High School Prize Night

BANBRIDGE High School recently celebrated its prize night at which the guest speaker was past pupil, and current NIO senior policy advisor Lyndon Hughes-Jennett.

“Good Evening everyone. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Bell for his warm invitation to be Guest Speaker tonight.

“My name is Lyndon Hughes-Jennett but some of your parents will remember me as Lyndon Hughes.

“I attended Banbridge High School from 1980 - 1984; I think - it was such a long time ago, when the school was housed in the old building which has since been demolished. Back then it was a pretty terrifying place when you made the transition from Primary School. The journey to big school was easy for me as I went to the Abercorn but the old school was a bit of a monolith - full of long grey ominous looking corridors.

“I have however several fond/funny memories of my time at the old School. In particular, I recall on one occasion trying to join the school choir in the vain hope of getting into the school play. The big problem was that I wasn’t musically minded and couldn’t sing! My music teacher at the time (Miss Appleton) did however take pity on me; instead of giving me a place in the choir, she gave me a bit part as the musical accompaniment - playing the triangle! My self-confidence has never recovered!

Although I didn’t dislike the regular subjects my favourite class by far was PE. I especially loved football and badminton. Memories of Mrs Holmes’ (formerly Miss Brown’s) Monday afternoon badminton club come flooding back. I also recall a bit of a bet with Mr Hobbs (my PE teacher) that he couldn’t do the cross-bar challenge i.e. chip the ball onto the bar - he did it three times in a row - I have to admit I was pretty impressed!

“I managed however to represent the school at a number of inter-school sports days and made House Captain in my final year and was Deputy Head Boy. I still love sport to this day and managed to run my first (and only!) marathon back in 2009.

Post high school, I ended up joining the Civil Service in 1991 and was assigned to the Northern Ireland Office (the NIO). This was back in the day of high security and pre-ceasefires. I have been with that office ever since (20 years’ plus service!) and have had a fun and interesting career to date. I have worked directly in some capacity or other to all of the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland since 1993 - this included working in the Private Offices of Sir Patrick Mayhew, Mo Mowlam and more recent Owen Paterson (Assistant Private Secretary).

“I moved with the Office to London in 2000 and spent most of my time there heading up the NIO’s Parliamentary Section. This involved dealing with Northern Ireland’s Westminster legislative programme. “During this period I was in the Palace of Westminster on a near daily basis and regularly sat in the Chambers of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. I also worked closely with the Government Whips to ensure the safe passage of critical primary legislation for Northern Ireland which ultimately resulted in devolution and the creation of our own NI Assembly. I take great pride in the small role I played to bring this about.

“I spent 10 years in total in London. This was a fantastic period in my life both professionally and personally. It was an incredibly busy time, during which I also managed to get married and have my first child. I moved back to NI with my family in 2010 just prior to the birth of our son but continue to work for the NIO and am now a senior policy advisor on Westminster legislation that affects NI.

“Looking back over my career I have some wonderful memories. Standing directly under Big Ben as it chimed midnight after a very long day; being in No 10 the day Tony Blair announced he was stepping down. Mind you, neither of these come close to my time spent at Banbridge High - standing out on a very cold, windy, wet, winter’s day waiting to start a game of football on the High School’s old gravel pitch was quite an experience.

“Thankfully though the old gravel pitch has long gone - my knees have however never been the same since!”