An avid campaigner for people with learning disabilities has drawn on personal experience to be named Public Servant of the Year in The Guardian’s Public Service Awards 2017.
Stephen Smith (47), from Clitheroe, won the public vote for his tireless work over more than 25 years in Lancashire for people who have a learning disability.
He progressed from volunteering at Caritas Care’s REACT (Research in Action) project – an organisation which promotes the rights of people with learning disabilities – to becoming a Project Worker for the scheme.
“I was thrilled to just be nominated for this award so to actually win it is a dream come true,” he said.
“It’s important for me to have a voice to encourage people (with learning disabilities) to improve their confidence. I make it my mission to help people understand what good support is, and what it means to have a learning disability.”
REACT was founded by Preston-based charity Caritas Care in 1995 to give service users as much choice and control over the support they receive as possible, with Stephen joining the team six years ago.
Castle Supported Living, a charity in the Ribble Valley that provides support to adults with a learning disability, where Stephen also volunteers his time, nominated Stephen for the award.
They said: “We’re absolutely delighted that Stephen has won this award – this is so well deserved. We nominated him as we see his passion for helping others and how hard he works every day. Winning the award will help him in his campaign to raise awareness that people with learning disabilities have a voice.”
Now based at its Caritas Care’s Community Centre in Preston, Stephen is heavily involved in helping to raise awareness of the needs of people with a learning disability. Stephen regularly visits service providers – including GP practices and NHS trusts – to deliver training in improving staff’s understanding of what it’s like to live with a learning disability.
Day to day, he also attends or hosts meetings, conferences and workshops for local, regional and national initiatives, where he shares his experience and expertise.
Martin Layton, Learning Disabilities Manager at Caritas Care, said: “This is the perfect recognition for all the brilliant work Stephen has done and for what he has achieved working with the REACT Team. To say I’m proud as punch is an understatement!”
Dale Tomlinson, Head of Community Services at Caritas Care, added: “We simply couldn’t provide the service we do without ambassadors like Stephen, working on the ground to get the message out about the rights of people with learning disabilities. What a perfect way to recognise and reward all his hard work.”
Meanwhile, a former Ribble Valley woman was part of a team that won the Digital and Technology section of The Guardian’s Public Service Awards 2017.
Stephanie Burgess, who was born in Clitheroe and educated at the then Clitheroe Royal Grammar School for Girls, was recognised for her work on a specialist speech therapy service.
Stephanie explained: “We won The Guardian’s Public Service Award in the Digital and Technology category for our unique project to deliver a specialist speech therapy service across the UK via telemedicine to adults who stammer. Nationwide, many NHS trusts no longer provide a service, including half of all London trusts and virtually nowhere in Surrey, Hampshire or North Yorkshire, to cite but a few examples. We are the first Trust to deliver such a service.”
She added: “The awards evening was a fantastic experience. There was a really lovely celebratory feel, and it was great to share all the wonderful things happening in public services at the moment, despite the huge financial squeezes we’re all enduring.
“I am so thrilled that we won in our category. It’s great to be able to raise more awareness of stammering, which remains an incredibly invisible and misunderstood condition, despite affecting one percent of the adult population.
“We know that speech therapy can change lives, and this project is helping to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access therapy.
“As things stand, the funding for our project comes to an end at the end of March, so having this nationally recognised award will hopefully enable us to secure support for continuing it.”