Making a difference

An inspiring young woman who gives up her free time to make a difference to the lives of autistic children, is in a competition that hails the '˜giving to others' of Bedfordshire's younger generation.

Nineteen-year-old Elizabeth Simpson, from Roxton, has spent the last four years volunteering for youth groups and play schemes for Autism Bedfordshire. In doing so, she has also managed to tackle her own shyness and lack of confidence.

Now she has been shortlisted as a finalist for the Atlas Converting Young People of the Year awards or ‘YOPEYs’ – Oscars for young people who ‘give to others’.

Elizabeth was nominated for YOPEY by team leader Amber Williams. She said: “Elizabeth started working for Autism Bedfordshire four years ago as a volunteer for the summer schemes. She was very shy and found it very difficult to speak to staff members. However, she has always had a very good connection with the children who attend the sessions.

“She works hard on gaining confidence and new skills so she can further help kids with autism.

“For example; she now also gives up her time for youth groups which run on Fridays and Saturdays in Bedford and Biggleswade. This is in addition to helping with the summer schemes three weeks a year

“Elizabeth is now a key member of every team and works very hard with every child who accesses the services. She is well liked and children come in to the sessions asking for her because they know they will have a good time with her”.

Elizabeth started volunteering for Autism Bedfordshire when she was just 16.

She was studying social care at college and was required to do some volunteering towards her qualification. Elizabeth remembers: “Once I started doing my hours the work grew on me and gradually transformed me. I didn’t know any staff and wasn’t confident enough to approach the children. But this soon changed.

“I met lots of children from all across the autism spectrum and I found I had a knack for engaging with them.”

As her confidence grew, Elizabeth started to take a more active role in helping to organise and run youth groups for up to 30 children and teenagers, all with autism, at sites in Biggleswade and Bedford. From helping to run cookery sessions to organising trips out, Elizabeth has proved herself to be an important member of the organisation.

Elizabeth is now in the second year of her special needs degree. Once graduated she hopes to continue her work with children and young adults with special needs.

The Bedfordshire awards will be presented at St John’s College, Cambridge, this autumn when a joint ceremony with Cambridgeshire young people will be held.