Young role models who are changing lives

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A Leighton sixth-former who volunteers two nights a week with the Brownies and a group for mentally and physically disabled teenagers has been nominated in a competition that hails the achievements of young Bedfordshire people.

And Bethan Atkins has been joined in the contest by fellow nominee and Cedars Upper student Jack Robinson, who works tirelessly to give young people a say in the world.

The duo were put forwards as contenders for the Central Bedfordshire Young People of the Year award or YOPEY, which rewards unsung heroes across the region and has £2,000 in prize money for young winners to share with the community.

Bethan, aged 16, was nominated by younger sister Rhiannon, who also attends Cedars Upper, for her work as a Young Leader with 8th Leighton Buzzard Brownies and the Mencap High Fives youth club.

Rhiannon said: “Bethan has been volunteering for Brownies for over a year and showing no sign of giving up.

“She also helps out at Mencap, enjoying the company of disabled children and making them feel happy. She gives what little time she has between her studies, chores and riding to make others happy. She is always willing to help others out and always with a smile on her face!”

Bethan had been a Brownie herself but had left GirlGuiding aged 10 and had not been involved in the movement for years. Then she heard the 8th Brownies in Leighton Buzzard, which meets at Brooklands School and was not the group she had belonged to, was looking for volunteers.

She went along more than a year ago and loved it. She is now a young leader and training to be an adult leader when she is 18.

“The girls are so sweet and get so excited about everything,” said Bethan, who organises the sessions with games, activities and badges.

“I wondered if I would enjoy it but I really look forward to Brownies.”

On Thursdays she is at the Mencap High Fives youth club, which meets at Grovebury Road Scout Hut and is organised by Danielle Worsfold for young people aged eight to 18 years old with a wide spectrum of disabilities or learning difficulties and their siblings.

“It is different from the Brownies, they are closer to my age and with different personalities and I am really getting to know them,” Bethan said.

She helps with activities and in six months has become quite a cards player.

Danielle said: “Groups like ours couldn’t exist without volunteers like Bethan.”

Bethan also raises money for the Medical Detection Dogs charity and works Saturdays on a market.

Jack Robinson, 17, was nominated by Nicky Dunning, head of house, and Debbie Townson, head of pastoral support of Zambezi House at Cedars.

He was put forward for being “an excellent role model for the school”, said Mrs Townson.

“He manages to engage and pull people in to helping and joining in whatever project he is working on and is always willing to give his time and energy for others,” she said.

Among those projects was a school assembly for Remembrance Week and as a House representative he is a voice for students, taking a major role in Cedars Help Week for charities. Jack is also a member of Cedars School Council.

Jack lives in Woburn Sands, and is a member of Milton Keynes Council’s Youth Cabinet feeding back young people’s perspective on council services and he joined the Milton Keynes Police Youth Campaign with its aim of improving relations between police and young people, sitting with senior police officers and other youth and community representatives.

When the Big Milton Keynes Youth Debate 2013, which is linked to the Youth Cabinet and Police Youth Campaign, was convened in November to discuss issues like politics, the police and sex and relationships, Jack pushed for Cedars to be represented.

“Our students wanted to go as MK is where a lot of our young people live or go for leisure, sport and shopping,” he said.

Jack chaired two sessions keeping local politicians in line Question Time style.

“They were at each other but I did not let them subvert the questions from the audience,” he said.

Jack is also a member of the Youth Board of Governors for Milton Keynes General Hospital with particular interest in getting the views of young patients in paediatrics.

Jack says he is driven by a passion for seeing young people represented in decision making.

“I feel young people, are not being fully represented. I want them to have a voice and to just make a difference,” he said.

YOPEY has been praised by national leaders. For example, Prime Minister David Cameron said YOPEY entries show determination and “resolve to make a difference”.

YOPEY was founded by former national newspaper journalist Tony Gearing, who said: “There are many young people in Bedfordshire doing wonderful things for others. It’s just that they live in the shadow of a well-publicised anti-social minority.

“We need to give young people the respect they deserve and set up the best as positive role models for others to copy rather than focusing on the small number who appear in the press for negative reasons.”

About these entries, Tony said: “Bethan and Jack each demonstrate an enthusiasm for simply getting involved making time to volunteer and make a real difference to the lives of other young people.”

As well as Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, sponsors include Central Bedfordshire Council, Atlas Converting Equipment of Kempston, Movianto of Bedford, William Jackson Food Group which includes Parripak in Chicksands, and Carlisle Managed Solutions.

The Beds YOPEY is open to young people aged from 10 to 25, who should live, work or study in the county. But they do not have to meet all three conditions.

Schools, youth organisations, churches and charities in the capital are being urged to nominate their young people. If their nominee wins, they can receive half the prize money. Family and friends can also nominate but they cannot win prize money. Young people can even nominate themselves.

> Do you know somebody who deserves the title Young Person of the Year? To nominate logon to or write, enclosing a stamped-addressed-envelope, to YOPEY, Woodfarm Cottage, Bury Road, Stradishall, Newmarket CB8 8YN for a paper entry form. Entries close on February 27.