Meet our partners and judges
The Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List is run by Dimensions, in partnership with the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group (VODG) and Learning Disability England (LDE). We have a diverse range of guest judges for 2019’s List, some of whom would like to introduce themselves to you.
Sally Phillips @sallyephillips
Award winning writer and actress, Sally Phillips, has kindly offered her endorsement for the Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2019. She said:
“The wonderful list will, once again, highlight the remarkable achievements and contributions that people with learning disabilities and autism make to their communities. This year’s Leaders will help change public perceptions and inspire others to dream big – reminding us that everyone can make a difference.”
Sally is known for her roles in I’m Alan Partridge, Smack the Pony, Green Wing and Miranda. She is also Clare in Radio 4’s Clare in the Community, ‘Shazzer’ in the Bridget Jones trilogy and Minna Hakkinen, former Finnish PM in Veep.
In 2016 Sally made the multi-award winning documentary ‘World Without Downs’, an introduction to the ethical questions around prenatal screens. She follows developments closely and along with many members of the DS Community has significant concerns around the ethics of and advent of for profit motives and behaviours in the world of population screens.
Leaders’ List partners
@VODGMembership | vodg.org.uk
VODG (Voluntary Organisations Disability Group) is a national charity that represents leading not-for-profit organisations who provide services to disabled people in ways that promote independence, choice and control.
We work on behalf of members to influence the development of social care policy, build relationships with government and other key agencies, promote best practice and keep members up to date on matters that affect service delivery.
Our overarching aim is to ensure that VODG members, working in partnership with commissioners, people who use services and their families can provide progressive, high quality and sustainable services that reflect Think Local, Act Personal principles, uphold rights and meet the requirements of disabled people.
VODG members lead the sector in terms of delivering high quality personalised support, developing new and innovative services and making investments in campaigns, workforce and other activities for social benefit.
Learning Disability England
Learning Disability England exists to make life better with people with Learning Disabilities and their families. We are a not for profit membership organisation bringing together people with learning disabilities, families, professionals and organisations.
Membership is open to any person, organisation or group that supports Learning Disability England’s aims and wants to be part of making them happen.
The aims are:
- What is important to people with Learning Disabilities is heard and understood
- There is a change in behaviour in service design and delivery that builds on rights
- Demonstrate coproduction and real collaborative working making a difference
- Live our values and model the change we want
Leaders’ List judges
Vic feels very fortunate to work with and for young people. Having risen to prominence through the groundbreaking and BAFTA award winning Educating Essex, Vic has tried to use the privileged position he has been given to beat the drum for the teaching profession and for the young people in our country.
He can often be seen on breakfast television or the news regularly speaking up about funding, inclusion or similar. Although Vic is uncomfortable being in the spotlight he also knows that he should use whatever opportunities he has to get the important messages out there.
Vic writes a regular column in Teach Secondary magazine, offering insight and advice, as well as appearing regularly in newspapers such as the Guardian, Times and the TES. After the release of his book, ‘The Best Job in the World’, he has gone on to contribute chapters in numerous other publications on SEND, student leadership and emotional health and well-being.
Vic has had a varied range of experiences in settings in England and in Cairo, Egypt and taught from nursery through to lecturing to undergraduates. He is humbled to have received two honorary doctorates and cannot quite believe people continue to be so nice to him. Vic is also a founding member of the Headteachers’ Roundtable; a think tank trying to influence education policy at government level.
‘I can’t believe I have been asked to judge leaders that demonstrate the compassion and courageousness required to operate in such a vital but challenging area. I know just how difficult judging will be because of the quality of people involved.’
Vicky is a Self Advocate with a passion for Co-production and making a difference for people with disabilities, and enabling them to have their say.
Vicky is an Elected Member of Learning Disability England Representative Body, Being Safe Group, Northwest Confirm and Challenge and Northwest National Campaigns Group and is a member of National Co Production Advisory Group (NCAG).
‘I wanted to join the judging panel because I feel like I can bring my experience to the team and help recognise the great potential that is coming through.’
“Hi my name is Marie Knott and I work as Quality Development Advisor for Sheffield City Council. Part of my job is to help develop things for people with learning disabilities in Sheffield. Also to check services to make sure they are doing what they say they are doing. I’ve also taken in a new group called the ‘Good Place To Work Group’. This looks at what is happening for people with learning disabilities that are in work.
“The reason why I’m excited to part of the Leaders’ List panel is that I believe that everyone that works with people with learning disabilities that goes the extra mile should be rewarded.”
Poppy Jaman OBE
An internationally respected mental health advocate, Poppy has over 20 years’ experience of influencing and leading change in public mental health, with her varying roles requiring her to challenge the public’s perception of mental ill health.
Poppy Jaman OBE is a global voice of authority on workplace mental health. Poppy is the CEO of the City Mental Health Alliance (CMHA), a coalition of City businesses working to increase understanding of mental health issues and to create a culture of good mental health in the City. She is also the founding CEO and of Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England and, under her leadership the organisation developed from a small government project into a fast-growing, commercially successful Community Interest Company recognised by the FT in 2017 as one of the fastest growing SME’s in Europe.
In 2018 Poppy was awarded an OBE in recognition of her services to people with mental health issues and in spring 2019, she received an Honorary Doctorate of philosophy from the University of Gloucestershire. Poppy is a non-executive director, on the board of Public Health England (PHE).
Through her diverse networks Poppy has played an instrumental part in making mental health a high priority for public and private sector employers.
I’m honoured to be part of the judging panel for this Leaders’ List. Good mental health is crucial for everyone’s well-being. Poor mental health can often be a barrier for people with learning disabilities and autism who, like any of us, want to feel connected and part of the community. I’m sure this year’s Leaders will inspire others and help society become more inclusive.
Deborah Brownson MBE
hesnotnaughty | autismplan.co.uk | deborahbrownsonconsulting.co.uk
Deborah is a proud mother of two teenage autistic sons and author of ‘He’s Not Naughty! A Children’s Guide to Autism.’ She was the Autism Advisor for BBC drama; The A Word, is an Autism Ambassador for Virgin Atlantic and has an MBE for services to Autism Awareness.
Deborah is also a support Group Founder with over 10,000 autism families accessing support daily. She’s the Lead NHS Governor for Autism at UHMBT improving access, outcomes and the patient experience for autistic people as well as a member of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism.
She is the Co- Founder of ‘The Autism Plan,’ an online platform and App providing pre and post-diagnostic, and lifelong support, for Autistic people and their families/carers, whose aims to change the global perception of autism through an ongoing social media campaign.
Deborah is an Autism Consultant helping families develop strategies to deal with problem behaviour and improve their understanding and relationships. She helps schools train their staff and advise on specific cases. She also helped train NHS staff and has helped businesses (like BAE Systems PLC) alter their recruitment process so as to not exclude autistic applicants and made their work places more autism friendly.
Being the mother of two amazing autistic sons, I know firsthand the many challenges faced by autistic people. It’s so important to recognise and empower those brave individuals who speak up against inequality. I’m honoured to be a judge and look forward to reading all about the inspiring work happening every day across the UK.
@begifford | Happiful Magazine | @happiful_magazine | happiful.com
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Writer and Producer for Memiah, creating content around mental health and wellbeing for Happiful Magazine, Counselling Directory, Life Coach Directory, and their sister sites.
Providing informative, inspiring and topical stories to help break the stigma around mental health, Happiful aims to shine a light on the positivity and support that should be available for everyone, no matter their situation.
With a passion for sharing stories about those who are helping to make the world a better place, Bonnie writes about a broad range of wellbeing and social responsibility topics.
‘I’m absolutely delighted to be joining the judging panel for this year’s Dimensions Leaders List. It’s a delight to see so many amazing individuals and their achievements being recognised and celebrated, across a broad spectrum of areas.
‘It can be easy to forget how much is being achieved, overlooking the areas of real progress and inspiration both in our local communities and on a national scale. The Dimensions Leaders List provides the opportunity to take a step back and acknowledge the amazing work of autistic and disabled individuals across the country.’
Mark is Campaigns Advisor at Dimensions, where he has devoted his time to working as an advocate on the issue of hate crime against people with learning disabilities. For nearly ten years Mark has also worked for Dimensions as a part time Quality Reviewer, visiting the people Dimensions supports and reviewing the quality of support they receive.
As part of his advocacy on hate crime over the past 20 years, Mark worked with Values into Action, focusing on the rights of people with learning disability. He has also led training with police forces, training over 1000 officers on the issue of learning disability hate crime and worked with the Crown Prosecution Service.
Additionally, Mark is closely involved in Dimensions’ #MyGPandMe campaign, where he has trained GPs about the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities.
In 2018 Mark was made one of the first Learning Disability and Autism Leaders in the Advocacy, Policy and the Media category.
Read his story.
“I am very proud to be judging the list this year. It felt really good to be a Leader and I’m looking forward to helping choose more. It’s important people with learning disabilities and autism are recognised and celebrated for their hard work.”
Becky Rich is a Dance Leader, Ambassador and Spokesperson for DanceSyndrome, an inclusive arts charity based in the North West of England.
DanceSyndrome’s ethos is that everyone should be able to live a life of their choice and be able to pursue a career in dance regardless of whether they have a disability or not. Becky firmly believes in this mission and works hard to share it!
She travels round the UK giving dance performances and inspiring speeches which promote inclusion and challenge perceptions of disability by focusing on celebrating ability. Becky’s hard work and determination were recognised in 2018 when she was included on the Learning Disability and Autism Leaders List and she is proud to be invited to be a judge in 2019.
“I am excited and privileged to be chosen as a judge for the 2019 Leaders List, it’s a real honour! I work hard every day to celebrate the abilities and talents of people with learning disabilities and I believe that the Leaders List is a great way to raise awareness and show what people can do when they are given chances in life.”
Gary is a Membership and Engagement lead at Learning Disability England. He leads as the staff team self-advocate spokesperson.
Gary has been a self-advocate for over 30 years. He was one of the leaders who started self-advocacy in the UK in the 1980s.
He has worked for a variety of user led and development agencies delivering training, driving change and contributing to research.
He is the Co-Founder of Learning Disability England and before this he founded People First England.
Gary has a vast amount of experience in working with the media and has appeared on Channel 4 and in the Guardian. In 2018 Gary was recognised as part of the Disability Power 100 list coming No 8.
Ciara works full time for Mencap in their Campaigns and Activism Team as a Campaigns Support-Officer. Recently Ciara has played a role in working on Mencap’s current Treat Me Well Health Care Campaign. The campaign aims to change the way the NHS treats people with a learning disability when they go into hospital.
As part of her role, Ciara has been co-presenting campaign workshops to people with a learning disability and their families so they know their rights and how to campaign. In her personal life, Ciara got married 6 years ago to her husband, Mark. In her spare time, she likes singing and spending time with her family.
“I am joining the judging panel for the Dimensions Leaders List this year because I am passionate about seeing people with a learning disability and autism being celebrated for their achievements!
“I think the leaders List is important because people with a learning disability and autism are the experts and leaders of their lives and they have rights like anyone else. It will help break down discrimination with the public if they see people with a disability achieving their goals!”
Siraaj is a Senior Quality of Life Facilitator. He is an experienced and inspirational speaker and works locally, regionally and nationally in the field of disability.
He has worked with the Department of Health, Healthwatch England and is heavily involved in the Learning Disabilities Mortality Review (LeDeR) Programme.
Siraaj was awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in 2017 for Services to People with Disabilities in the West Midlands.
“People with learning disabilities need to be promoted in leadership roles.”
@kierabyland | kierab20
“Hi I’m Kiera Byland, I have a learning disability. I am a Special Olympics athlete and leader. I went to the SO World Games in March 2019 and became a triple gold medallist in cycling.
“As an SO athlete leader I help to make sure that people with learning disabilities have a voice, I represent Special Olympics Great Britain in Europe and Eurasia (SOEE) and I’m currently the chair for SOEE Athlete Input Council. I really enjoy my role and I like to try and inspire other people with learning disabilities to play sport and have a voice.
“I have agreed to join the judging panel as I think I have enough experience now to help find the inspiring leaders of 2019. It is a great honour to feel that my opinions and views are important.”
@mylifemychoice1 | 1MLMC
“My Name is Steve Mansell, I have been a trustee and self-advocate at My Life My Choice for many years. My Life My Choice is a self-advocacy organisation in Oxfordshire and as trustee I have got involved in everything from our monthly self-advocacy groups which help people meet up and speak out, to our Power Up training, research and inspections enterprise where we have delivered training on topics such as hate crime.
“Outside of My Life My Choice, I have worked at Tesco for 31 years and am very interested in history and politics. I have even made some videos explaining history,
which you can see here.
“I have agreed to be a judge for the Learning Disability Leaders list this year because I think people with learning disabilities can do amazing things and it is really important to celebrate them. People with learning disabilities don’t always get the same opportunities as everyone else but we can lead by example and show them that they can do amazing things too.”
“Hello my name is Jess and I am excited about being a judge. I love to help people and want everyone to have a good life. I work in a garden centre two days a week, I am vice chair for people’s Parliament Worcestershire.
“I volunteer for Guide Dogs I belong to My Voice Group with Macintyre (my carers) I belong to a signing choir and do drama. I go to Special Olympics and have won gold, silver and bronze medals at the National Games. I also write books with my mum about a disabled fairy and I go into schools, colleges to talk about being disabled and what I have done so it will help people do the same. Our new book ‘Jess Guides the Way’ is out this year.
“Winning the award made me more confident and want to help more people. The Leaders’ List lets people know how important is for everyone to have a life they want. I am looking forward to reading the stories this year of what people have done.”
Clenton Farquharson MBE
Clenton has extensive knowledge of health and social care, and other social policy areas, particularly in relation to equality, social justice and co-production. Clenton is passionate about how we deliver more human services.
He’s passionate about co-production, influencing services to work together and to listen to the people who use the services and carers and family. He wants to support this way of working to help it take hold. A cornerstone to this is Belonging together. We all want to belong and to be treated fairly and equally by others in society. Relevance and meaning in our lives come from relationships, expressing our own identities and being heard, but also part of something bigger. This is central to civil society’s purpose in an increasingly changing, global, individualised and digitalised world.
Clenton is the chair of Think Local Act Personal. He is also a member of the NHS Assembly, chair of Quality Matters, trustee of the Race Equality Foundation, and ambassador for Disability Rights UK. At a local level he’s a director of Disabled User Led Organisation called Community Navigator Services CIC, and Clenton acts as an Skills for Care Ambassador.
“I was over the moon to be asked to be a judge on the panel for this Leaders’ List and judge everyday leaders that demonstrate the character, heart, and the will that is required to navigate in such a fundamental but challenging area; winning hearts and minds on their way. Wow how difficult is this going to be.”
Greg is a journalist at The Times, writing about social affairs, which includes social care and the charity sector. He previously reported on education and politics. He is honoured to be a judge and looks forward to hearing inspiring stories about people who are nominated.
@AutisticNW | autisticnotweird | @autisticnotweird | AutisticNotWeird | autisticnotweird.com
Chris Bonnello is an award-winning writer and international speaker with Asperger Syndrome, also a novelist and special needs tutor (formerly a primary school teacher).
In 2015 he launched Autistic Not Weird to share his insights from both a personal and professional perspective, a venture which has seen him attract 107,000 Facebook followers and over two million page hits on his website, as well as speaking engagements as far away as India and Sydney Opera House.
His first publication, “What We Love Most About Life”, was an uplifting book designed to help autistic young people feel less alone, and his first novel “Underdogs”, a novel with special needs heroes, was published in May 2019.
He was a nominee for the 2017 National Diversity Awards, a two-time winner at the Autism Hero Awards, and a 2019 winner of the National Autistic Society Professionals Award. Last year, he was a winner of
Dimensions’ Leaders List for Advocacy, Policy and Media.