Welsh people who change lives

Jonathan Brooks-Jones reveals the winners at last night’s glittering Inspire Wales Awards in Cardiff City Hall

Inspirational individuals working tirelessly to make Wales a better place were rewarded last night at a glittering ceremony held at Cardiff’s City Hall. Among the winners were Barry Shiers MBE who risked everything to set up a company that delivers vocational training to students with disabilities. Another winner was Linda James who set up the first online mentoring forum for victims of bullying. It offers emotional support and rebuilding both victims’ and teachers’ confidence to deal with bullying.

The Inspire Wales Awards, an IWA initiative in partnership with the Western Mail, reward the unsung heroes making a difference in Welsh civic life. They celebrate the achievements of men and women throughout Wales in the fields of business, education, science, arts and media, the environment and sport, as well as seeking champions in corporate social responsibility, citizenship and young achievers. This was the third year of the awards and this year’s achievers demonstrated yet again a remarkable set of contributions that are being made to Welsh civic life. In this profile, we reveal the winners of all categories. To read about all the finalists from each category, click here.

Barry Shiers MBE

Educator – sponsored by Cardiff University

After starting from the humble beginnings of the garage of his home, Mr Shiers radically changed the lives of thousands of people with learning difficulties.

Frustrated at the lack of alternative provision for students with a disability to gain vocational training experience, Mr Shiers gave up a full-time job and took out a second mortgage to set up a community workshop in his garage, initially training three students a day in practical skills such as cabinet making, gardening and painting and decorating.

Just 25 years later, Mr Shiers is chief executive of Vision 21 (Cyfle Cymru) and the organisation trains 250 people every week, employs 70 staff and has a turnover of £1.8m.

Since 1991 the organisation has operated full-time and established 18 social enterprises in Cardiff, the Vale of Glamorgan, Newport, Caerphilly and Blaenau Gwent.

James Norville

Business Leader – sponsored by Leadership & Management Wales

As managing director of four companies with a combined workforce of up to 57, Mr Norvill faces different scenarios and diverse challenges on a daily basis.

But his bold business decisions have led to growth in profit and turnover across the board. Nowhere is this truer than his firm GD Environmental, which Mr Norvill chose to expand rather than downsize when faced with the economic downturn in the construction industry, which he has since described as his “biggest challenge” since the business formed in 2003.

But by moving to the inert waste disposal industry – a field in which they had no commercial experience – the firm took a risk which has paid off, being awarded a contract to develop the award-winning Ryder Cup 2010 driving range.

The business increased turnover, market share and profit last year by improving their recycling and generating new commercial account customers.

Professor Chris McGuigan

Science & Technology – sponsored by Western Power Distribution

A specialist drug designer and developer, Prof McGuigan has been at the heart of important scientific research for more than 30 years.

During that time Prof McGuigan – now a professor of medicinal chemistry and deputy pro vice chancellor at Cardiff University – has trained in excess of 100 research students and researchers.

Prof McGuigan has a strong desire to use his scientific ideas for social good, with a noted ambition to address medical needs where they are unmet.

Prof McGuigan has expanded his skillset during his time in Cardiff and now sits on the board of two companies, while he was recently part of a record-breaking $2.5bn takeover.

Gordon James

Environmentalist – sponsored by First Great Western

Tireless work to bring about environmental improvements, tackle climate change and benefit from the green economy for the past three decades has earned Mr James a nomination for this award.

As director of Friends of the Earth Cymru between 2008 and 2011 and a campaigner with Pembrokeshire Friends of the Earth since 1987, Mr James has been at the forefront of successful campaigns, lobbying, media work, awareness-raising and several major practical projects.

He produced a briefing paper on the science of climate change which was launched jointly with leading climate scientist Sir John Houghton and then-Environment Minister Jane Davidson and successfully lobbied the Welsh Government to adopt ambitious targets for generating electricity and heat from renewable sources.

Sain (Recordiau) Cyf

Welsh At Work – sponsored by The CADCentre (UK) Ltd

Since 1969, this record label has been at the forefront of Welsh-language music, and has featured the likes of Bryn Terfel and Catatonia on its roster.

More recently, animated series such as Noddy, Thomas the Tank Engine and Bob the Builder have been translated into Welsh for DVDs thanks to Sain. The company says this will mean even the youngest children can enjoy popular characters in their first language.

Dafydd Roberts, chief executive, said working through the medium of Welsh has been an essential part of the company’s ethos right from the very beginning.

Prifysgol Bangor / Bangor Bangor

Welsh At Work – sponsored by The CADCentre (UK) Ltd

With its reputation for having more students studying through the medium of Welsh than any other university, Bangor has had a bilingual policy since the end of the 1970s.

And even though 67% of staff note they speak Welsh, the university has continued to build on its bilingual credentials.

Over the past three years, the university has focused its efforts on developing staff confidence in using Welsh in the workplace through a number of projects. This has included developing a special “one stop shop” Welsh help website (www.bangor.ac.uk/cymorthcymraeg), which has already attracted more than 10,000 visitors.

The university has also recently appointed a Welsh tutor specifically for staff and a deputy vice-chancellor with responsibility for Welsh language.

Dilys Price

Arts, Media & Creative Industries – sponsored by Orchard Media & Events Group

A keen skydiver, Ms Price aimed to share the joy and fun of her own life with children and adults who have profound disabilities, leading her to set up charity Touch Trust based at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay.

As founder and director Ms Price is involved at every level of Touch Trust, taking sessions, training others, fundraising and organising vital publicity.

The programme has also been licensed and now has outreach ventures throughout Wales and links with Hong Kong, Jordan, New York and Panama.

Linda James

Citizens’ Voice – sponsored by The Waterloo Foundation

After suffering cruel childhood bullying throughout her secondary school years which meant she left school without formal qualifications, Ms James was devastated when she learned her youngest son was being bullied.

But when he told her he wanted to use an online mentoring forum to help him deal with the issue and regain his shattered confidence there wasn’t one – so Ms James set up charity BulliesOut.

Since 2006 the charity has mentored 368 young people online, trained almost 400 people to become peer mentors and delivers workshops to more than 2,000 children and young people annually.

GE Aviation Wales

Corporate Social Responsibility – sponsored by The Church In Wales

Launching an initiative to help support the Learning 4 Life scheme run by charity Llamau has led to GE Aviation Wales being nominated.

The GE Llamau project has four elements: work experience, fundraising, workshops and projects.

More than 50 volunteers across the workforce are using their skills and expertise to help learners from Llamau, which supports vulnerable homeless young people and vulnerable women in Wales.

Gareth Winmill

Sport – sponsored by Sport Wales

The lives of more than 2,000 youngsters and their communities in Blaenau Gwent have benefited from a street games initiative which has been extended and enhanced by Mr Winmill.

The sports charity project supports 29 volunteers in providing activities to children in disadvantaged communities and currently has 12 street games venues.

Mr Winmill, young people sports development officer at Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council, facilitates the scheme and also mentors the volunteers involved in delivering the activities.

Jessica Leigh Jones

Young Achiever – sponsored by Wales & West Utilities

When Jessica was named UK Young Engineer of the Year in March this year, the talented teenager became the very first female recipient of the prestigious award.

She was also presented on the same day with an award by the Duke of York for creative use of technology and had already been named Wales Young Engineer of the Year 2011.

All three awards to Jessica and co-winner Wasim Miah were for the Contraction Optical Monitoring System project – a portable device which measures the intensity of contractions during labour and displays them using an integrated optical system.

Jonathan Brooks-Jones is sub-editor for ClickonWales.org

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