ONE of a North East college’s first students has battled competition from across the UK to win a place with an elite British Army regiment.

The Military Preparation College (MPC) at South Shields is one of 32 nationally, offering a range of free academic and health and fitness courses to 16 to 19-year-olds.

Staffed entirely by ex-British Armed Forces personnel, it had only been open a week when Seaham student Scott O’Keeffe decided to enrol, in 2018.

And, just a year later, the 21-year-old is celebrating after passing the gruelling selection process first time, to become a Private in the Third Battallion Parachute Regiment.

Known as The Paras, the regiment is the airborne infantry division of the British Army and the extreme levels of fitness required by candidates make the failure rate at the first attempt very high.

Along with stamina and endurance tests, candidates have to undertake three daytime and one evening parachute jumps before they can gain their wings and become fully fledged members of the battalion.

“It was incredibly intense,” said Scott, a former Sunderland University sport coaching and fitness graduate, “but the MPC staff were all ex-army and they really prepared me well.

“It was them that encouraged me to go for The Paras and they didn’t just make sure I had the right level of fitness, they taught me about teamwork and about taking instruction and really boosted my confidence as well.”

Sharing Scott’s success is mum, Vickie, a foster carer who has brought Scott and his eight-year-old brother Jared up single-handedly.

“I’m over the moon – I just can’t believe, he’s a Para,” she said. “Because several members of my family had been in the Forces, I wasn’t entirely surprised when he asked me to go with him to the Army recruiting office.

“They suggested he enrol at the MPC in South Shields and the change in him, almost from the start, was incredible.

“I used to struggle to get him to concentrate on anything, but they not only gave him a focus, they gave him an aim in life and his confidence and sense of self-worth just grew and grew.

“They really brought out the very best in him and even though Scott’s now based at Colchester, they’ve stayed in touch and they even came to his passing out parade when he completed basic training.”

Along with the South Shields centre, at South Tyneside College, there are Military Preparation Colleges at Newcastle, Stockton and Bishop Auckland.

And regional operations manager and former Royal Military Academy Sandhurst Instructor, Laurence Corbett, said Scott’s achievement, “really is exceptional.

“The selection process is incredibly demanding and most cadets fail through injury, so to have got through first time is excellent. We are all incredibly proud of him.”

Although Military Preparation Courses prepare trainees for careers in the Armed Forces, many use the skills they acquire to follow other career paths.

Since their launch in 1999 Military Preparation Colleges have prepared more than 3000 young people for a military career and helped at least a further 12,000 into other areas of employment and training.

For further information, contact 0330 111 3939 or visit www.mpct.co.uk.