HELEN BURTON: Uplifting stories told at two ceremonies

Helen Burton
Helen Burton

This week it’s going to be tricky deciding where to start! I was very honoured to win runner up in the Eastbourne Achievers ‘best community person’ award at the weekend.

The winner, quite rightly, was Pete Thorley who set up the Mathew 25 project in Eastbourne offering food and support to the town’s homeless. This is an amazing project that changes lives, and I’m looking forward to visiting soon to find out more and see how Eastbourne Volunteers can support their work. During the awards ceremony there were some amazing stories of people from Eastbourne helping others, volunteering and performing heroic acts of bravery, but I must say I thought the most moving account was that of Ellie Moran (age eight), who had her long hair cut off to make wigs for children with cancer. She also managed to raise more than £1,000 for St Wilfrid’s hospice. What a star! It certainly had me overcome with emotion in the audience.

On Monday I collected my Open University degree in childhood and youth studies, something I have been working on for over 10 years. As a single foster mum it wasn’t easy, and there were many years I had to take a break from the work due to having to focus on the children I was caring for, but thanks to the flexibility of the OU I got there in the end. The OU offers anyone the chance to have a university education, and I am so grateful I was able to do it. It was a very emotional ceremony for me, not least because there were many times when I thought about giving up, but also, again, because of the inspiration provided by some of the other participants. I had to reach for the tissues several times, but when a blind man crossed the stage with his guide dog and wife to assist him I can tell you the floodgates opened. Equally moving was the mother picking up the degree posthumously for her daughter. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house.

The other important event for me was a meeting with Caroline Ansell to discuss the issues that autistic children and their parents have to deal with. Local charity Families for Autism arranged the special surgery for parents of autistic children, and it was a great opportunity to let Caroline know what problems we have. It’s hard enough sometimes just to be a parent to a child with special educational needs, without having to fight for appropriate school places, CAHMs appointments and coping with services that are so fragmented. We may have different views politically but I am a great believer in cross party working and it was lovely to talk with Caroline.

The last few days have been amazing but what I have taken from all of these experiences is the feeling that people are amazing and capable of so much. I’ll end with a quote from E.O. Wilson: “Persist! The world needs all you can give.”