CEO of £100m communications firm inspires pupils at his old Leigh Park school

SECONDARY school pupils were given a masterclass in entrepreneurship as a former student returned.

Tuesday, 21st November 2017, 10:31 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th November 2017, 9:16 am
Onecom CEO Darren Ridge and principal Helen Cassidy with pupils of Havant Academy

Youngsters at Havant Academy enjoyed an inspirational assembly when Onecom CEO Darren Ridge visited his former school – 40 years after he left.

Mr Ridge was a pupil at the Leigh Park school when it was known as Wakefords, but now heads the Whiteley-based telecommunications firm – which turns over more than £100m each year.

After sharing his life story, the businessman kick-started a competition asking youngsters to think of a mobile application or service that could transform lives.

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The winners of the contest, dubbed the Future of Tech, will each win a smartphone and a virtual reality kit when Mr Ridge hears ideas in a Dragon’s Den style pitch scenario in December.

Year 10 pupil April Bushnell is feeling inspired to tackle the challenge after meeting the CEO.

The 14-year-old said: ‘The prizes on offer are really good – I really like the idea of creating something.

‘The assembly was what made me want to do the competition because Darren started low and built his way up.’

Her enthusiasm was shared by 11-year-old Year 7 pupil Tegan Roswell.

She said: ‘Darren’s story was inspirational as he did not have a lot at the start.

‘I am excited to participate in this competition and I’m happy my idea could become a real app if I win.’

Helen Cassady is the principal of Havant Academy – recognised as the most-improved school in the country in the past five years.

Speaking of the positive impact felt by Mr Ridge’s visit on November 9, she said: ‘We were delighted when Darren asked to return to the school to share his experience and pass on his knowledge to our pupils.

‘The young people here were hugely inspired by what he has achieved, knowing that he comes from a similar background to them.

‘They are buzzing with ideas and we are very excited to see what they come up with to show Darren when he returns in December.’

Onecom manages more than 325,000 mobile connections for firms across the nation and is Vodafone UK’s largest partner.

As he spoke to youngsters during his assembly, CEO Mr Ridge said their hard work could one day lead to employment at the firm.

He said: ‘I’m not just here to put something back, although there is a bit of that. I’m a businessman at heart and I have a vested interest in finding the bright young things of the future in the hope they will come and work at Onecom.’