Week 24 - Diana Award
"Everyone needs to be valued. Everyone has the potential to give something back." - Princess Diana
When you sit in-front of a 17 year old girl who has had one of the most challenging lives at such a young age; battling a rare medical condition teamed with a father with MS, you cant help but feel an overwhelming sense of mixed emotions. How somebody so young can go through such adversity and not only survive but use that to fuel a life of kindness, is quite frankly, beyond inspiring.
And this is what the Diana Award does, it recognises those inspirational individuals and bestows them with a prestigious award. The Diana Award was founded on the legacy of the great and still very much missed Princess Diana. Wanting to keep her legacy alive they recognise young people across the country for the inspirational things they do for their communities.
Their offices are situated slap bang in the middle of the banking district of London, the perfect setting for a royal blooded charity. The Diana Award runs a number of programmes, the award itself which recognises inspirational young individuals across the country, a mentoring and network programme and the Anti-Bullying Campaign.
Whilst awarding young people across the country, a common theme began to emerge. So many of the young individuals who had won awards had won them for some form of anti-bullying prevention in their school. So, Alex Holmes, part of the Diana Award decided to use this theme to create another imitative. Anti-bullying UK was born.
I was incredibly lucky to experience first hand the type of people that they award. On my first day I got to sit in a meeting room with two other staff members and read through applications for the Anti-Bullying Ambassador programme. I was blown away. When you read what these kids go through and how they want to use their experiences to help better the life of others, well, to me that's magic. I think we sometimes forget how much kindness there is in the world. We are constantly bombarded by negative news but in reality, there is as much goodness out there as there is bad. Ying and yang I say. We just don't hear about it.
So, let me tell you; all of these kids who get these awards are saints. Fact. There is lots of kindness in the world, and you heard it here first!
Another common theme that I constantly come across is affirmation - something every single person seeks, but not something everyone gets.
Whether you are a young school girl who just wants her friends to say her hair looks nice or Beyonce who famously asked Oprah Winfrey if her interview for OWN was 'ok'. It doesn't matter who you are; we all seek it.
But bullying is anti-affirmation. Kids can be incredibly cruel, as we all know. It's that self-esteem bashing from peers that can cause suicide. So I give full credit to the work that Anti-Bullying Pro do, because they really do save lives.
I remember walking down the corridor at school and some kid shouting "gay boy" at me. I vividly remember keeping my head down and stepping up my pace to get into the art room, my sanctuary. You internalise those feelings; try and brush them off and hope no-one really 'knows'. But - they stay with you for life.
It's moments like that which could have been avoided in my school, if we had Ambassadors that so many schools have now. Thanks to Alex.
Sitting with Alex Holmes on Wednesday talking about his project, you cant help but feel in the presence of greatness. Along with Tessy, the CEO of Diana Award, who brought it back from the brink of bankruptcy, there was a special air in the room. I know I keep repeating it but I genuinely feel so honoured to be meeting such amazing individuals. And when you are stood in a room framing certificates that will be awarded to young kids for their work that they have done so selflessly in their schools, you smile; from the inside. That's affirmation for me that there is good in the world.
But, what is interesting, even with (unofficial) royal backing from the Prince's and the Prime Minister himself, David Cameron, being their patron; they are not immune to the challenges that every other charity face. Just because the Prince's pose for nice photos does not mean they have millions in the bank, quite the contrary in-fact.
So to tackle this, the charity keeps inventing exiting new ways of engaging with their network. From famous YouTubers and celebrities posting endorsement tweets to looking at how they can support their wider network through brand collaborations.
One of their newest initiatives is their mentoring programme. Using their partnerships with companies such as Deloitte and KPMG, they go into schools and mentor kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. Helping not only build self-esteem but giving them vital life and business lessons. What an amazing opportunity!
On Thursday, I got to see this amazing mentoring first hand.
I headed over to an east London school to take part in an after-school mentoring session and got to talk and share my personal journey with the girls. They were listening so intently I must admit I felt slightly nervous!
I then got to sit down and go through their project, a task set to help them develop a wide area of skills. They decided to tackle gang culture, which is rife in their area. And, if I may say so, a very brave subject to tackle indeed. We ended up working on their speech for an assembly they are holding in a few weeks, in which they will address their whole year group on the ever increasing issue.
I guess peer pressure takes hold and before they know it, they are part of a group which in some form or another turns into a gang; which can ruin lives. So I take my hat off to them for tackling such a difficult issue. Not an easy subject to choose. But, they were amazing. Engaging, focused and full of ideas; it really was a pleasure to work with them.
I left feeling uplifted. It's not often you get to be around such dedicated and motivated young individuals who, despite their hardships, are doing their best to excel. But be part of an organisation that both fosters and rewards that. Diana would have been proud.