​Karen Johnson, Head of Enterprise & Employability at Leeds City College, has been awarded runner-up in the Reed Improving Lives Award for Education.  

​The accolade is part of a national competition set up by Reed Specialist Recruitment to recognise dedicated individuals in the public services sector who are making a real difference to the lives of others through their work, and who have responded heroically to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Karen identified a need for a college provision to be put in place for the most vulnerable students, who may not be safe in their own homes, during the coronavirus lockdown. 

Taking the initiative, Karen opened one of the buildings at Leeds City College and co-ordinated staff to make sure that at-risk students and the children of essential workers were safe and provided for. Working with a small team, she helped create a safe and secure environment for students while complying with social distancing.  

Many vulnerable students from at-risk backgrounds, which can include criminal exploitation, homelessness, domestic abuse, mental health problems and suicidal tendencies, were welcomed into the college. In order to ensure the continued safety of students, Karen started the programme at the end of March, running through all statutory and college holidays. The programme is set to continue until colleges re-open in September. 

But the care did not stop there. Getting to know the students and understanding the pressures in their lives, Karen also organised transport when students were homeless, or served their favourite food. 

Karen was nominated for the award by three people at Leeds City College: her line manager Andrea Cowans, Chief Executive and Principal, Colin Booth, and Deputy CEO and Principal, Bill Jones.  

​Karen Johnson said: “I’m extremely humbled to be announced as the runner-up in the Improving Lives Award and be recognised by other members of the community for my work at Leeds City College. 

“The past few months have been extremely difficult for everyone, but the sense of community and compassion that has been created is something that has helped even the most vulnerable people get through these uncertain times - I’m glad I’ve been able to be a part of it.

“I would like to say a massive thank you to those who nominated me for this award, as well as those who have supported me. This is something I’m extremely passionate about, so to receive this recognition is hugely rewarding.” 

Gavin Beart, Divisional Managing Director for Reed Education added: “We’re delighted to name Karen as the runner-up of the Improving Lives Award for Education. Her work at Leeds City College has helped a number of students who have faced difficulties during lockdown or struggled to cope with the changes to everyday to life.  

 “The awards were established to recognise individuals who go above and beyond to support others, and Karen embodies just that. Everyone at Reed would like to say congratulations to Karen!”