Royal seal of approval for inspirational students

Prince William has heaped praise on Leeds Sixth Form College and Leeds City College students during a visit to Leeds.

HRH the Duke of Cambridge was in the city to present the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the UK’s highest award for volunteer groups – to CATCH Leeds, which runs a popular youth centre in Harehills.

A number of students volunteer regularly for the charity, and enjoyed showing the Prince some of the many activities they support, including animal care – they look after 12 goats – and table tennis.

CATCH also provides a weekly activity session for children evacuated from Afghanistan, and the Prince spoke to a group of recently evacuated Afghan refugees during his visit, too.

The Leeds Sixth Form College and Leeds City College students who were at CATCH Leeds for the 30 November award presentation were: Solomon Balica (Sport Science), Shakila Begum (A levels), Samuel Balica (Customer Service), Elona Gangal (Health and Social Care), Kevin Scuka (Sport Science), Aman Ali (Business), Artjom Tuguzovs (Uniform Services), Talanah Shareeka Fray (Childcare and Education), and Gabriel Mendes (Engineering).

A huge honour

Health and Behaviour Lead at Leeds City College, Lauren Turnbull, said: “The prince had a tour around CATCH, spoke to our volunteers, and also presented us with our Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

“It was a huge honour for us all, and the students all did great.

“All of our students who are regular volunteers with the charity were involved on the day – and Shakila was also part of a more personal conversation with Prince William, when she talked to him about her background and experiences, and her journey with CATCH.

“Solomon was part of the conversations with the Prince, too, about how we built our educational farm and how we look after the goats.”

Prince William talking to volunteers, including Leeds Sixth Form College student Shakila Begum, at CATCH Leeds
Prince William talking to volunteers, including Leeds Sixth Form College student Shakila Begum, at CATCH Leeds

Leeds Sixth Form College student Solomon, posting online on the day, said: “This has to be one of my proudest days meeting His Royal Highness Prince William @CATCHLeeds.

“Never did I ever think this was going to happen to me…a Romanian boy living in Harehills.

“This visit has inspired and motivated so many of us.”

CATCH volunteer and Leeds Sixth Form College student Solomon Balica speaking during Prince William's visit
CATCH volunteer and Leeds City College student Solomon Balica

During his meeting with the Afghan families, meanwhile, the Prince praised the bravery it took to start new lives in the UK, and thanked those who had risked everything by working for the British Government.

Leeds City College students Hossein Saeedi and Sanga Ahmadi were among those he talked to at a local hotel.

Hossein, who worked as an interpreter in Afghanistan before leaving three months ago with his partner and their ten year old son, is currently studying GCSE maths and English.

A welcoming and powerful message

He said that meeting a member of the Royal Family had been a great pleasure, and said that the Prince had delivered a warm, welcoming and powerful message to the group.

Sanga, who arrived in the UK with her family in 2015, said: “The Prince was very keen to meet us and he was a very nice and kind person.

“He asked us about how life had been since moving to the UK and settling here, how the local community had welcomed us, and about my husband and the army regiment he’d worked with.

“And he expressed his gratitude to us and welcomed us to the UK. It was an honour meeting him.”

Sanga is studying ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) Entry Level 3 and has also started a Childcare course with a view to working in that field.

Programme Manager for ESOL Community & Outreach at Leeds City College, Alison Suckley, said: “Sanga has been with the ESOL department for about three years now and survived / thrived on the online work during the lockdowns, thanks to the hard work of her teacher, Szerena Meljan.

“Teachers in the ESOL department have made a lot of effort this year to help students progress to other courses in the Adult and Community department, which will hopefully lead to employment.”

Tweeting after his visit, Prince William said: “In Leeds today to celebrate the welcoming, diverse, resilient communities across the nation who are coming together to support those in need.

“The people of Yorkshire, along with thousands across the UK, are providing vital support to those who have recently evacuated Afghanistan.”

Amazing volunteers are an inspiration

Referring to CATCH, he added: “Youth charities around the UK play such an important role in ensuring the future generation are given every chance to fulfil their ambitions.

“None more so than @CATCHLeeds, a youth-led charity located in one of the more deprived areas of Leeds. These young people are so inspiring – hearing their stories, what they’ve experienced and how they now want to help the next generation to ensure they don’t have to face the same difficulties is amazing.

“Congratulations on receiving the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.”

All 15 councils in Yorkshire and the Humber have promised to resettle Afghan refugees whose lives would be in danger in Afghanistan, or who helped British forces.

For more details on CATCH Leeds visit