Engage to Change Ambassador nominated for award
“If I win the award I’ll win it for all the young people on the project,” says Gerraint Jones-Griffiths, Lead Ambassador for Engage to Change. “The real heroes are people who are on the project and go into work every day.”
This Friday, Gerraint will be going up against his fellow nominees at the National Learning Disabilities and Autism Awards in Cardiff for the ‘Breaking Down Barriers’ Award. The award celebrates an individual or organisation who has worked to break down barriers for themselves and others, by enabling people to get clear information and through relaying their own views and experiences.
As an Ambassador for the project with All Wales People First, Gerraint has become adept at conveying his opinions and his experience to a wide range of audiences, from peers to politicians, from small meetings to large conference crowds. His journey from his autism diagnosis up to today has already inspired many. He may make it look easy now, but it hasn’t always been.
Gerraint says that when he was diagnosed with autism in 2007, “there was a very dark cloud over my life. I didn’t think I’d be able to achieve half the things I’ve done now.” For example, he didn’t think he would be able to travel independently. He has been able to overcome this with support from Engage to Change, and as part of his ambassador role Gerraint can be spotted promoting the project anywhere from his hometown Tredegar, to Cardiff, to Bangor, Wrexham, or Swansea.
Nor would you guess from Gerraint’s approach to public speaking that he had been through speech therapy for four years. “I love public speaking,” he says. “It helps when you’ve got a big mouth! Now I can speak to an audience of hundreds at a time with no problem.” He is considering his next move post-Ambassadorship – possibly as a public speaking entrepreneur.
He is especially proud of what his story could mean for others. He describes the Engage to Change project as “powerful” and hopes to be able to convey to others that having autism or learning disabilities does not mean that you cannot secure employment. Through his own experiences, he knows that with the right support in place, people are more than capable of surpassing the expectations, often low, that are placed upon them. “With the experiences I’ve had, and with the struggles I’ve had to deal with, I can hopefully encourage young people that with the right support they can overcome barriers. Play to your strengths.”
Gerraint discovered that he had been nominated by his former employer, Engage to Change lead partner Learning Disability Wales, a few months ago. He was then invited to a formal interview before the judging panel, and will discover the final winner of the award at the gala dinner on Friday 28th September. “I was greatly honoured,” he says of hearing about his nomination. “Then when I got told I was shortlisted, I couldn’t believe it. I was very grateful and humbled.”
Gerraint is keen to make sure that other young people on Engage to Change are rightly recognised for their hard work to overcome their own barriers. Among these people are his fellow newly-appointed ambassadors. “They are truly enthusiastic,” he says. “They are absolutely brilliant and they will be superb with the public. I can’t wait to have more events with them.”
Looking towards the future, Gerraint hopes that Engage to Change will make a lasting difference to the lives of people like him by influencing policy. He hopes the Welsh Government will introduce legislation that uses Engage to Change as a model for supporting people with learning disabilities and autism into employment. He’s not done breaking down barriers yet.