It’s the Sense Awards’ 20th year. Join us on 23 November to celebrate the achievements of people with complex disabilities!
This year, we were overwhelmed by incredible stories. Of course, we can only recognise some of the wonderful achievements that have happened this year.
Our shortlisted 2023 nominees are truly amazing. They were all carefully chosen by our judges: singer Alice Ella, influencer Lauren Gilbert, children’s author Dan White, Paralympian Siobhan Fitzpatrick, presenter and former Great British Bake Off contestant Briony May Williams and Sense Chief Executive Richard Kramer.
On this page, see the Sense Awards 2023 shortlist for each of these categories:
- Person of the Year
- Young Person of the Year
- Young Sibling of the Year
- Family Carer of the Year
- Campaigner of the Year
- Volunteer of the Year
- Fundraiser of the Year
- Celebrity of the Year
- Influencer of the Year
- Community Partner of the Year
Person of the Year Shortlist
Winner: Paige Barnes
Paige lives with Usher Syndrome and is passionate about educating the public about deafblindness. Paige’s family discovered she was deaf at a young age and she communicates in both English and British Sign Language (BSL). However, Paige only found out she had Usher syndrome and was losing her sight at the age of 17. This was a huge shock to her and very scary, made worse by the inaccessibility of the medical system which meant she was not told about her diagnosis in an accessible way. However, Paige was determined to keep seeing friends and going to college and says she wouldn’t now change anything about her life. She’s now working at Heathrow Airport, is in a romantic relationship and living life to the fullest, and Paige has shared her story in the news to inspire others.
Jade has had an amazing year, securing her first ever paid job after receiving support from Sense’s employment service. Jade has been a driving force in our campaign for better support from Job Centres to get disabled people into work, sharing her story in the news and campaigning for the government to do more.
Now Jade, who has cerebral palsy, is non-verbal, and registered blind, is proving how good support can help people thrive when looking for work, as Jade has recently started working for the NHS. Jade isn’t just passionate about supporting more disabled people into work – she’s also championed Sense’s campaign to help people with complex disabilities through the cost of living crisis too. Jade is a truly fearless campaigner.
Dan lives in Rotherham and this year won an impressive three medals at the Special Olympics in Berlin. Dan is autistic, epileptic and has a learning disability, and has tried a range of sports through Special Olympics Sheffield. Dan has competed nationally at athletics and equestrian events, then nine years ago he started ten-pin bowling and really took to it. This year he competed in the sport internationally for the first time.
Despite challenges and a lot of firsts for Dan, he won medals in all three of his events.
Young Person of the Year shortlist
Winner: Chapman Shum
13-year-old Chapman is an exceptionally talented pianist, achieving a distinction in his Grade 8 exam by age 11, and now playing at music venues across the country. Chapman was born blind and has speech and learning difficulties. Chapman has struggled to make friends over the years, but he has found comfort and confidence through playing the piano, and recently has made a strong connection with his new friend Gabby, who Chapman was matched with through Sense’s virtual buddying service. The pair have bonded over their shared love of music and even performed on BBC Breakfast together, showcasing their skills and the power of friendship.
Sense College student Thomas spent much of his childhood unconfident, not speaking, and not socialising. Now 21, Thomas has worked incredibly hard and defied all expectations. Thomas, who has autism and speech and language difficulties, can sometimes struggle with confidence, social skills and life skills, but he really loves music. He’s been studying for music qualifications and sharing his journey on his YouTube channel, where hundreds of subscribers listen to his piano renditions of pop songs, musicals and hymns. And he’s also passed his Grade 8 piano exam and his Level 3 music course (both with distinction)!
Thomas’s family have noticed a huge improvement in his confidence – he’s performing music at charity fundraisers, doing supported internships with his college, and has started playing the organ in local churches. He wants to challenge himself to try all aspects of music, including conducting, composing and learning the drums.
Chloe is six years old and has had a great year. Birmingham-based Chloe has autism, sensory processing disorder and global development delay – she struggled in mainstream nurseries and her family felt very negatively about her future. Chloe didn’t speak and wouldn’t acknowledge her brother’s existence or the presence of other people.
Chloe has become a different person since attending Sense’s play sessions at our Sense TouchBase Pears centre. After getting to know Sense staff and working hard to get involved in the sessions Chloe is starting to speak, use Makaton and join in songs. She’s achieved so many milestones that might be small to others but are huge to Chloe’s family, like starting to laugh.
Young Sibling of the Year shortlist
Winner: Thea Nisbet
Thea has just turned six and is already helping her parents look after her little brother Troy, who is two and was born with CHARGE syndrome. For Thea, her brother’s arrival during lockdown was a huge upheaval – unable to meet him for six months, she lived in a room in a Ronald McDonald House near the hospital. Troy has been through multiple life-saving operations, which was stressful for the whole family, and now needs 24-hour care. Thea never complains, but instead helps by alerting her parents when she thinks Troy needs suction or swiftly bringing swabs and by always being a great big sister.
Evie is 10 years old and an amazing sister to her disabled big brother, Matty – in fact, she is his favourite person in the whole world! Evie learned to use Makaton key word signing to communicate with Matty, who is deaf and supported at Sense Touchbase Pears. Now she has been teaching it to other children during special assemblies at her school and at a Beaver Scouts meeting. Kind and compassionate, Evie always stands up for the disabled people she meets and will make sure that they feel noticed in a world that tends to ignore them.
Georgia was a devoted sister to Oliver, 17, who was diagnosed with an untreatable brain tumour in July 2021 and very sadly died in August this year. Forced to mature quickly to support her big brother and deal with the painful understanding that he would not get better, Georgia focused on Oliver – he became her world. She helped fundraise for his immunotherapy treatment in Germany and travelled there with him, reassuringly holding his hand throughout treatment. She fundraised for Oliver’s bucket list and made photo frames of his experiences.
When Oliver wanted to go to the cinema without their mum ‘tagging along’, Georgia learned to use his rescue medicine and made it happen. As Oliver’s condition deteriorated, Georgia regularly slept in his room to give her mum a break and comfort him. She has been a consistent and wonderful source of emotional and practical support.
Family Carer of the Year shortlist
Winner: Julie Proud
Julie is a carer with a can-do attitude and huge desire to make positive changes for family carers. Her adult daughter, Natalie, is partially sighted and has cerebral palsy and learning disabilities. A mum-of-three, Julie has spent her life putting her children first and she and her husband work round the clock to make sure Natalie has a happy life. Despite the challenges, Julie always focuses on what her family can do rather than what they can’t. She also found time to support Sense’s Give Carers A Break campaign, even giving live radio and TV interviews to help raise awareness of what it’s really like to be a family carer.
Carla is mum to 10-year-old Cameron who lives with Norrie disease, a genetic condition, as well as two daughters, aged 14 and 7. Her little boy was born blind, has progressive hearing loss and has faced multiple surgeries. Carla has worked tirelessly to support him and fight for every opportunity to improve his quality of life. After completing intervenor training to better understand what life is like for deafblind people, she wanted a way to use these skills alongside caring for her son. So, Carla applied to work for Sense as an intervenor for adults. She now works in the community with a deafblind person.
Darren was already a full-time, paid carer for his mum, Barbara, who has numerous conditions including fibromyalgia and chronic kidney disease, when his dad Jack became ill with diabetes and cancer. So, 15 years ago, Darren voluntarily took on caring for his dad too, despite all the extra unpaid work involved and sacrificing his own freedom to go out and see friends. His parents, who nominated him for a Sense Award to say thank you, admit they do not know what they would do without Darren’s help.
Campaigner of the Year shortlist
Winner: Anna Tesdale
Anna cares for her three children, including her oldest, Charlie, who is 21. Charlie was diagnosed at 16 with a genetic condition called SPG11 and this had an impact on Anna’s energy bills and overall costs during the cost of living crisis. Anna had to balance her other children’s needs whilst prioritising Charlie’s comfort as he cannot regulate his own temperature.
These experiences led Anna to share her experiences with Sense and bravely tell her story to the media to raise awareness of the issue. Since then she’s become a regular campaigner, attending Westminster and Number 10 to share her experience and hand in Sense’s cost of living petition, writing to her MP and supporting our 2023 call for more support for carers as part of Sense’s Give Carers A Break campaign.
Lowri’s daughter, Mia, is non-mobile and non-verbal, requiring 24-hour care and specialist equipment. Having left her full-time job to become Mia’s carer, Lowri struggles with the intensity of care and feels like it never stops even when Mia is at school. Lowri shared her story for Give Carer’s A Break in a powerful video, blog, and in the media. Her experiences made a big impact on the campaign.
Transport for All
Transport for All is a disabled-led group striving to improve access to transport and street space across the UK.
Transport for All has played a leading role opposing proposals to close many of the UK’s ticket offices. At Sense, we know that access to public transport can be a barrier preventing people with complex disabilities playing a full part in their communities. Transport for All are doing incredible work to shine a light on the negative impacts of these proposals.
Volunteer of the Year shortlist
Winner: Owen Graham
Owen, 82, began volunteering in the Sense shop in Sheffield when it opened four years ago, and it has become his full-time passion. Described by his workmates as “the backbone of the shop”, he often works seven days a week when the store is short-staffed. In his free time, he takes children’s toys and watches home to test and fit with batteries he buys himself, so he is sure they are ready to use. A retired dispensing optician, who has hearing loss in one ear, he says Sense as a charity stands for all the things he believes in. The local community hugely appreciates the work Owen does and customers are always quick to ask when he will be back, if he has a rare day off.
Mark was experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a severe motorcycle accident when he first began volunteering in his local Sense Stapleford Shop four years ago. His confidence low, he preferred to stay hidden at the back of the store stickering books. But the staff made him feel welcome and he gradually felt able to take on more. Now he serves customers, works the till – and his proud colleagues say he “is pretty much running the shop”. He is a deeply valued team member.
Heidi first volunteered to go on a Sense Holiday in 2017 because she wanted to practise using British Sign Language (BSL), as she was about to start a PhD researching its structure. But as well as improving her signing, she found a love for the people Sense supports – and has volunteered every summer since. Truly committed, Heidi has also learned the deafblind manual alphabet to support more people who attend our holidays and this year she was interviewed for a film encouraging others to become skilled BSL volunteers too.
Fundraiser of the Year shortlist
Winner: Summa Clarke
Summa is a young woman who has faced many health problems and has multiple disabilities, including blindness and hearing loss. However, she hasn’t let these stop her being an active volunteer and fundraiser for Sense. She most recently shaved her head on a charity shop floor, to raise money for Sense and Dog Squad in advance of her life-changing brain surgery.
Zachariah has multi-sensory impairments, autism, and ADHD. To show his support for Sense, which enables him to take part in climbing and other activities that he loves, Zachariah and his family signed up for a five-kilometre run at Parallel Windsor.
Zachariah showed great enthusiasm and independence while raising hundreds of pounds for Sense.
Guni has been supporting Sense by raising money through challenge events since 2018. He has been a committed fundraiser despite some medical challenges. This year, he took on both RideLondon and Sense’s Snowdon by Moonlight challenge event which were just a week apart, raising over £3,700 for both events. He has raised around £18,000 in total for Sense since 2018 and continues to take on new challenges each year being a huge cheerleader for Sense. He has two gorgeous dogs, one of which took part in the 2018 Ridgewalk.
Celebrity of the Year shortlist
Winner: Lenny Rush
Lenny is a talented young actor who has who has a rare form of dwarfism called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (SEDC). He has had an amazing year, picking up a Bafta for Best Male Performance in a Comedy, two Royal Television Society Programme Awards and a breakthrough award at the National Comedy Awards. He was the youngest ever winner of many of these awards. It was amazing to see him proudly riding his mobility scooter with the disability symbol onto the stage to pick up his Bafta.
Lenny has used his appearances in the media to talk about being disabled and how important it is for disabled actors to have equal opportunities to go for roles as their non-disabled counterparts.
Sophie has been on TV for almost two decades now. She’s made documentaries, had her own prime time travel show, fronting live events and is a regular panellist on ITV’s Loose Women. She has presented at every Paralympic Games since 2012 and is now training the next generation of disabled on-screen talent.
She recently founded ‘Making Space Media’, a disabled and female-led, TV and film production company, which is now producing a feature-length documentary for Channel 4 about her airline and space travel accessibility campaign, Rights on Flights.
In addition, Sophie is patron of several disability charities, is a tireless award-winning disability campaigner, writes a regular column on accessible travel for Conde Nast.
Ellie has become synonymous with para-sport and is an incredible ambassador for it. She’s competed in four Paralympic Games and took home eight medals – five of which were gold! She started on the British Para-Swimming team when she was only 12 years old. Her turn on Strictly Come Dancing last year really got people talking. It was a real step for representation, and she was gracious in the face of hateful comments from internet trolls.
She’s also presented documentaries, showcasing her compassion and dedication to making a positive impact on the world.
Influencer of the Year shortlist
Winner: Jeffie Smith
Jeffie is a content creator and disability activist, who uses her social media channels, like Twitch and Instagram, to raise awareness of the challenges disabled people can face. Her content often tackles difficult topics like disability hate crime, discrimination and ableism, and aims to educate people. Jeffie, who uses a wheelchair, recently shared her experiences of coming out as queer and how dating another disabled person has opened her eyes to the ways homophobia and ableism intersect.
Beauty influencer Tess uses social media to share her love of clothing and make-up, and to stand up for people with disabilities who don’t often see themselves represented in the beauty world. Tess, 33, has Spinal Muscular Atrophy type 2, and does her make-up using a robotic arm, capturing the attention of hundreds of thousands of social media followers. Tess says that growing up she never saw anyone who looked like her in the fashion or beauty industry, and she wants to change this.
Fats Timbo is a creator, comedian, author and educator from Kent who has risen to prominence with her quick wit and advocacy, now reaching more than a quarter of a million Instagram followers and almost three million on TikTok. Fats, who has achondroplasia and is 26 years old, pulls no punches in her comedy, confidently and shamelessly finding fun in stories of her own life, and the world around her.
Journalism of the Year shortlist
Winner: Ruben Reuter
Previously a regular face on CBBC as a cast member of drama The Dumping Ground, Ruben is now a cornerstone of Channel 4 News. As a young man with Down’s Syndrome, Ruben has brought a new dimension to the show since joining in 2021, putting the challenges faced by disabled people centre stage and giving a voice to communities often unheard in mainstream news programmes. One of Ruben’s key interviews last year was with Oscar-winning actor and film-maker James Martin, who also has Down’s Syndrome – the pair talked candidly about disability funding cut fears. He has also tackled the impact of Covid on disabled people and co-presented Disability And Abortion: The Hardest Choice with actor and campaigner Ruth Madeley.
Nikki Fox and the BBC Access All team
Nikki, the BBC’s disability correspondent, and the whole BBC Access All team put disabled people at the heart of their reporting. The diverse topics covered range from the experiences of disabled people across the world, to the challenges of air travel, access to sport, mental health and ableism – and the show recently shone a much-needed spotlight on the chronic loneliness facing many people with complex disabilities. Nikki herself uses a wheelchair and has muscular dystrophy. One of just a few high-profile disabled journalists, her thoughtful and measured reporting is great to see on primetime television.
Nikki says she “lives and breathes” Chesil Radio, a local station serving the south and southwest of England, where she is the voluntary station controller and presenter/producer. She lives with fibromyalgia and osteoarthritis, and often produces stories about her own disability struggles alongside reporting on local issues. During the Covid lockdown, Nikki self-funded and qualified as a freelance journalist while she shielded. Now she uses that same determination to produce at least two stories a day for the radio station – if necessary, from her bed when her long term-conditions flare up.
Community Partner of the Year
Winner: Chasetown Civil Engineering
Chasetown Civil Engineering has been working closely with Sense to create a new, accessible sensory garden at Sense Touchbase Pears in Birmingham. The new garden will benefits hundreds of people who use the charity’s services in the Midlands and will be used for a whole host of activities include Sense College sports days, meditations and picnics, and as a space people can enjoy, have their lunchbreaks and relax. The difference Chasetown has made to disabled people in the Midlands will be with us for many years to come.
GetSet4Tennis are a tennis provider working with Sense to deliver accessible sensory tennis to disabled people across London and Hertfordshire. Their person-centred approach means people who are deafblind and who have complex disabilities can get involved in the sport, meet new people, get active and have fun. GetSet4Tennis were recently chosen to appear on Sky Sports, in a feature demonstrating their inclusive techniques, which they use when running multiple sensory tennis sessions. Staff at Sense they feel lucky to work with such an inclusive and passionate partner who have not only supported Sense individuals with sessions, but have now incorporated sensory tennis into their own community programme at their home venue to cater for individuals in the community with complex disabilities.
National Trust has partnered with Sense to help their visitors with disabilities to experience National Trust sites in an accessible, engaging way, and to teach the general public about deafblindness. The partnership ran a series of audio installations of plants and people from the gardens, over the summer in the gardens at Wightwick Manor and Croome, as well as easy-read maps of each of the gardens. At these two sites and others, 80 National Trust staff and volunteers received deafblind awareness training from Sense to help support visitors for years to come. The sites have continued this work with their own spin offs such as Sensory Touch Tours at Moseley Old Hall and Free Entry to the people Sense supports at Attingham Park.