Disability
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Northampton Youth Forum and beyond…

Lyndsey Ambrose

By Lindsey Ambrose, Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Lead, St Andrew’s Healthcare

National Diversity Awards – Community Organisation: Age – Winners 2012
Excellence in Diversity Award – Diversity Champion – Winner 2015
National Diversity Awards – Community Organisation: Disability – Finalist 2015

In September 2012 I was the proudest I had ever been of my work as the youth forum I had nurtured, developed and led for about 8 years, won the prestigious National Diversity Award. One of the young people and two of the councillors collected the award on the stage while Iproudly video’d and then took photos of the incredible occasion.

So where are the members of the forum now?

The young people who were members of the forum included young people from disadvantaged backgrounds, young carers, young people with autism, and young people with serious mental health and other disabilities.

They made great use of their time on youth forum to help the local community – all ages, faiths, LGBTQ, people with disabilities and carers, for example drawing in and managing hundreds of thousands of pounds of grants funding for local groups, organizing townwide festivals and events, leading civic ceremonies, influencing major regeneration projects, securing the funding and working between skater youth and the council that led to the town today having a world-class skatepark. – speaking on the radio, to the media, running social media channels, a stamp out hate crime anti-bullying campaign, and in other ways too, challenging stereotypes about youth.

The young people developed personal skills and experience that have enabled them to pursue their dreams. Young people who wanted to do so to go to university – perhaps the first in their family to do so – did. One is working in Parliament, one has been working for an MP. One is a midwife. Others have pursued their dreams on the stage, Military Wives Choir, and in media production. Some work for charities, some have gone on to work with young people’s groups…

Nathaniel Villettesays “Since winning with Northampton Youth Forum at the National Diversity awards, things have been a whirlwind for me. I went to University to study TV and Film and during that time I have had the chance to be part of the world I wanted to work in, gaining experiencing of filming, editing and even being on TV. Being part of Northampton Youth forum had shaped my career path. The forum helped me change the way I think and understand what it’s like for young people living in an ever changing society where life can present such a mystery to them. Northampton Youth Forum belongs in my heart. I was with the forum for 5 years and over that time developed a strong sense of helping and changing things for the better.I am now working with a London company travelling the UK raising money for different charities – I have been given this fantastic opportunity to do something I have always loved, doing good knowing that I’ve made at least one person smile.”

Evan Battison says “Being on the Northampton Youth Forum was an incredible opportunity which gave experiences and chances to develop skills which I never would have had otherwise. I am currently in my final year studying law at Cambridge University, and I feel that without having been on the Youth Forum I would not have developed my skills when it comes to engaging with others’ viewpoints, as well as expressing and defending my own, to the point where my time here could have been anywhere near as fruitful. It’s great to go back to Northampton at the end of each term and see the continuing impact that some of the projects we worked on during my time in the Youth Forum have had on Northampton. I have a training contract with a magic circle law firm, Slaughter and May, lined up for after I graduate. I think that they found the work I did as part of the Youth Forum to be highly impressive, which I think is more of a testament to everyone who was involved in the group’s hard work, given the positive impact we were able to have on the community. I am certain that I would not be in the position I am today without having been a member of Northampton Youth Forum”

Kieran Phelan says “Being on the Northampton Youth Forum was one of my best achievements growing up. Not only was it a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded young people, but through the community activism it undertook, instilled within me a sense of social justice that I have carried, and no doubt will continue to carry with me throughout my adult life. I am now continuing my activism through scholarship, completing an Economic and Social Research Council studentship for a Masters and PhD qualification at the University of Nottingham. Throughout my time as a student I have continued to relish opportunities to try and bring around positive social change, completing charity work and participating in outreach work in various capacities, as well as undertaking undergraduate research projects in sustainability, food poverty and refugee migration. My postgraduate research continues this. I am indebted to the opportunities and encouragement the Northampton Youth Forum provided me.”

Sinead Loftus, who collected the award for the forum: “Since winning the National Diversity Award in 2012 I have gone on to Warwick University to study history – a huge achievement in my life! The teamwork and leadership skills I gained whilst in the Youth Forum have been invaluable, helping me to gain a position on the history society executive, as the joint ball officer, as well as encouraging me to try new things that I wouldn’t necessarily have considered before (I am currently a very new women’s rugby player!!). The Youth Forum still proves a relevant and interesting example within job interviews, and I was recently successful in a graduate interview where I used a key example from my time on the forum!”

A key adult member of the forum was – and continues to be – Morcea Walker, who helped lead the forum. She has continued to give up her time voluntarily to work with the youth forum and continues to be a school governor. The forum still takes a leading role in Heritage days at the Guildhall and Holocaust Memorial Day activities. Morcea has continued to drive the delivery of Northampton Carnival which has grown even bigger and attracts even more people, continuing to be a key event in Northampton’s calendar, bringing its diverse communities together and providing fundraising opportunities for many local groups. Morcea has also become a volunteer at St Andrew’s Healthcare, helping to support patients to put on a carnival within the grounds in 2013, and now taking an active role in carers and community engagement.

Anna King was a new councillor when she began working with the youth forum. Today she is a Cabinet Member who continues to Chair the forum and takes a special interest in community engagement with youth, LGBT people and women as well as community safety for Northampton Borough Council.

And as for my story after we won the National Diversity Award in 2012?

The National Diversity Award recognition of my work as lead council officer of the Youth Forum was a beautiful ending to a very special time in my life. Soon after winning it I joinedSt Andrew’sHealthcare, a leading mental healthcare charity, thatcares for some of the most vulnerable, and dangerous, people in the UK, from teenagers through to end of life care.

I learned a lot from the youth forum members and our diverse community work that I’ve been able to use to help transform lives, improve patients’ and carers’experiences and show that patients can achieve beyond what others expected of them and what they’ve expected of themselves. I’ve learned new skills too, including British Sign Language. I have spoken to national audiencesfor the NHS and Stonewall UK about my work and written for national nurse professional development and training with members of the Royal College of Nursing. I have done things I never dreamed would happen to me: I won an Excellence in Diversity Award; I spoke to the Secretary of State and staff at Dept for Communities and Local Government about my work on inclusive Holocaust Memorial and education; I attended a Parliamentary Reception; attended a High Sheriff of Northamptonshire’s event for people who help communities; and most recently was invited to a special audience with the United Nations Secretary General. I featured in the Economist’s Global Diversity List Top 50 Diversity Professionals in Industry.

I have continued to volunteer with community organisations, helping to develop and judge a now annual Young Black Achievers awards scheme, being a judge for the Young People of the Year Awards and every year for Northampton Carnival. I was flattered to be approached and welcomed to work with people in the community who I used to work with in my role at the council – becoming a charity trustee seeing their Friends group through a period of transformation as Delapre Abbey, which they campaigned to save for the community, prepares to open as a major regional heritage attraction.

I have become a member of the Northants LGBTQ Partnership and recently was involved in its work to deliver a conference on supporting young LGBTQ people. Along with this, I supported patients and staff who attended to deliver an excellent LGBT awareness event in St Andrew’s Healthcare’s Adolescent pathway – leading us to now be developing a patient-led diversity-themed film+ club and equality allies scheme.

Experiencing success is therapeutically important for the patients with whom I work. Many of them have never had the chance to do so – except through opportunities we can create with and for them. Many of thepatients have suffered successive failures of parenting, exclusion from school and gradually from society, ending up in the criminal justice system, losing their liberty due to being so mentally unwell that they’re in a secure hospital. It is incredibly important that they are supported to develop hope, self-esteem, skills, knowledge and confidence. Like the youth forum, their personal growth is helped by opportunities to take an active role in how decisions are made that affect community life (within the charity’s hospitals across England, or in the wider community – helping local organisations, raising many £thousands for charities, volunteering to help elderly and disabled people continue to live independently and more!). Working in these ways, they and I have

  • taken the charity to number 1 ranking in Stonewall Healthcare Equality Index with our work featured in case studied to inspire others and taken the charity into Stonewall’s Top 100 Employers 2016
  • led the charity to be a proudly shortlisted finalist in the National Diversity Awards 2015 (Community Organisation: Disability) and
  • our diversity and inclusion mascot, Leo the Lion, worked on by patients across St Andrew’s Healthcare – now doing photoshoots with patients, staff, communities, Police Chief, and even the broadcaster and former Communards star Rev Richard Coles! – has just made it to the finals of the National Service User Awards 2016.

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