New Cross Fire bursary allows students to achieve dreams

Students who avoided university over debt fears are given the opportunity to study at Goldsmiths, University of London through a scheme set up to remember the New Cross Fire victims.

Naomi Grossett with Mr and Mrs Francis, whose son Gerry died in the fire. Photo: Lewisham Council.

Each year in Lewisham, two young people are given the chance to turn their hopes into reality, through a bursary scheme set up in memory of the 14 young people killed in the New Cross Fire.

“I think it is a wonderful way to remember the lives lost, by enriching those that are here. Through those that have passed, we are able to make our dreams come true,” said Naomi Grossett, 22, the first recipient of the bursary back in 2006.

The annual Mayor’s New Cross Award was established in 2006 by Sir Steve Bullock, as a lasting memorial to the victims of the tragedy. Based on academic merit and financial need, two Lewisham-educated young people each receive a bursary to fund their studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The fire broke out during 16-year-old Yvonne Ruddock’s birthday party in the early hours of January 18, 1981, claiming the lives of 14 teenagers in total. Although three decades have passed, the legacy of the victims continues to grow as the bursary recipients now begin to graduate, achieving things that just a few short years ago may have seemed far out of reach.

Naomi Grossett graduated in 2009 with a degree in Drama and Theatre Arts, and is now in the USA studying at the New York Film Academy with plans to pursue an acting career.

“I just couldn’t believe how blessed I was to receive a scholarship of that amount,” she said. “I was beside myself, completely over the moon!”

Before receiving the bursary, Ms Grossett completed A-Levels in Drama, Business Studies and Fine Art at Christ the King Sixth Form College, Lewisham. When first starting at Goldsmiths she planned to become a teacher, having shadowed her drama teacher at secondary school, but was soon inspired to dream big and become an actress herself.

“I loved every second of it,” she said. “The lecturers and tutors were great and very supportive. I came away with a well-rounded degree that not only gave me the knowledge I needed for my field, but also for life.”

Since graduating a year and a half ago, Ms Grossett has been working within her field as assistant producer on two projects, performing in four stage productions, and launching her own drama workshops in schools. She has also had the opportunity to back-pack around East Africa, travel across Canada and visit Morocco.

“Without the bursary, I wouldn’t have been able to complete my degree with the ease that I did,” she said. “I would’ve had to work more hours at work, and thus probably wouldn’t have left with the grade and experience that I had.”

Tiziana Brown, 25, received the bursary in 2008 and is now in her final year at Goldsmiths, completing a degree in Education, Culture and Society.

“I think the bursary scheme is a good incentive to encourage young people to follow their dreams and aspirations, as those young people who fatally lost their lives in that fire did not have the opportunity to do so,” she said.

“It has made such a huge difference in my life. You only have one life so always make the most out of it and make sure you’ve lived it to the fullest.”

Tiziana Brown, who's in her final year at Goldsmiths. Photo: Tiziana Brown.

Prior to Goldsmiths, Ms Brown attended Sydenham Girls School, worked as a retail assistant for five and a half years, and completed a two year course in AVCE Health and Social Care. After working in various play schemes and after-school programmes for babies, toddlers and children with disabilities, she obtained a full-time job at Lewisham College.

It was here, she said, in her position as learning support worker to “disaffected teenagers from schools within Lewisham borough and outside”, that she discovered her “passion was to work with young people.” Having been out of education for three years, a work colleague then encouraged her to pursue an undergraduate degree.

“When I was of school age I had the attitude ‘I don’t want to go university as I don’t want to be in debt’. But that all changed once I got older.”

“I was completely shocked when I received the confirmation that I was a successful applicant for the award,” she said. “Who would’ve thought that out of all the applications Goldsmiths would receive, mine would’ve stood out.”

“At first I found the course difficult and was questioning whether it was for me or not, but through time I began to learn a lot out of it and knew it would be all worthwhile at the end. I never thought I would ever see the light at the end of the tunnel but now I’m nearly there.”

After graduation later this year Ms Brown said she intends to work full-time, and will always look back and remember that her opportunity was borne out of that tragic incident.

“My sympathy has always gone out to those families who lost their loved ones on the night of January 18 1981, but I just want them to know the only good that has come out of it is the opportunity of helping two Goldsmiths students get through the three years of their degree financially,” she said.

“Although it can never replace the pain that they went through and may continue to go through to this very day, 30 years on and their memories are still alive.”

For more information about the Mayor’s New Cross Award see here.

The application deadline for next year’s award is June 30, 2011.

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