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A former Manchester United trainee was among guests at diversity festival at West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds



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Former Manchester United trainee Aaron Burns, who was at Manchester United at the same time as Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo, was one of a variety of guests who took part in an innovative festival based around equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

Mr Burns, who played at Old Trafford for the under-23s between 2004 and 2007, was joined by a host of top speakers during the event at West Suffolk College in Bury St Edmunds.

Other notable guests included Angelle Joseph, a BBC radio presenter, and singer Esther Ruse (Essii) - a former student at the college - who is nearing one million streams for her collaboration featuring Coi Leray called Brown Eyes.

Ellisha Soanes with former Man Utd pro, Aaron Burns (57508691)
Ellisha Soanes with former Man Utd pro, Aaron Burns (57508691)

The EDI festival saw staff and students, as well as hundreds of primary and secondary school youngsters, come along to learn more about other cultures.

Other talks included reflections on the Windrush generation and an art exhibition from Ukrainian artist Oleksandra Shevchenko also took centre stage.

Mr Burns, who now owns his own life insurance company since retiring from football, said: “Through education we can make change.”

Organiser Ellisha Soanes with her former student Esther Ruse (stage name Essii) (57508693)
Organiser Ellisha Soanes with her former student Esther Ruse (stage name Essii) (57508693)

The event is part of a campaign that has been created by Ellisha Soanes, equality diversity and inclusion co-ordinator across the Eastern Colleges Group (ECG), to try and get black history on the educational curriculum in the UK all year round.

She said: “Working across the ECG, we are determined to come together to make positive change. Seeing students and teachers of all ages to unite, listen and learn about each other was a powerful moment for me.

“My mission to get black history on the curriculum across the UK is ongoing. It’s my passion. It’s like when one person starts dancing at a party, everyone else eventually joins in. That’s my aim and that’s how I see this.

"The day had something for everyone. From therapy dogs to neurodiversity and we had history sessions relating to LGBTQIA+ and Windrush – and we also had 12 different stands that included museum groups and the Future Female Society.

“I’d like to thank all the guest speakers, the staff, students and visitors for coming along.”

Jeff Greenidge, director for diversity at Association of Colleges (57508695)
Jeff Greenidge, director for diversity at Association of Colleges (57508695)

One of the guest speakers was Jeff Greenidge, director for diversity at Association of Colleges, an organisation which represents the further education sector.

He said: “It was indeed a privilege and a pleasure to have been invited to take part in the Eastern College Group’s diversity and inclusion celebrations.

“The passionate, purposeful approach of the staff working with students to co-create a black history curriculum grounded in the history of Suffolk is truly inspirational.

"It was great to see so many primary and secondary school students learning first-hand about the contribution made by immigrants and their descendants to make this area what it is today.”

Sangari Pillay from Sextons Manor with students at the EDI Festival held at West Suffolk College (57508697)
Sangari Pillay from Sextons Manor with students at the EDI Festival held at West Suffolk College (57508697)

Sangari Pillay, a year six teacher at Sexton’s Manor Community Primary School in Bury St Edmunds, said: “We brought 17 children along as I want them to get exposed to diversity and inclusion.

"By studying it, they have found out that there was a black Roman Emperor, a suffragette from India who lived at Ickworth House and there were black people in Suffolk dating back to 1214. It creates different pictures in children’s minds.”

Oleksandra Shevchenko, an artist from Ukraine who had an exhibition at the festival (57508701)
Oleksandra Shevchenko, an artist from Ukraine who had an exhibition at the festival (57508701)

One of her students, Abigail Mcwattie, said: “I learnt about the Windrush. It was really interesting.”

Another student, Elias Skull, added: “It’s been inclusive and fun.”

ECG is a collective of post-16 education providers that includes West Suffolk College, Abbeygate Sixth Form and One Sixth Form College.