Cardiff Community Councillor for Pentyrch Ward, Actress, DSA member and local Trustee, and lifelong campaigner Sara Pickard, was recently among 400 inspiring women nominated to attend the ‘Women of the Year Lunch and Awards’ in London. Sara is an engaging speaker and is the Play Our Way Project Officer for Mencap Cymru and Council member for Europe for Inclusion International – she just happens to also have Downs Syndrome (and of that, Sara says, ‘so what?’).
Sara described her day at the Women of the Year in a recent blog post for the DSA, which we are reproducing here with their permission:
I felt very honoured to be nominated to attend the ‘Women of the Year’ Lunch and Awards Ceremony at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London on October 14 to celebrate my hard work and that of 400 other women from across the country.
It was a fantastic experience and a day I will never forget. It began in an unexpectedly ‘glamorous’ way!! As I made my way along the platform a member of staff from the train commented on how nice she thought my dress was. Just after we found our seats, she appeared and invited us to travel up in the First Class section of the train!!! What a start to the day and thanks Great Western Railways!
As soon as we arrived at the hotel we spotted the red carpet and the paparazzi and almost immediately along came one of the judges, TV star Lorraine Kelly, who welcomed me. During the day I had the opportunity to meet lots of the other guests including Mel Giedroyc, Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson, Angela Rippon, former Prime Minister Theresa May, Maureen Lipman, Zoe Wannamaker and my favourite character from ‘Eastenders’, Tamzin Outhwaite, (who plays Mel Owen) who I got on with really well during the day and we enjoyed a glass of wine and collecting selfies!
After a wonderful lunch the Awards ceremony contained some very personal and moving stories from some truly inspirational women which reduced us all to tears! Perhaps the most emotive story was that of the Bletchley Park Ladies, who played such a big part in the war effort for our country and made a huge impact on the room when they took to the stage. I still don’t know who nominated me to be one of the 400 ‘Women of the Year’ but it was a day which made me very proud and one I will never, ever forget. So…… a huge thank you to whoever made this possible for me!
More about me…
I have been involved in campaigning work for people with a learning disability for the whole time since leaving college. I have worked for Mencap Cymru, the leading organisation supporting people with a learning disability in Wales, for 13 years. I have worked on a number of projects and am currently the Project Officer on the ‘Play Our Way’ project, funded by Children in Need.
I am also an elected member of Mencap’s ‘Our Voices Council’, a board made up of representatives from across the country who have a learning disability and who help advise Mencap on its priorities and decisions.
For a number of years I have also been the Council representative for Europe for the Inclusion International organisation, which is a world-wide network of self-advocates which works to improve the lives of those with learning disabilities and their families. Since being involved with Inclusion International we have developed a world-wide self-advocacy project called ‘Empower Us’. We are helping to collect and share good practice on everything from how to support a self-advocate, what organisations can do to be more inclusive and what good self-advocacy is. You can find out more about this work at https://www.selfadvocacyportal.com/ .
As we are a world-wide organisation much of our work involves online meetings using the internet but we do meet up at all sorts of events such as conferences and training events. These have taken me to Florida, Brussels (several times), Rome, Madrid, and Prague, amongst others, as well as training events in Germany and Austria earlier this year and a very exciting opportunity to be a co-trainer of self advocates from across East Africa in Nairobi last November.
I decided to stand to become a Community Councillor for my local area because I wanted to show that a person with a learning disability could represent people in their community – I could then show young people with disabilities that it WAS possible. I hoped to inspire people to get involved in politics and make a difference. I wanted to ensure that the needs of those with a disability in our community are heard, and met, by the Council. I also wanted to ensure that the voices of the younger generation were heard. I am in my third term as a Community Councillor having been re-elected to my seat which makes me very proud.
I have been lucky enough to have been able to ‘have my voice heard’ in other important places too including at the House of Commons, the European Parliament in Brussels where we were campaigning to stop violence against women with disabilities and more opportunities for those with learning disabilities to have the chance to vote and be involved in politics…and perhaps the most exciting of all – speaking at the United Nations Headquarters in New York for the DSA about health issues and finding out, afterwards, that it was being broadcast live around the world!!
Outside of work…
Outside my work I enjoy dancing, music, and especially drama, where I have been a member of Hijinx Theatre Company for the past 11 years. This has given me the opportunity to go on two professional national tours, as well as many performances at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff Bay, where we are based. I love spending time enjoying live music with my boyfriend Simon and we can perform some pretty good karaoke duets!!
I do feel passionate about promoting equality in all I do. At a recent ‘Inclusion Europe’ conference I attended a new phrase was ‘born’ which I think is very powerful. It was ‘If you dare to speak up, inclusion happens’. Together with my own motto ‘Down’s Syndrome….so what!’ I live my life believing that anything is possible.
Follow Sara Pickard on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cllrsarapickard