Inspiring and leading change

Building upon my goal to ensure that all young people with disabilities are afforded the same opportunities as their mainstream peers, I had the incredible honour of being asked to deliver the opening address at the Youth Sport Trust National Annual Conference at the Ricoh Arena, Coventry on March 1, writes Tadcaster Grammar pupil Jemima Browning.

YST is a national charity founded by Baroness Sue Campbell CBE and which is passionate about creating a brighter future for all young people through sport. It has three guiding principles of wellbeing, leadership and achievement, helping young people to be healthy, happy, succeed in life and contribute to society. These are principles about which I am impassioned that disability should not be a barrier to.

I was delighted to be invited to the YST Awards Dinner the night before the conference as a finalist for the Beckwith Care Award. This was a huge surprise given the relatively short time I have been involved in the work that YST do. The evening was a wonderfully uplifting experience where we had the chance to listen to astonishing stories of sporting success.

Baroness Sue Campbell spoke to the crew of the Rannoch Women’s Challenge who rowed across the Atlantic Ocean, breaking several world records. Listening to the dedication and determination these ladies demonstrated in such extreme conditions had the audience enthralled.

Captain of the Olympic Medal winning Women’s Hockey Team, Kate Walsh was interviewed and presented the awards. Kate spoke with great humility about what they had achieved and how much hard work had been undertaken to get there.

There were very many worthy winners of the awards for outstanding schools and outstanding individual achievements. I was very surprised to discover I was awarded runner up and received highly commended for the Beckwith Care Award. The worthy winner was an amazing young man, Harry Nugent, who succeeded in achieving highly at school and at the Special Olympics, never once letting his cerebral palsy and autism limit his goals.

The following morning, I have to admit to some initial nerves as I was due to deliver the first speech of the day to over 1,000 delegates from fields of education, elite sport, YST members, commissioning and the press. However, once I was on stage the nerves dissipated and I enjoyed the enormous privilege that it was to be able to share my passion and drive to improve the opportunities for young people with disabilities. My brother Will, who has Down’s Syndrome, featured highly in my speech as my personal inspiration; my anecdotes about him engaged the audience. I was surprised and overwhelmed afterwards to find I was approached and congratulated for my inspiring speech by so many of the delegates including Olympic medal winning rower Dame Katherine Grainger, who was remarkably supportive.

Later in the day, I was asked to speak at one of the workshops to promote the work that Special Olympics Play Unified do. This was a great chance to encourage other schools to embrace the principles of inclusion, sport for all and co-leadership which I have introduced at Tadcaster Grammar School. With the support from Mr Sibley and the leadership team, I have set up an inclusive lunchtime sport session where students with and without disabilities take part and help to shape future sessions.

I am enormously grateful to Baroness Sue Campbell CBE, Alison Oliver CEO, Vicci Wells and YST members for their support and encouragement. The opportunity to hear so many outstanding speakers was immensely motivational. I hope that I will be able to continue to work with YST alongside my involvement in the Special Olympics organisation.