June-July 2019 | Articles

Champions Awards – Sharon Firth and Wendy Catterick

Champions Awards – Sharon Firth and Wendy Catterick

At the Rotary Conference & Showcase in Nottingham last month, the Champions Awards recognised outstanding humanitarian and community service conducted by volunteers from across Great Britain and Ireland.

The Champions Awards recognise individual heroes for projects at home or overseas.

Here, this year’s Champions write in their own words, about what their project means to them, what it entailed and how it has made a difference.

Author: Sharon Firth

I have two boys both on the autistic spectrum and my journey with them has been far from easy.

The network of information and system of professionals that you need to navigate to help you through this journey and understand the disability is extremely difficult and challenging.

Twelve years ago, we raised the funds to go to America to obtain training in order to help us to understand and develop our boys to the best of their ability.

This training completely opened our eyes and made us change as parents which enabled us to understand and see things the way the boys did.

After being made redundant from my job of 16 years, I decided I wanted to share everything I had learnt with other families who were also experiencing the same difficulties that we were in the early years.

So, in 2014, Beat Autism was created. My intention was to support a handful of parents in a relaxed environment to make them realise that they were not alone in what seemed to be a dark, lonely place and to give strategies and advice for difficult situations.

Within a few months the referrals that were coming to me were phenomenal.

I am proud to say that Beat Autism has an amazing set of volunteers who have helped me get to where we are today.”

We now support over 100 families in the Wakefield area alone, with referrals coming from all professionals from the hospitals, GPs and schools.

What is particularly satisfying is the genuine, positive difference which the charity has made to desperate families’ lives.

After listening to these families, we now offer the following groups: parent support groups; parents’ well-being yoga, dads-only support groups; parents’ fitness group; and private speech and language for children.

We also offer after-school activities including; indoor soft play, Lego club, music club, youth gaming club, sensory yoga and a Sunday club.

I am proud to say that Beat Autism has an amazing set of volunteers who have helped me get to where we are today.

We have parents who I have previously helped that now give up their time to help us support even more families.

I have huge plans for the future of the charity and this award will help bring more awareness of autism, as well as us being recognised for the work that we do in the community.

I am delighted and overwhelmed to be accepting this award, not just for me, but for all the amazing volunteers that work with me on a daily basis.

I am passionate about what I do and I want to help as many families as I can in the future.

For more information visit the Beat Autism website.

Sharon Firth and her husband have two sons, one with Asperger Syndrome and one with severe autism. Upon their diagnosis, they were given a leaflet, a box of tissues and told that there was no cure. Sharon set up the charity Beat Autism to help other desperate parents find their way through this challenging condition, to gain the help and support that is needed.

Author: Wendy Catterick

When I was asked to do six weeks of part-time English Language teaching to a group of refugee teenagers in 2001, I had no idea that I would still be working to support refugee and asylum-seeking young people 18 years later.

Many refugee young people arrive in the UK without any family or adult support, having been forced to flee their countries and enduring hazardous and frightening journeys.

They want to be safe and to have an education. The team at Kent Refugee Action Network is there to support this aspirational group of young people to make the best life possible.

The young people face many barriers to success – communication, prejudice, coping with trauma, difficulties accessing education, difficulties looking after themselves in an unfamiliar environment.

The Learning for Life project I now manage provides a welcoming space where a whole range of needs can be addressed through language and independent living skills training, addressing individual problems, providing mentors, accessing community support and friendship, as well as positive activities including sport and the arts.

Many refugee young people arrive in the UK without any family or adult support, having been forced to flee their countries and enduring hazardous and frightening journeys.”

Many people naturally assume that unaccompanied refugee young people go into foster care. The reality in Kent is that most 16 and 17-year-olds have to look after themselves in shared housing.

The experience is similar to British 18 and 19-year-olds in private student accommodation.

However, imagine if you do not speak the language, most of the food in the supermarket is unfamiliar, you have never cooked for yourself before and especially not on an electric cooker, recycling bins are a mystery, you have a £50 a week budget and your social worker has a large caseload and is only required to contact you every six weeks.

Young people have described our project as ‘family’ and, though we can never replace the family life in their own countries, many of these young people have lost it.

It is a privilege to feel we have gone a little way towards making the young people feel at home, answering their questions and reducing some of their worries.

Listening to the young people has meant that, over the years, the project has developed partnerships with Further Education Colleges, youth and sport clubs, police community liaison and community safety partnerships, arts organisations and local volunteers of all ages, to increase the opportunities for the young people and help them make new friends and networks of support.

We have had great fun doing this. Over the years we’ve flown a drone on Folkestone Warren, made animation films, had Walmer Castle all to ourselves, danced on Folkestone Harbour Arm, run an Afghan pop up restaurant and played football in London.

Young people have a right to seek safety where they can and KRAN will strive to offer support and welcome as long as it is needed.

For more information visit the Kent Refugee Action Network website.

champions awards

Over the last 17 years, Wendy Catterick has grown the Learning for Life project from three mornings of English teaching, into the most influential refugee support organisation in Kent – the Kent Refugee Action Network. The project provides holistic support for refugee and asylum seeking young people, from their arrival in the UK, to becoming integrated members of the community.

Read more Champions Awards winners:

Subscribe today to receive Rotary magazine direct to your door.


Rotary Magazine