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Local youth project Vale Youth Speak Up was presented with a Philip Lawrence Award at a special event, organised by crime reduction charity, Nacro, at Barry Memorial Hall last night. They were joined by Mrs Frances Lawrence MBE, Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Equalities, and Keith Towler, Wales Children’s Commissioner who presented them with the award.

Founded in July 2009, Vale Youth Speak Up are a user led self-advocacy children and young people’s group of 36 young people aged between 11 – 25, working to highlight and tackle the issues of discrimination and bullying facing young people with disabilities. A major objective of the project is to empower and facilitate young people’s involvement in decision making processes. The group have used innovative methods to convey the message that people with disabilities can excel when they are listened to and given the right support.

They have trained and advised the police, parents and youth services on how to interact with young disabled people, leading to an improved experience for those young people with learning disabilities. The project are hoping to draw in more support for their cause, and keep on raising awareness among their community and the general public about the treatment of disabled young people.

Vale People First Coordinator, Liz Davidson, said:

“To say we are overwhelmed with the recognition of a Philip Lawrence Award is an understatement.

“Vale Youth Speak Up is a group that has only been meeting for 2 years, and to have attracted such kudos in such a short space of time is incredible. This is the second award we have received recognising the quality of participation and inclusion within the last six months.

“The group aged between11 and 25 is made up of 35 learning disabled children and young people that meet to tackle discrimination, discuss issues that they face in their lives, learn about their rights and train professionals in disability awareness and fairness. They are peer led, with the older members acting as peer mentors to the younger participants.

“This confidence has inspired us to continue our work with even greater enthusiasm and gusto. Thanks to the Vale Youth Service for encouraging us to apply to the Philip Lawrence Awards!”

Mrs Frances Lawrence MBE, said:

“Vale Youth Speak Up gives young people in their community the power, confidence and voice to make a vital difference to people with disabilities.”

Speaking at the event, Jane Hutt AM, Minister for Equalities and Vale people first trustee, said:

“I love Vale People First. They tell me straight what we should be doing in the Welsh Government and what policies we should be changing. They tell me what life is like for them and all the difficulties that disabled people have.

“They are a fantastic model for the whole of Wales and they are tackling issues that are not only a matter for the minister for equalities, but for the minister for transport, education, economy, arts, and sports – every minister has a duty to listen to Vale People First.

“Congratulations to all those involved in the project.”

Also speaking at the event and Keith Towler, Wales Children’s Commissioner, said:

“It’s absolutely fantastic to see the Philip Lawrence Awards recognise what’s going on here in Barry. When we think about the words of Philip Lawrence ‘every child is capable of greatness’, it’s so important that we recognise that every single day.

“All of us should make sure every child and young person has a right to speak up on any issue that affects them, so when you win this award that recognises how important it is that children with disabilities are embraced and welcomed and are part of our community, that’s you speaking up and me applauding you. It’s absolutely fantastic.

“I couldn’t be prouder of everything that’s gone on here this evening.”

The Philip Lawrence Awards, managed by the crime reduction charity, Nacro and supported by the Home Office, celebrate the positive contribution groups of young people make in their communities to counter crime, violence, bullying and racism, and challenge negative stereotypes.

Photograph by Bob Fallon