Chief executive and chair of governors at North East college group receives OBEs in New Year Honours

The chief executive and chair of governors at one of the country’s largest college groups are to both receive Order of the British Empire (OBE) medals following the publication of the New Year Honours list.

Wednesday, 30th December 2020, 10:35 pm

Chief executive Ellen Thinnesen and chair Rob Lawson are honoured for their outstanding contribution to education for their work with Education Partnership (EPNE), which incorporates Sunderland College, Northumberland College and Hartlepool Sixth Form.

Sunderland College merged with Hartlepool Sixth Form in 2017 and established EPNE after its merger with Ashington-based Northumberland College in 2019.

Now one of the largest colleges in the country with 21,500 student enrolments, six college campuses and several satellite delivery centres across the region, EPNE serves a significant catchment area from Berwick-upon-Tweed to the Tees Valley.

Rob Lawson and Ellen Thinnesen are to both receive OBEs for their outstanding contribution to education in the Sunderland, Hartlepool and Northumberland areas.

Ellen was appointed chief executive and principal at Sunderland College in 2016 and after both mergers became chief executive for EPNE in 2019.

She said: “I feel incredibly humbled and want to recognise the inspirational people that I am privileged to work with every day.

"This includes my brilliant leadership team and wider college staff, in addition to our national, regional and local partners and many diverse supporters.

“I am absolutely delighted to learn of Rob’s honour. Rob is a tremendous source of support."

Rob, 54, who in his earlier career as a journalist worked for the Hartlepool Mail before becoming editor of both the Shields Gazette and Sunderland Echo, said: “Ellen is an exemplary ambassador for the further education sector and the North East and we are all extremely proud of her.”

He was appointed chair of Sunderland College in 2013 and later became chair of the EPNE regional board.

Sunderland born and bred, the former Southmoor head boy is a trustee at Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC) Trust and currently works in public relations.

He said: “While obviously thrilled at this recognition, the honour reflects the hard work, dedication and astonishing talent of the team – staff and governors - at EPNE.

“It was a real shock to receive the email about the honour and I was amazed to have been put forward.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my roles with Sunderland College and EPNE and I’m proud to have helped Sunderland College evolve and develop into the formidable group that EPNE has become.”

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