Autism is no barrier as Waltham Black's Ben wins apprentice of the year

Ben Cornmell, an apprentice at Bishops Waltham-based firm Waltham Black who is vieing for a national award.
Ben Cornmell, an apprentice at Bishops Waltham-based firm Waltham Black who is vieing for a national award.
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A COLLEGE apprentice has successfully won intermediate apprentice of the year at the South East regional final for the national Apprentice of the Year 2019 awards. 

The feat is especially significant for 22-year-old Ben Cornmell who is autistic and one of the first in the UK to be employed on a supported apprenticeship. 

Ben Cornmell, an apprentice at Bishop's Waltham-based Waltham Black, who won intermediate apprentice of the year at the national Apprentice of the Year awards.

Ben Cornmell, an apprentice at Bishop's Waltham-based Waltham Black, who won intermediate apprentice of the year at the national Apprentice of the Year awards.

Ben, who is at the higher functioning end of the autistic spectrum, is a year into his 18-month NVQ level two facilities services apprenticeship and works at Bishop’s Waltham chimney sweep and stove installation company Waltham Black.

No special allowances were made as he vied against over 1,000 other apprentices to take the crown, making him the first supported apprentice to have successfully made it to a regional final in the history of the awards, as well as the first supported apprentice to win.

Ben said: ‘Working with Neil, with the support from the apprenticeship team at Eastleigh College, means one-to-one coaching and has enabled me to get new skills. I like being trusted with more responsibility, and it’s good to know I am working towards a qualification.

‘I was amazed that I have made it this far in the apprenticeship awards – I feel a bit overwhelmed, but it’s a great achievement.’

Run by the National Apprenticeship Service, the awards provide a platform to showcase excellence in and raise awareness of apprenticeships at all levels and across all industries. 

Ben received the award at a ceremony in Guildford on Thursday September 12.

Waltham Black’s owner Neil Cornmell said: ‘We initially offered Ben a supported internship. I’m also his uncle and welcomed the opportunity to help him gain some work experience and employability skills. He did so well, and this naturally progressed to a formal apprenticeship. The support Ben gets from Eastleigh College has also been reassuring, especially with health and safety requirements.’

His duties include greeting clients upon arrival, smoke testing, providing safety and sustainable fuel advice and helping with repairs. 

He is in the process of learning to fit stoves and is ambitious to take over an area of his own once he is fully qualified.