It was a cold, crisp, late February evening and we were at the Guildhall City of London, with 400 other guests, for a dinner celebrating the achievements of 21 UK universities and colleges. The dinner preceded the honours ceremony next morning at Buckingham Palace where their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall, formally presented awards to each institution, on behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, for a wide range of outstanding research and education provision.
Guests for the evening included the chancellors and chairs, vice-chancellors and principals of the recipient universities and colleges. In addition there were representatives from academia, business and industry, NGOs and the public sector, government and the media.
The event followed a very traditional British format for an academic dinner in the City of London. It commenced with a reception in the Old Library at which The Minister for Universities and Science, Jo Johnson, spoke briefly. Chancellors, Vice-Chancellors and their college equivalents wore ornate and colourful academic gowns and once guests had been called for dinner, they processed into the Great Hall. The procession was led by students from the Mid Kent College Frontliners Service accompanied by fanfares from State Trumpeters and a narration from Peter Purves of BBC Blue Peter fame describing the winning work.
Guests were welcomed by Damon Buffini, Chairman of the Royal Anniversary Trust and newly appointed Chairman of the National Theatre. Singers from Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Drama added to the rich pageantry of the evening by performing short choral interludes and a splendid finale. The end of the evening was signalled by the haunting sound of a lone piper from the Minstrel’s Gallery.
Throughout the evening – and what I was personally waiting for – was a superb dinner. Seasoned Events excelled themselves with a wonderful array of innovative dishes which were very much in line with the aim of the prizes scheme …. world class and innovative. The courses were served by catering students from a number of colleges, and all students – whether catering, front-of-house or singers – were using this national event to practice their skills.
The Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education were established in 1994 with The Queen’s consent and approval and all-party support in Parliament and are a legacy of the celebrations of Her Majesty the Queen’s 40th Anniversary accession to the throne. A competitive prizes scheme is run every two years, organised by The Royal Anniversary Trust, and is open to invitation to some 460 education institutions throughout the nation.