The popular head of Kendal College has announced he is to step down after 17 years in his post.
Graham Wilkinson, who retires in May next year, was appointed principal and chief executive of the college in 2001.
During his time in charge, Kendal became the only college in Cumbria and North Lancashire to achieve an Outstanding rating from Ofsted and consistently appeared as one of the top five percent performing colleges in the UK.
He also oversaw the investment of more than £27 million in state-of-the-art college facilities and learning resources.
This included a new creative arts and media campus, an engineering, science and technology centre, and the Castle Dairy Apprenticeship Academy for hospitality and catering students, which has helped to produce some of Cumbria’s top rated and Michelin-starred chefs.
Mr Wilkinson’s own career began in the hospitality industry. Having trained at a Swiss culinary school, he went on to work in the kitchens of a number of five-star hotels and later as a chef to the Queen.
During that time he lived and worked at Buckingham Palace and travelled with the Royal Court to places including Sandringham House, Balmoral Castle and HMS Royal Yacht Britannia.
Mr Wilkinson also gained an MSc in Business and Entrepreneurship at the University of Stirling and taught in the hospitality and catering departments of Blackpool & The Fylde College and Lancaster & Morecambe College prior to moving to Kendal College.
“I’ll be so sad to leave and I’ll definitely miss everything about the place,” he said. “There’s an amazing culture at Kendal College, the staff are outstanding and the students are very motivated to learn.
“The equipment we now have is mind-blowing and we have brought so much to the community of Kendal in terms of our infrastructure investment such as in the Castle Dairy and Kendal Museum.
“We’ve always been a small college but that hasn’t stopped us punching way above our weight in terms of the numbers of apprentices we take on and the ultimate success of our students.
“We truly make a real difference to the business community and its productivity in the North West and I am so proud of what we’ve all managed to achieve together over the last 17 years.”
Mr Wilkinson says he plans to spend some of his retirement touring the UK and Europe in his new motorhome with his partner Jane and dog, Jack. He will also be available for consultancy work and special projects as well as pursuing a keen interest in photography and DIY.
Cath Dutton, chair of governors at Kendal College, said: “Graham has led this college through some initial tough times to turn around a host of exciting projects, new builds and refurbishments that have transformed it into a leading education provider working with companies locally, regionally and nationally.
“We’re recognised as being at the forefront of national developments in creative arts and media education, health and social care, hospitality and catering and STEM subjects.
“He will be leaving behind a legacy to be immensely proud of and shoes that will be pretty big to fill.”