Named and famed: The Nottingham's innovative young people of 2020

A quartet of outstanding young role models from across the country have been named The Nottingham’s Innovative Young People of 2020.

The competition was launched at the end of a year that was extremely hard for most due to the Covid-19 pandemic - not least for our young people, many of whom faced serious challenges when it came to maintaining confidence levels, keeping their education on track and career goals in focus, amongst many other things.

We launched Innovative Young People to shine a light on those aged 10-21 who have showcased entrepreneurial spirit throughout the early stages of the pandemic and beyond. The judging panel were keen to put a focus on innovators who did exactly that, not only to improve their own skills and prospects, but to help their peers and communities too.

Speaking about the competition, The Nottingham’s Head of People and Development, Anne Leivers, said: “Early on in 2020 we launched our Career Academy to help drive the aspirations of young people through hints and tips as to how careers can be kick-started.

“With the Coronavirus pandemic causing serious challenges for all, not least young people who faced unprecedented hurdles in their education or career aspirations, we built on that by introducing the Innovative Young People awards.

“We received many inspirational nominations which made some very difficult decisions for the judging panel, however we are satisfied that the winners are thoroughly deserving of their awards and we hope the prizes can play a role in helping them fulfil their ambitions.”

You can read the inspiring stories of the four fantastic young people who each scooped a £250 tech voucher and the honour of being one of The Nottingham’s Innovative Young People of 2020, below.

Warning: This is a long-read article (we think it’s worth all the words) so you may want to make a cuppa before you sit down and enjoy it.

Age 10-13 category winner: Iris Wallace

Community-minded Bulwell schoolgirl Iris was chosen due to her involvement in lots of local volunteering since moving to the area just over a year ago with her family - all arranged using her own initiative during the first Covid-19 lockdown.

Going into 2021 Bulwell Academy pupil Iris, 11, continues to work several hours a week at the Bulwell Forest Garden charity, undertaking tasks such as litter picking, making bird feeders and growing fruit and vegetables in all weather conditions to help the community garden project.

Iris also gives up free time to volunteer at Bulwell Food Bank, helping with jobs such as putting together vital food parcels. She even cooked 250 hot meals with her mums Kelly and Shelly over a two-week period, which were then handed out to families in need.  

A delighted Iris said: “I was surprised but very happy to hear I had become one of The Nottingham’s Innovative Young People of 2020.

Iris Wallace

“It is nice to be recognised in this way but the main reason I continue to do as much volunteering as I can in my spare time is to help people who most need it in the community where I live.”

Iris was nominated by Bulwell Forest Garden community gardener and food bank trustee Adele Brooksbank. She was joined by no less than 19 other people from in and around the Bulwell area who did exactly the same!

An extract of Adele’s nomination read: “Iris has become a young ambassador for the garden. Without her input, the garden wouldn't have come up with ways to further our project.

“I nominated her not just because Iris has helped us as a project, but because she has overcome her own shyness and has further strengthened her own ability to learn and continues to look for new ways of learning and gathering information. If all this wasn't enough, she helps out at the local food bank at which I'm a trustee. Iris is a remarkable young lady who deserves this recognition for all the work she has so far achieved and continues to achieve.”

Age 14-17 category winner: Joely To

Inspirational Tooting Bec student Joely was a winner for her outstanding work in setting up non-profit organisation Pioneer - which empowers more girls to study Mathematics to a higher level and guide them towards potential careers involving the subject.

The Streatham and Clapham High School pupil established Pioneer during the first lockdown and within the first four months it had held over 10 webinars and data challenges for more than 600 students across the UK and Nigeria. Joely even spoke about her Maths mission on two Spotify podcasts.

The 17-year-old impressed the judging panel due to her sheer desire and determination to help others with a mutual interest who don’t have access to the same levels of support and understanding of which career paths involve Maths, alongside studying for four A-Levels.

Joely To

A delighted Joely explained: “I was surprised and honoured to hear I had won. It is very humbling because I didn’t set up Pioneer to win awards - it is there to help girls with a passion for Maths, like myself, have opportunities to develop their skills.

“Having constantly been told by universities at their Maths taster lectures that they lacked female applicants, I decided to research Maths societies for girls to join. However, all were aimed at undergraduate level and beyond, and I strongly believe that to create change it is crucial to start encouragement at a younger age.

“So I decided to set up Pioneer with the aim of nurturing girls’ passion for Maths beyond the curriculum and to help them build their confidence in pursuing the subject at a higher level.”

Joely was nominated by her Maths teacher, Juliana Kirby, who said: “What makes Joely special is her sheer focus on adding value to the mathematical experiences of others; her future plans include ensuring that girls never view school subjects such as Maths simply in terms of the syllabus, but that they are aware of its real-world applications and are better informed about higher education and career choices.

“Joely is a thoroughly deserving winner of this award due to the many hours of hard work and dedication she has put into setting up and running Pioneer, and the inspiration she is proving to be for many girls who have a passion for Maths and the career choices it offers.”

Age 18-21 category winner: Alicia Perryman

Artistic Alicia’s commendation came as part of a remarkable turnaround in her life and following a nomination from her former Newark College tutor and mentor Karen Chesney.  

Just five years ago Alicia, from Newark, accessed the services of a local homelessness charity aged just 17 following family mental health issues and subsequent anxiety and depression of her own. 

The Nottingham’s judging panel were extremely impressed with Alicia’s determination to succeed in college despite personal challenges no-one should have to face, and her perseverance and creativity in positively moving forward towards her creative career goal.

The young artist, who now privately rents her own home with her partner, has already taken several steps down that road by stirring plenty of interest on Instagram as @aperrymanart and landing a place at the University of Lincoln where she studies illustration.

Alicia Perryman

As well as touching on how far she has come in a relatively short period of time and encouraging other young people encountering difficult situations to seek relevant help as she did, Alicia, 21, confirmed that the £250 tech voucher she has won will be spent on equipment to help her achieve her career dreams.

She said: “I try not to dwell too much on what has happened in the past because I want to look forward with optimism but needless to say that no-one expects to become homeless, however certain things can happen in life and by the time I was 17 I was.

“Mental health issues were at the heart of what happened to me, and so often are the root cause of many domestic problems. I had to leave that environment, but I was very lucky to have had support from Karen and another tutor, Alison, and my peers at college who all went above and beyond to point me in the right direction.

“They helped reignite my love for all things creative and I wouldn’t be where I am now without them. My message to anyone in a similar situation would be to not be too afraid or embarrassed to ask for help.  

“My dream is to have a creative career - a job with Nintendo would be amazing, but we’ll see what happens. It’s lovely that Karen thought about me for these awards and took the time to nominate me - I’m very pleased and surprised in equal measures to have won.”

An extract of Karen’s nomination read: “Alicia has defied the challenges thrown at her. Life has never been easy for her, surviving and continuing her education has been far more demanding and required far more determination and inner strength than for most. She deserves every bit of help she can get.”

Age 18-21 category winner: Owen Brindley

Kind-hearted Bilborough volunteer and radio presenter Owen impressed the judging panel with not only his dedication to overcome serious illnesses, but also his drive and ambition to give back to people in need across Nottingham too.

The 21-year-old has had to contend with a number of conditions since birth, including Branchio-oto-renal Syndrome which led to a kidney transplant aged just five, lung problems and he is also partially deaf.

He has faced more than most, yet Owen has insisted on putting his energy into helping others and has an impressive list of volunteering achievements to date, including helping to raise vital funds for the When You Wish Upon A Star charitable foundation.

The budding radio star has also clocked up hundreds of hours volunteering with community station FMB Radio and Nottingham YMCA Digital and, when Covid-19 restrictions allow it to have the green light, will carry that on in a newly achieved Hospital Radio role broadcasting to Nottingham University Hospital patients.

Owen said: “I was really shocked and humbled to hear I had won the award, and hope it shows people that it is possible to give back to other people who need help and support even if you face tough times yourself.

Owen Brindley

“That has never been more important than now as we find ourselves in a world where people are facing increased challenges due to the Covid-19 restrictions.

“As someone who has spent a lot of time in hospital myself on many occasions I know how important it is to try and keep your spirits as high as possible, and that’s what I try to do for others when I’m DJ-ing for the community and hopefully soon in the hospitals too.

“This is a very special award for me and my family - my mum and dad were in tears when I told them I had won it. I would like to say a big thank-you to those who nominated me, and to all of my family and friends, for their amazing and ongoing support.”

Owen was nominated by Nottingham City Homes colleagues Kate Rand and Sally Nightingale. Kate explained: “Owen has shown astonishing resilience and steely determination to overcome personal challenges to achieve his goals - at the core of this is desire to help and inspire others.

“He has volunteered as a DJ in various hospital settings, youth clubs and charities and developed a passion for making others smile. He is known for his cheerful disposition and keenness to help and encourage others. Owen is a true person of inspiration - there is no stopping him!”


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