A teenager who is tackling bullying in her school and supporting a fellow pupil with speech and language difficulties is in a competition that hails the achievements of young Bedfordshire people.
For the last few years Emily Sheen has been helping staff and students at Bedford’s Hastingsbury Business & Enterprise College while also overcoming her own anxiety issues.
Now Emily has been nominated for the Atlas Young People of the Year or ‘YOPEY’ and is in the running for £2,000 in cash prizes for young people who give to others.
The 16-year-old, of Thirlmere Close, Kempston, was nominated for YOPEY by her teachers Nicola Fountain and Sebastian Sagnia at the school in Hill Rise, Bedford.
Ms Fountain said: “Emily is an outstanding member of both the school and local community of Kempston. When she came to this school she was shy and didn’t have much confidence because she was dealing with personal problems. Since then she has come out of herself and shown everyone how amazingly resilient she is.”
Mr Sagnia added: “In school she puts herself forward in a number of capacities, including as a tour guide, member of the school council and most recently as an anti-bullying ambassador.
“As an anti-bullying ambassador she mentors pupils who have suffered from bullying as well as promoting the anti-bullying message through the school.
“Emily also supports a close friend, who has communication difficulties – helping by being her voice in meetings and other social settings.”
To qualify as an anti-bullying ambassador Emily has travelled to London several times to take part in courses, joining other like-minded young people from across the country.
To make it easier for people to approach the sensitive topic of bullying, Emily has set up a suggestion box at the school’s reception, allowing pupils to ask questions and seek advice in confidence.
She also helps friend Noemi Larosa, whose family came from Italy to the UK six years ago. Noemi’s parents cannot speak English and the teenager suffers from ‘short tongue’, a condition which restricts the tongue and causes speech difficulties. Emily supports her friend by speaking on her behalf in class and social situations. She also helps Noemi and her family with activities outside school, such as shopping.
Noemi said: “We are really good friends and when people don’t understand what I am saying, Emily explains it. She is an amazing person, really nice and looks after me.”
Headteacher Martin Fletcher said: “Emily is a credit to her school, family and community in general. I am absolutely delighted by her nomination.”
Before she joined Hastingsbury, Emily was dealing with severe anxiety issues, triggered by the death of two close family members.
Mum Helen said: “While Emily was still at lower school, her great-grandmother and her grandfather died. This was a terrible time for her as well as all of us and Emily had a sort of breakdown because she couldn’t cope. We had to get Emily some help in the form of a private counsellor to deal with it.
“But coming to Hastingsbury really made a difference to her. The school really helped and supported her to get better and in turn she does a lot for the school.”
Outside school Emily has been involved in fundraising for charities by helping with face-painting at local fetes and other events. She has also visited a care home for the elderly and talked to residents.
YOPEY was started in Bedfordshire 10 years ago by Tony Gearing, who said: “There are many young people in Bedfordshire doing wonderful things for others. It’s just that they live in the shadow of a well-publicised anti-social minority.
“We need to give young people the respect they deserve and set up the best as positive role models for others to copy rather than focusing on the small number who appear in the press for negative reasons.”
As well as Kempston-based Atlas Converting Equipment, which manufactures wrapping equipment for various industries, this year’s Beds YOPEY is sponsored by Bedfordshire Fire & Rescue Service, Central Bedfordshire Council, and recruitment company Guidant Group.
The YOPEY charity has also received grants or donations from Bedfordshire & Luton Community Foundation, the county’s Police & Crime Commissioner, Bedfordshire Police Partnership, Aldwyck Housing and others.
>Do you know somebody who deserves the title Young People of the Year? To nominate visit yopey.org or write, enclosing a stamped-addressed-envelope, to YOPEY, Woodfarm Cottage, Bury Road, Stradishall, Newmarket, CB8 8YN for a paper entry form. Entries close on July 31.
There is a top prize of £800 to be won by a young person or group of young people who help others. The young person or group keeps £400 and invests the other £400 in a good cause of their choice. Second place will win £400, third and junior winners £200 each, all similarly shared.
YOPEY is open to young people aged from 10 to 25, who should live, work and study in Bedfordshire. But they do not have to meet all three conditions. They could go to school, college or university in Beds but live elsewhere and vice versa.