Lifelong learning is an important part of DMU Alumnus of the month's life

Alumnus James Hempsall OBE enrolled onto Graphic Design in 1986 at what was then called Leicester Polytechnic. 

James Hepnell main

He is passionate about lifelong learning and 29 years on from graduating, James has completed two masters’ degrees and has spent 20 years implementing and shaping the government’s early years and childcare programme.

He has now been named as alumnus of the month for November in recognition of receiving an OBE for his work in early years and childcare.  

The alumnus of the month nominations are open all year round, once an alumnus gets nominated by either a fellow alumni, student, or member of staff, they are added to the pool of nominations.

Winners are then selected based upon those who have made exceptional contributions to their field of profession, or have had a significant impact on their local community.

James said: “I am really pleased to be Alumnus of the Month, I am surprised I received it but I did maintain a connection with the university since I was at Leicester Polytechnic.

After graduating in Graphic Design BA (Hons) in 1989, James stepped back onto campus last year. He did a guest lecture on the Design Craft course, collaborating with students and bringing industry into the classroom.

As a Co-director of Harriman & Co. in Leicester, which offer an eclectic range of furniture and homeware, James asked the students to design a product for the retail environment which he, along with his partner Drew, would judge and select a winner.

James said: “There needs to be close links between universities and industry, transition support is important. There is a long way to go but it was great bringing 29 years’ experience back to the university.”

He added: “Coming back onto campus was great, it made an immediate impact on me. When I was studying, I was based in the Fletcher building, which is now the Vijay Patel building.

“There is much improvement, it has completely transformed. The space is quite inspiring in contrast to when I studied at the polytechnic.”

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Alumnus of the month looks back on his fondest memories

When asked what his fondest memories were, he said: “This is a tricky one. Memories are filled with hard work, music, art, food, travel, friendship and good times. But I guess realising that friends were going to be friends for life was a great moment, and they still are, I am pleased to say.”

James is currently Director of Hempsall’s, the Leicester based consultancy, research and training company he started 20 years ago. They work nationally and internationally on all sorts of early years and childcare projects.

These include advising local and national governments on policy development and implementation, training for practitioners and service delivery such as business change support for providers of services, and parent employment programmes in children’s centres.

It is for this work that James received an OBE. He said: “What received the notice of the honours system was my work on two year olds.

“As the National Director of Achieving Two Year Olds: 2012/16, I led a team that supported the Department of Education’s (DfE) implementation of a key national government commitment to fund 15 hours of high quality early learning for the country’s least advantaged children.

“This helps ensure they start early learning a little sooner than their more advantaged peers, with the aim of reducing the achievement gap and offering greater equality of opportunity. The programme achieved a take up of over 70 per cent and continues funding over 150,000 children each week.

“In 2016 when the project finished, I soon became the lead for the DfE Childcare Works programme which is supporting local councils to implement 30 hours childcare for three to four year olds for working parents.”

James gave two messages to students at DMU. He said: “We all have transferable skills. I did my first degree in Graphic Design but I am not working in this directly now.

“I have an eye for design and I have transferred these skills to my current role. You are so in control of your career path, there are multiple routes.

“The second is the importance of lifelong learning. In 1986 I was the first member my family to go to university, I didn’t think it was possible for me.

“I was quite hard on myself back then, and didn’t like making mistakes. It’s a cliché to say you learn from your mistakes, but it is true.

“My mantra is if I cringe about something in the past I learned from it. I’ve never stopped learning, I’ve completed my second master’s and qualified as a teacher in the last 10 years. So, your time in university is one to savour for personal and professional growth, but it is just the beginning.”

Posted on Thursday 31st January 2019

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