Blind Billy Baxter wins top learner award

INSPIRATIONAL former Staff Sergeant Billy Baxter, who lost his sight in the Bosnian conflict, has won a top educational award.

Billy - who left school at 15 and bravely re-entered the world of education at 45 in a class of teenagers - has been declared the Outstanding Individual Learner for the Eastern Region 2011.

He was presented with the award at the Adult Learners’ Week National Awards Ceremony in London on Monday (16 May).

Billy, who lives in Ely, lost his home and his job after losing his sight, but learning helped his rehabilitation and he is now inspiring others in similar situations.

Having served as a soldier for 20 years, Billy became blind after developing a rare virus from the terrible task of exhuming bodies from mass graves.

St Dunstan’s – a charity that provides rehabilitation to ex-service men and women – inspired Billy to look to the future. He learned new skills and adapted existing ones as part of his rehabilitation and he began sharing his experiences by encouraging others to accept their blindness and embrace life.

In 2009, Billy enrolled on a National Diploma Performing Arts course at Cambridge Regional College to develop formal training in public speaking and performance, with the aim of being able once more to enjoy army life by entertaining the troops as a show-host and stand-up comedian.

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He consistently achieved high marks – including a distinction with 96 per cent in his Bronze London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art exam.

“Money couldn’t buy what I’ve learned from coming to Cambridge Regional College – you couldn’t put a price on how valuable coming to college has been for me. My life – and that of my family – is so much richer for it,” he said.

He already uses his performance talents to raise money for charity and is no stranger to other challenges – he holds the world blind land speed record for a solo ride on a motorbike, reaching more than 164 miles an hour – and has appeared on Top Gear as the ‘blind man in a reasonably-priced car’.

Alan Tuckett, Chief Executive of the National Institute for Adult Continuing Education said: “The transformation that Billy has experienced is due to his dedication, persistence and ambition. I hope that adults across the country will be inspired by Billy’s story to take up learning and discover for themselves a whole new life.”