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Golden accolade at the House of Commons for Belfast Met alumna

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One of Belfast Metropolitan College’s most distinguished alumna and one of the city’s top restaurateurs has beaten off UK-wide competition to be bestowed with a prestigious award at the House of Commons. 

James Street South and Hadski’s owner Niall McKenna received the Association of Colleges Gold Award yesterday while student Connor Bradley was bestowed with the Future Star Award. 

The AOC Gold award celebrates the success of further education alumni and acknowledges the vital role that colleges play in building the foundation of successful careers. Niall was in great company with Radio One DJ Reggie Yates and Star Wars actor John Boyega also winning the coveted Gold award. 

Niall was nominated by the college, where he studied professional cookery in 1987-88. After leaving college, he learned his trade in various restaurants, studying under Michelin starred chefs Nico Ladenis and Gary Rhodes. He returned to Belfast in 2003 to open his own restaurant, James Street South, and keeps in regular touch with the college, providing placements and mentoring to students. 

Staff and students from Belfast Metropolitan College attended the awards ceremony in London on 8 June where one of their most distinguished alumni was presented with his AoC Gold Award by Baroness Sharp of Guildford. 

On accepting the award, Niall said: “My time at Belfast Met was the bedrock for my career in Northern Ireland’s hospitality industry, and over the years many of the most gifted chefs we’ve had in our kitchens have followed the same vocational path. Courses like these are crucial in creating the next generation of hospitality excellence here, and at James Street South we work closely with Belfast Met in training applicants for our Apprentice Scheme, now in its third year. The training our interns undertake in the classroom creates a solid grounding for their experience in our kitchens, and provides an unrivalled start to their culinary careers.” 

Belfast Metropolitan College also nominated Connor Bradley, 23, as a student showing promise in a similar field, to become one of the Association of Colleges’ ‘Future Stars’. Connor is studying a City & Guilds NVQ level 3 Professional Chef Programme. His aim is to travel the world cooking and become head chef of his own restaurant. 

Connor was one of the three ‘Future Stars’ to be chosen to win a grant of £1,000 from the AoC Charitable Trust. Over the next few years, he plans to expand his knowledge by taking higher education classes at the college, including restaurant management, patisserie and a higher level of professional cookery. He also plans to contact top-end restaurants across the UK and Ireland to enquire about their weekly work experience programmes and use the money to cover transport, accommodation and the cost of buying a uniform. 

He said: “My main career aspiration is to learn and accomplish as much as I can in this industry.  My final goal is to own and run a restaurant that I can be proud to put my name to, much like our winner Niall McKenna.  After eating in his restaurants it is obvious how great a standard of work is put into every minute of running any of this numerous establishments. I am absolutely thrilled to have won this grant and to have gained this recognition so early on in my career. I definitely cite my time spent at Belfast Met for setting me up for success.” 

Connor also attended the award ceremony at the House of Commons where he had the opportunity to meet Niall to find out more about what it takes to carve out a successful career and the role that the college played. 

Marie-Thérèse McGivern, Principal and Chief Executive of Belfast Met, said: 

“Niall McKenna’s journey to success has inspired our learners throughout their educational journey and into their professional lives. His contribution to the curriculum and to learner development has been second to none. Niall will now support us through our 110th year by contributing to the rebrand of our onsite student run restaurant ‘The Linen Lounge ‘ and will continue to contribute his culinary expertise to our learners. We are thrilled that Connor has also been awarded this Future Star Award…the success of the two young men further cements Belfast Met’s reputation for excellence.” 

Further education colleges provide high-quality technical and professional education and training for young people, adults and employers. The AoC Gold Awards highlight the role colleges play in providing over three million students with valuable employability skills, helping to develop their career opportunities and strengthen the local, regional and national economy. 

Colleges are inspirational places to learn because education and training is delivered by expert teaching staff in industry-standard facilities. From basic skills to postgraduate degrees, colleges offer first rate academic and vocational teaching, in a range of professions including engineering, hospitality, IT, construction and the creative arts. 

For more information about AoC Gold Awards, visit


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