The former Chair of Governors of the North East’s largest college group received his OBE from the Princess Royal at a special ceremony at Windsor Castle.

Rob Lawson was named Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s New Year Honours 2021 alongside Education Partnership North East’s Chief Executive Ellen Thinnesen for his outstanding contribution to education.

Sunderland-born Rob was appointed Chair of Sunderland College in 2013 and helped guide the institution from a three-campus local college to a regional group following its merger with Hartlepool Sixth Form in 2017.

Under his stewardship as Head of the Board of Corporation, Northumberland College joined Education Partnership North East two years later with Rob since playing a major role in the group undertaking an ambitious transformational programme – including multi-million-pound capital investment – across its six main campuses.

His excellent governance, which has seen significant improvement across curriculum, quality, and financial performance, led to him being appointed a National Leader in Governance for the Department for Education (DfE) working with other Further Education colleges across the country.

He is also a Reviewer for the DfE’s new governance pilot programme.

Upon receiving his OBE, Rob said: “It was a huge honour and privilege to have been awarded an OBE which is in recognition of the hard work and achievements of everyone at EPNE.

“I’m very proud of my eight years at Sunderland College and EPNE and I know for sure that the organisation will go from strength to strength under the inspirational leadership of a top executive team and talented board of governors.

“I will never forget the time my wife and I enjoyed at Windsor Castle. Princess Anne was lovely and spoke about our development of the City Campus in Sunderland and our ambitious plans for Northumberland, both of which she was aware of.

“She also recognised the importance of the Further Education sector’s role in addressing the skills needed for the ‘levelling up’ agenda.”

In 2021 Rob stepped down as Chair of Trustees after eight successful years at the helm.

A former Editor of the Sunderland Echo who now a successful freelance consultant, he recently joined business publication Wear Business as Consultant Editor alongside his roles as a Trustee at Sunderland Music, Arts and Culture (MAC Trust) and Sunderland Ambassador.

A keen cyclist, Rob has helped raise over £100,000 for Foundation of Light by taking on the charity’s international cycle challenges across Europe.

Ellen Thinnesen, added: “I first met Rob at the end of 2015 when appointed as Principal and Chief Executive at City of Sunderland College.

“As Chair, Rob’s selfless commitment to Sunderland College, and subsequently all colleges in Education Partnership North East, has been outstanding.

“I am thrilled Rob’s impact within the further education, skills and social mobility space has been recognised through this prestigious honour.”