BNU graduate Jay Blades MBE invested as inaugural University Chancellor and receives honorary doctorate
Jay Blades MBE has become the first ever Chancellor of Buckinghamshire New University (BNU), where he was a student before launching a career which has seen him go onto become an award winning BBC presenter, the nation’s favourite furniture up-cycler, host his own television shows, receive an MBE for his Services to Craft, give back to communities across the UK and become an ambassador for The Prince’s Foundation and Heritage Crafts.
Jay has also received an Honorary Doctorate from BNU for his community work supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged groups and his significant contribution to furniture-making and crafts.
After leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, Jay got back on track by studying for a degree in criminology and philosophy at BNU (from 2001) where his dyslexia was both identified and supported by the University with tailored digital learning support.
Jay Blades MBE, Chancellor of BNU said:
“BNU is woven into my history and DNA and so being at the University always feels like coming home. It’s like a big family where everyone’s working together to make sure people are looked after and they take great pride in each other’s achievements. Once I arrived at BNU, things totally changed for me for the better because I had a purpose and focus. The University supported my studies and gave me the confidence and self-belief to kickstart my life and career.
“BNU creates community champions, and that's what they did for me because I started my first charity back then. When I got my degree it created a power in me that was just unbelievable, and it hasn’t stopped. So to become the first Chancellor for a University that’s shaped the person I am today, and on top of that to receive an honorary doctorate, is a real wow moment. And I know that together BNU and I are going to achieve amazing things.”
“I made life-long friends from lots of different courses at BNU and today some of them are working with the biggest companies in the world. It all started at BNU and I’m really excited to see what current students go on to achieve.”
BNU and Jay Blades are already working together on new furniture-related courses and facilities, as part of a £15.9m programme to develop the University’s High Wycombe Campus, and create legacy projects to provide opportunities and benefits for both its students and local communities.
The University now fully funds and awards a student bursary in Jay’s honour which supports students from low-income families and areas of high deprivation or where fewer people go to university. More than 570 students have benefited from the Jay Blades Thrive Bursary since September when the University injected a further £170k funding as part of its response to helping students cope with the cost-of-living crisis.
Vice-Chancellor of BNU, Professor Nick Braisby, said: “The University is greatly honoured that Jay has become the University’s inaugural Chancellor and that Jay himself so strongly identifies with the University’s mission, recognising the role we played in his own professional and personal development. Jay’s support of the University is a ringing endorsement of our ability to transform lives by supporting all students to reach their full potential. I look forward to working closely with Jay in the years ahead, not least as we work with the furniture industry to create new educational opportunities, building on the unique industrial heritage of High Wycombe and Buckinghamshire. I know that our students will be inspired by Jay’s example as they similarly seek to make a real difference to their communities, to society and in their chosen careers.”
Providing an education for all has always been at the heart of BNU’s 130-year history. From retraining ex-servicemen after the First World War in woodcarving, furniture-making and upholstery through to the University’s current bursaries to support under-represented groups get into higher education including refugees, asylum seekers, care leavers and students estranged from their families.
Maggie Galliers CBE, Pro Chancellor and Chair of BNU’s Council, said: “Jay is forever driven by aiming high and making a positive impact, and the way he inspires and helps others to be ambitious for their futures really chimes with what we stand for at BNU. Today our University community celebrates Jay’s many achievements as we look forward to all that lies ahead during his Chancellorship.”
Jay’s investiture ceremony at the Wycombe Swan theatre included processional music specially created for the University by members of the RAF Central Band under the direction of the RAF’s Principal Director of Music, Wing Commander Morrell OBE. Piers was himself awarded an honorary doctorate from BNU in 2019 in recognition of his international standing within military music and charity work. RAF trumpeters performed a fanfare during the ceremony to mark Jay Blades’ formal investiture as University Chancellor.
BNU is the proud guardian of the High Wycombe Furniture Archive research tool, which appeared on Jay’s BBC show The Repair Shop in 2020, and is used by thousands of furniture enthusiasts and historians. The archive’s 10,000 images include models of furniture, through to manufacturing sites and practices, and the people behind High Wycombe's rich furniture heritage.