In the spotlight.
Stars of learning and skills from the Tees Valley and County Durham will tonight be recognised for their achievements.
The North-east final of the Learning and Skills Council's Celebration of Learning and Skills Awards is being held at Hardwick Hall, Sedgefield. It will see the winners of the Tees Valley and County Durham heat compete against those from Tyneside and Northumberland.
Among those hoping for success will be Robert Howkins, 22, from Hartlepool - the winner of the Outstanding Achievement Award, sponsored by Connexions.
He left school with poor qualifications after struggling with life in a violent home. He spent time unemployed but decided to pursue and career and get a secure job.
He joined the North East Chamber of Commerce in 2003 and embarked on an apprenticeship. While undertaking the programme at NECC, he faced more domestic problems which resulted in him deciding to take full-time care of his younger sister.
He left in 2005 after achieving a range of qualifications and now works as an employment adviser at Owton Fens Community Association. Robert said: "I was over the moon to win. It feels like I'm going somewhere. I'm not just stuck doing odd jobs, I am getting recognised for what I'm doing."
Mandy Cutler, of NECC, who nominated Robert for the award, said: "Robert is a shining example of what can be achieved with a positive attitude, hard work and commitment. No-one expected Robert to achieve so much after going through such a traumatic childhood and starting his adult life facing more difficulties."
Dave Irwin, acting Chief Executive of Connexions Tees Valley, said: "All the finalists clearly demonstrated the positive contribution made by young people in our area."