics, and so I am proud that Leeds Trinity offers compulsory six-week professional work placements to all students studying for a single degree. It works with more than 2,000 businesses across Britain to offer placement opportunities at Asda, ITV, Virgin Active, Huddersfield Town FC and many more.
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