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Award-winner Colin remains down to earth

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

A LOCAL horticulturist has scooped a top award for his expertise in landscape construction.

Colin McKnight (29) who lives near Loughbrickland, recently won the Northern Ireland Civil Service Professional of the Year Award 2017.

The CAFRE Horticulture lecturer won the Northern Ireland Civil Service-wide competition for the international success he has achieved with his young students.

Colin, who has worked at Greenmount Campus, CAFRE for five years said he was initially shocked to be nominated for the award.

He added: "To then be shortlisted was a privilege and I was delighted to actually win it and get some professional recognition.

"I am thrilled that horticulture, and in particular landscape design and construction, is being increasingly recognised as a rewarding profession.

"I hope my award helps raise the profile of the industry and the many fantastic career choices it offers to students." He continued: "The awards ceremony took place during the last week of May at the Great Hall in Stormont with a reception in the Long Gallery and it was lovely to have the event there, as it's not a building I'm in too often.

"The Belfast Gospel Choir also sang at it too and they sounded really good." A former pupil of Banbridge Academy, Colin says growing up on a mixed livestock farm triggered his love of working outdoors "I have always enjoyed farming and I help out on my dad's farm as much as I can and I also look after some of my own animals too and it was probably from working on the farm from an early age that I got my love of working in the outdoors.

"However, I didn't go on to study agriculture and instead studied my degree in Horticultural and Landscape Management at Whittle College in England and I have always loved the design and structure of landscaping.

"I also worked part time with an architect when I was around 16 in between my GCSEs and enjoyed different elements of that too." As well as being a horticulture lecturer, until recently Colin was Training Manager for the Worldskills Landscape Gardening Squad and Team.

Worldskills is the world's largest international skills competition and Colin led two successive UK teams to win a silver medal in Sao Paulo, Brazil in 2015 and a gold medal at EuroSkills 2016 in Gothenburg, Sweden.

The local man said the trips provided an experience of a lifetime for both himself and his students.

"The teams, including some CAFRE graduates, have achieved great success competing against the best in the world.

"To the students it is more than a competition - it's their opportunity to show the world just how skilled we are as a profession and as a nation.

"CAFRE graduate Adam Ferguson has recently secured a place on Team UK for the 2017 world final in Abu Dhabi in October." Meanwhile Paul Mooney, CAFRE's Head of Horticulture said: "I'm very proud of Colin and his success. He is very deserving of the award and recognition of his work and the success he has achieved with our horticulture students.

"Colin is one of my expert team of horticulture staff at Greenmount and it has given me great satisfaction to see them raise the standard of students' landscape construction skills through our involvement with the Worldskills Organisation." Colin is due to get married in five weeks and as well as looking forward to married life, he says his goal is to keep putting his students through their skills.

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