Topland Award accepted on behalf of school pupils

07 Nov 2018


“It is incredible to be recognised, but for us it’s the children who are the unsung heroes, this award should really be for them”.
 These are the words of Ali Durban, one half of the duo who established the ‘Outstanding’ rated Gesher school, winners of this year’s Topland Group Business Luncheon Award in memory of Phillip Greenwold. 

 Presented each year to outstanding individuals, the award recognises unsung heroes, people who make significant contributions to others around them. Its past recipients have included Sir Nicholas Winton MBE who organised the Kinder transport operation and Morella Kayman MBE co-founder of the Alzheimer’s Society. Its 31st recipients, Ali Durban and Sarah Sultman were presented with their award at a lunch attended by over 850 people at the Grosvenor House Hotel.

The pair met in the school playground. They both had sons with special needs. Sarah was at the beginning of her journey with her young son and struggling to find a suitable school, Ali had been through the system and felt disappointed and let down by it. Together they bemoaned the lack of specialist provision in the community for children with challenges -the system refers to them as children with SEN (Special Education Needs)-  and so they set out to change this.

 Six years ago in October 2012, they created a plan to build an outstanding, leading school that would put the children at its centre and lead the way in the field; “We are both highly ambitious people, we didn’t just want a school, but an outstanding school, the very best in class. For us it soon became apparent our plan wasn’t just about opening a school but developing a movement across the community. The school is the springboard for teaching the whole community about inclusion. This can’t just be about paying lip service but ensuring that when our pupils come home from school they can be active in their local community from synagogues to youth movements”.

The school only opened its doors last September and the duo admit its early days for big changes across the community, but they are positive about the reception to date;

“We hit the brick walls at the start of our journey six years ago when people questioned if this community needed another school. We had to work hard to convince people that this school was different and necessary. However, 2018 is a totally different place and time in terms of inclusion and understanding SEN particularly Autism. This is the right time to be banging this drum and the reception from across the community this past year has been extremely positive. There is a lot of work to be done but we are going in the right direction”; commented Sarah.

 Ali added; “Awards like this demonstrate to us that there are people who understand, who want to support our vision and to ensure these young people get the best start and chance in life as well as playing an active role in our community. It really wasn’t easy to get people on board at the start but we never doubted that we would get there in the end. Our story proves that everything is possible if you put your heart and head into it”.

The award was presented to the pair by Jewish Care’s President, Lord Levy and Natasha Kaplinsky OBE.

On introducing the award winners Lord Levy said;

“I visited the Gesher school a few months ago and was blown away with what Ali and Sarah have achieved. These are two individuals who not just our community, but the whole country should be proud of”.

 Following the award, presentation Sir Lloyd Dorfman CBE talked to Natasha Kaplinsky OBE about success in business, the highs and lows, philanthropy and the Knighthood he will be receiving next week. He spoke with passion about how his success in business has enabled him to make a difference through his charity work: “I want to continue to build businesses whilst making a difference as a philanthropist. If you are fortunate to make money at whatever level, it is important to put something back, not just with money but with time.”

Following the event, David Pollock, Chairman of the Topland Group Committee said;

“I want to take this opportunity to thank the committee for their support and the generosity of our sponsors and guests. There are few businesses who aren’t facing uncertain times. Our business struggles often have a direct impact on organisations like Jewish Care which is why I am so grateful to all of our guests and supporters as together we have raised in excess of £330,000.”

This year marks the 10th year that the Topland Group have sponsored the event. Over the last ten years the event has raised in excess of £2 million to support Jewish Care services. David Pollock continued; “Topland have been amazing. Not only did they write the cheque out to sponsor this event but have gone out of their way to make sure it’s a massive success. They could not have been more supportive. A massive thank you”.

  Sol Zakay, Executive Chairman & CEO, Topland Group Commented;

“We are truly delighted to see a record number of people here this year. Today’s Topland Group Luncheon was themed ‘Lessons I have learn’t’. Alongside hearing from the hugely successful Sir Lloyd Dorfman, thanks to support from Enstar Capital, we have produced a booklet featuring engaging interviews from leading business figures. In business it is so important to keep on learning. It is also important for business to give to give back to the community. This year’s Topland Business Luncheon has provided the opportunity for both”.