Standing in close proximity to swimming champion, TV presenter, and former ‘gladiator’ Sharron Davies was one of the positives to come out of being a judge for the Wood Machinery Suppliers’ Association’s first Cutting Edge Award.

The £30,000 prize to support UK wood working training went to Norwich City College and Ms Davies handed over the cheque at a buzzing Woodmex show at the Birmingham NEC on Tuesday.

The other, and perhaps more important, plus from being involved with the Cutting Edge project was finding out just how much enthusiasm and commitment there is to woodworking training up and down the country.

A total of 15 colleges of further education completed the detailed WMSA application form. They covered the spectrum in terms of resources and numbers of students, but all shared a real dedication to wood machinery training and made a solid case for being the first recipient of the award.

But, as they always say, there could only be one winner and after much deliberation, the judging panel picked Norwich.

The College has a very active School of Construction and within that a very lively woodworking section which, on average, trains a couple of hundred students to a range of City and Guilds and NVQ qualifications each year.

Norwich also collaborates very closely with the local joinery, furniture, shop fitting and building industries. It undertakes on-site technical and safety training and, of course, supplies local firms with a steady supply of trainees and works with them on continuing workplace assessment of new placements.

The college also has a very strong ‘social dimension’, encouraging the unemployed and unqualified school leavers to undertake woodworking training. Its ‘sweat equity’ project, which entailed training unemployed youngsters in joinery and timber frame and then the trainees actually building their own houses, hit the national headlines. And head of the Construction School Des Millward said that part of the WMSA cash will be used to further this work, by covering unemployed students’ first-year fees and registration.

Overall, the Cutting Edge initiative looks set to be a major success. It should not only enhance woodworking training and ensure skill levels for the future, but also boost the wood machinery and processing industry’s image through association with the work of such forward-thinking and imaginative organisations as Norwich City College.