Dennis Stinchcombe, MBE

Master of Arts Dennis Stinchcombe

Tuesday 13 July 2010 - Orator: Alderman Royston Alan Griffey JP

Madam Chancellor,

It gives me great pleasure to introduce today’s honorary graduand, Dennis Roy Stinchcombe, MBE, Centre Director of the Riverside Youth Project and Chairman of the City and County of Bristol Branch of the Royal Society of Saint George.

Dennis and I have at least two things in common. First, his middle name is a shorter version of my first name and, secondly, we are both members of the local branch of the Royal Society of Saint George.

There the similarity must end, for Dennis Stinchcombe is a legend in his own right, while I am merely a former public servant.

Madam Chancellor, universities are known primarily for celebrating academia.  Dennis is not an academic, but today we are proud to honour a very practical man who has used his many amazing talents tirelessly to the benefit of countless young people. Those gifts have already been recognised by his award of the MBE in 2004, for services rendered in respect of young people in Bristol and beyond.

Not only that, but he was put forward for one of the four University of Bristol Centenary  citizens’ awards last year, but it was rightly considered at the time that he should be the recipient of an honorary degree, on his own merits, at the usual degree ceremony today.

The Riverside Youth and Education Project is a voluntary organisation based in Bristol that encourages young people to reach their potential by involving them in sports and education projects.  Broad Plain Boys’ Club recently changed its name to reflect the fact that it now caters for girls as well as boys, and is a subsidiary of Riverside, that has been running for very many years.  Under Dennis’s leadership, the club has received national recognition for the positive impact it is having on young people from inner-city areas of Bristol who might otherwise lack direction and focus.

Some of these young people, having grown older, are amongst the nominators for Dennis’ honorary degree; and their words on the nomination forms are heartfelt and poignant. While a professor may wholesomely praise the work of another professor, albeit deservedly so, how many honorary graduands could include within their nominators a recently released prisoner from Her Majesty’s custody?

I recall some pertinent comments of that particular nominator:

“I have never before been impassioned to nominate a person for any form of award. If I may enlighten you, I am 37 years old with a long criminal history with my first incarceration way back in 1986. In 2008 I found myself yet again in front of a judge awaiting another prison sentence ….… this was when I met Mr Dennis Stinchcombe and his boxing team. The boxing course itself was excellent, by far the best course ever run by H.M. Prison Bristol... this was the most fulfilling 4 months of my life. Now that I have been released from prison, Dennis has helped me immensely to make the transition from prison back into the community ... and enabled me to be productive and encourage young people not to make the mistakes I made.”

Madam Chancellor, Dennis’s involvement with young people has been very long, extensive and productive: 20 years as Senior Residential Social Worker, including Housemaster at Kingswood Training School;15 years as Officer-in-Charge of the Home Office Junior and Senior Mixed Attendance Centres in Bristol;10 years as Centre Director of the Riverside Youth and Education Project; 33 years as Leader-in-Charge of the Broad Plain Working with Young People Club (as it is now known);15 years as Honorary Medical Registrar for the Western Counties Area of the Amateur Boxing Association (that’s 93 years so far by the way);and for good measure, Life Vice-President of the Cadbury Heath Youth Football Club.

I have heard today that Dennis has trained Bristol University students in the noble art of boxing, and this will lead to the first ever Varsity boxing match between Bristol University and the University of the West of England. Who will win?

Dennis is a passionate Englishman and proudly displays the English flag in a non-jingoistic way whenever he can and without the excuse, dare I mention it, of the World Cup. On St George’s Day he festooned the replica medieval caravel The Matthew, here in the Floating Harbour, with English flags, which is most appropriate for a vessel of the time of Henry VII. He has also managed to persuade the owners of important buildings (such as The Council House and The Mansion House) to fly England’s flag on England’s national day. I am rather disappointed that he is not wearing his St George’s flag waistcoat today!

Born in Plymouth, Dennis moved to Bristol a year later, so I think we can safely regard him as a Bristolian – just, even if he does live in Cadbury Heath! Although Dennis is the recipient today of the honorary degree, I think due recognition should also be given to Edna, his wife, who is as determined and formidable as he is, in her endeavours to assist her husband in his many interests.

She tells me that Dennis is a fine prankster – but his pranks are designed to draw disadvantaged young people together. On one occasion, he informed a group accompanying him at an annual camp he had arranged, that a helicopter was on its way to land nearby. A very large area of tall grass in the adjoining field had to be flattened without delay. This was duly done with much effort using anything to hand, including large buckets.

The area had then to be quickly marked out with a large ‘H’ to guide the helicopter in safely to land, with Dennis providing lots of toilet rolls for this purpose.

Naturally, this was an elaborate hoax, so perhaps the letter ‘H’ was the right one after all. All the hectic activity to ensure the safe landing of the mythical helicopter ended with a massive water fight – the real reason for the buckets.

Madam Chancellor, Dennis is an accomplished senior boxing coach in the boxing world and has escorted groups of young men to Wales, Northern Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Russia and South Africa, and they have proved their success everywhere.

Glenn Catly, the well known local British and WBC boxing champion of the world was guided by Dennis in his amateur career, and writes –

“Dennis has dedicated his life to Broad Plain Boys’ Club… and between him, and his wife Edna, has fostered over 200 children over the last 30 years as well as raising his own family.

His work for the club has been relentless and impossible to be matched, and I would like to find anybody who has not got a good word to say about him.”

(And I don’t think it would be wise to argue with Mr Catly!)

A tribute follows from another former member of the club, who went on to be a Royal Marine Commando and served in Afghanistan –

“Dennis is an individual who has selflessly devoted his life in order to improve the lives of others. It is surprising how many people remember him from years’ back and all remember him fondly. He has managed, through the use of the club, to turn energetic boys into esteemed men.

Dennis and Edna never flinched or said no to any child regardless of how difficult they were. They are in fact an inspiration to many people who take up fostering – to this day they keep in contact with many of these young people, all of whom have nothing but respect for the genuine love, care and honest moral discipline they were given through their traumatic and difficult times.

On my passing out parade Dennis was at the front, proud as punch, and it was an honour to have him there and his support. If anyone deserves this award it should be Dennis for the help and assistance he has always offered me and the many thousands of young people who knew him.”

May I add a personal tribute? I only met Dennis Stinchcombe during my term of office as Lord Mayor in 2007/8, but can certainly mirror the enthusiasm and affection for him as countless others have done over the years. Dennis may be relatively small in stature (and that is another thing that we have in common), but truly he has the heart of a giant.

Madam Chancellor, I present to you Dennis Roy Stinchcombe, as eminently worthy of the degree of Master of Arts, honoris causa.

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