UK (University of Liverpool) Everton CEO and Former MP receive honorary degrees from University of Liverpool

The Director and CEO of Everton Football Club, Professor Denise Barrett-Baxendale, and former MP for Liverpool Riverside, Dame Louise Ellman, were among ten esteemed figures who received honorary degrees from the University of Liverpool yesterday (Tuesday 6 December).

In a special celebration of honorary graduates at the Philharmonic Hall, Professor Barrett-Baxendale and Dame Ellman were honoured in a ceremony of individuals who have all made significant contributions to the city of Liverpool including the Chief Executive of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Michael Eakin; Director of Cultural Legacies and Bluecoat Liverpool, Bryan Biggs; Co-Founder of Urban Splash, Jonathan Falkingham, entrepreneur and philanthropist, Sir Peter Rigby; and Co-President of Parlophone Records, Nick Burgess.

Bootle-born Andy Grant, Co-Host of the Leg It podcast and Fastest Single Leg Amputee in the World over 10km, and University of Liverpool alumna and former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, Leslie Evans, also collected honorary degrees.

The ceremony was specially organised to honour those who would have received awards in 2020 and 2021 when graduation ceremonies could not take place because of the covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking at the ceremony on behalf of the honorands, Dame Ellman who served as MP for Liverpool Riverside between 1997 and 2019 said: “I am proud to be associated with this great University…The University of Liverpool is renowned for its academic excellence [and] its contribution to society has extended well beyond academia regionally, nationally and internationally.

Citing the University’s key civic contributions, including research to combat Covid and helping to secure Liverpool’s bid to become European Capital of Culture in 2008, Dame Ellman said that the University “must remain a centre of excellence, retaining its important public role in the region and the world.”

University of Liverpool Vice-Chancellor, Professor Dame Janet Beer said: “I was delighted to honour ten outstanding individuals who have made a positive contribution to the city of Liverpool and to the University.

Drawn from very different areas – politics, sport, music, culture and business – each of the honorands has excelled in their chosen field and it was a pleasure to welcome them and hear their inspiring stories.

These individuals would have had their degrees conferred as part of graduation ceremonies in 2020 and 2021, which were unfortunately postponed due to Covid. Despite the wait, it was wonderful to be able to honour them in a special ceremony in front of an audience of civic guests, alumni, students and staff.”

Full list of Honorary graduates:

Denise Barrett-Baxendale MBE is the Director and Chief Executive Officer of Everton Football Club and CEO of its official charity, Everton in the Community. She grew up in Kensington, Liverpool, during the 1980s and studied at the University of Manchester. A lifelong Evertonian, in 2010 Denise became CEO of Everton in the Community – the Club’s official charity which uses football to help some of the most vulnerable and hard to reach people. Under Denise’s leadership, the charity became world-leading, delivering over 40 social and educational programmes and attracting and investing many millions of pounds into the Everton community and beyond. She became CEO of Everton Football Club in 2018. In her time sat at the help, Everton has been named a Best Companies ‘Top 100’ employer four years in a row. Denise is a Deputy Lieutenant for Merseyside and in 2017 was invited by the Pope to be the sole international representative of football at the International Sport for Humanity Foundation. Denise’s achievements have already been widely acknowledged, as she received an MBE in 2014 and was Businesswoman of the Year at the National Businesswomen’s Awards in 2021.

Dame Louise Ellman DBE is the former MP for Liverpool Riverside. Born in Manchester, Louise studied at the University of Hull and the University of York before working in further education and with the Open University. She was first elected as Labour Councillor for Skelmersdale on Lancashire County Council in 1970 and was Council leader from 1981, until becoming Labour and Co-operative MP for Liverpool Riverside in 1997. As an MP, Louise was chair of the influential House of Commons cross-party Transport Select Committee which influenced a wide range of policies, including investing in public transport. Prioritising the regeneration of Liverpool, Louise was part of the successful initiative to award Liverpool the prestigious title of European Capital of Culture in 2008. She resigned from the Labour Party in 2019, after 55 years of membership over the issue of antisemitism. She re-joined at the Labour Party conference in 2021 expressing confidence in the commitment of Labour’s new leader Keir Starmer to address the issue. Louise is Honorary President of the Jewish Labour Movement, a member of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and a Vice President of the Jewish Leadership Council and was made a DBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2018 for Parliamentary and Political Services.

Andy Grant is a podcast host, motivational speaker, author and the fastest single Leg Amputee in the World over 10km. Born in Liverpool, while serving as a Royal Marines Commando in February 2009, aged just 20, Andy was blown up by an IED while on a routine foot patrol in Afghanistan. When he emerged from a 10-day coma, Andy learned the extent of his 27 serious injuries. In the years that followed the blast, Andy learned, painstakingly, to walk again and refused to be defined by an explosion that ripped him apart. In 2010, he chose to have his leg amputated.  Following this operation, Andy learned to ski and sky-dive, climbed mountains across continents and began to run competitively.  At the 2014 Invictus Games, he won two gold medals. In 2016, at the Wavertree Athletics Centre, he became a world-record breaker setting the quickest time over 10K for a below-the-knee amputee. Published in 2018, his book You’ll Never Walk is his story, and for more than a decade, Andy has delivered raw, captivating and honest motivational talks to audiences from different backgrounds across the country and beyond. Through his Leg It Podcast he also continues to shine a light on stories from across society.

Bryan Biggs MBE is Director of Cultural Legacies at the Bluecoat, Liverpool’s contemporary arts Centre. Born in Barnet, Hertfordshire, he studied Fine Art at Liverpool Polytechnic, graduating in 1975. Soon after, he became director of Bluecoat gallery, and eventually overall arts centre director. He has been involved in the city’s cultural life for over four decades, working in various capacities at the Bluecoat, and as an independent curator, writer, arts trustee, researcher, and practicing artist. Through largely collaborative work, he has explored the intersections of visual art, literature, performance, architecture, popular music and history, and the arts impact on diversity and inclusion. He was awarded an MBE in 1996 in recognition of his contribution to the arts on Merseyside.

Jonathan Falkingham MBE is Co-Founder and Creative Director of award-winning property company Urban Splash which specialises in urban renewal projects. Born in Bradford, Jonathan is an alumnus of the University of Liverpool from the School of Architecture, where he taught after graduation.  He set up Urban Splash in 1993 with property developer Tom Bloxham which, to date, has won more than 400 awards for its work in design-led regeneration, architecture, civic design, marketing and business. Prominent local projects involving Urban Splash have included the redevelopment of Concert Square in Liverpool City Centre and the Matchworks in Speke. Jonathan is a board member of the British Architectural Trust (RIBA) and a Trustee of the Royal Court Theatre, Liverpool. He was awarded an MBE in the 2013 Queen’s Birthday Honours List in recognition of his services to architecture and regeneration.

Nick Burgess is Co-President of Parlophone Records. Born in Liverpool, he began his career in the music business in 1995 when the band he formed whilst a pupil at the Liverpool Blue Coat School in Wavertree got signed to EMI records. Following the breakup of the band in 1999, Nick re-located to London and went on to become a successful A&R executive working for all four major record labels, EMI, Sony, Universal and most recently, Warner music.  Nick rose through the ranks to become Head of A&R at Virgin Records, where he signed and developed artists that have sold in excess of 30 million albums and 50 million singles worldwide, including multi-platinum selling acts such as Lewis Capaldi.  In 2019, Nick was appointed Co-President of the iconic Parlophone Record label where he is currently working with the likes of Coldplay, Gorillaz, David Guetta, Diplo and Iron Maiden. Nick was also on the board of the Brit Award committee in 2020.

Michael Eakin is the Chief Executive of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, a post which he has held since 2008. Michael was born in Belfast, grew up in Northern Ireland and the Wirral and read English at the University of Cambridge. He joined Liverpool Philharmonic from Arts Council England, with whom he had been Executive Director North West since 2001. The Philharmonic includes the award-winning Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and associated ensembles and choirs, a substantial music learning and education programme, and Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. In this role, Michael has led the organisation through significant growth, including a £14m refurbishment of the Hall. Michael is also a member of the University of Liverpool’s Management School Advisory Board.

Phil Sykes is the Former Director of Libraries, Museums and Galleries at the University of Liverpool. Born in Huddersfield, he studied at Lincoln College, Oxford. In 2004 Phil came to Liverpool, as University Librarian, after working at a variety of polytechnic libraries. He quickly grew to love the University and its Library, and to appreciate the deep historical roots that had made them what they were. Phil overcame challenges to ensure that both Liverpool’s printed and electronic information collections are among the top ten in the country, and excellent even by the standards of the Russell Group. The Library now regularly comes in the handful of Russell Group institutions who achieve the highest scores in the National Student Survey.  Phil was also a prime mover in the “Open Access” movement, which set out to make research from universities more widely available. Recently, Phil has also been a leader in efforts to help Ukrainian universities. He was instrumental in setting up a scheme under which Ukrainian universities, for as long as the war persists, can be supplied with articles from all the major research Universities in the UK, the US, Australia and New Zealand. (Phil received an Honorary Fellowship from the University).

Leslie Evans is the Former Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, the first woman to hold that role. Born in Northern Ireland, she studied Music at the University of Liverpool. She graduated in 1979 with a BA Honours degree before working in local government, leading, managing and delivering public services to communities across the country before joining the UK civil service in 2000. Appointed in 2015 to her role as Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government, she was principal policy adviser to the First Minister and Secretary to the Scottish Cabinet and had personal responsibility for government finances. As the senior civil servant in Scotland, Leslie led more than 5,000 civil servants in the country, supporting development, implementation and communication of key government policies. Leslie left her role earlier this year and is now studying for a postgraduate diploma in Executive Coaching. She is also a UK trustee for Action for Children, a children’s charity created to help vulnerable children and young people and their families in the UK.

Sir Peter Rigby is the Founder and Chairman of Rigby Group. A serial entrepreneur, Crosby-born Sir Peter launched Rigby Group PLC with a £2,000 investment in 1975. Today, Rigby Group is a £3.2bn turnover multinational holding company for a portfolio of privately-owned businesses in technology, investments, real estate, hotels, and airports. Playing an active economic and philanthropic role in the communities in which his companies operate, Sir Peter is a trustee of several charities, including The Rigby Foundation, which invests in causes relating to lifelong learning, health and education.  In 2002 Sir Peter was knighted for his contribution to IT and business. In 2021 he became the first British businessman ever to be awarded the Legion d’honneur for services to the economy and Anglo-French relations.