Well, where do I begin? I’m sat here writing this a few days after the National Diversity Awards took place at the stunning Liverpool Anglican Cathedral, relishing in every monumental memory, trying to comprehend the reality of the magical ceremony.
With my navy maxi dress now slotted back under its plastic cover and my gold heels standing proud on my shoe rack, it’s hard to believe that it’s all over. But there are plenty of memories to hold on to and of course I have to take the opportunity to document them on here.
Back on the 1st of July, I was working through my usual daily routines when a Twitter notification turned my day around in the best and most surreal way.
There it was, a tweet stating that I had been shortlisted for the Positive Role Model for Disability category at the National Diversity Awards 2019! I hadn’t sneaked a look at my emails that day yet so I was convinced that this was a dream but after a small pinch and VoiceOver repeating the words back to me five or six times, I managed to convince myself that this was in fact a very awoken reality.
With an email to confirm it, I burst into a pool of happy tears, still surprised that the judges had chosen me to be named alongside 7 other truly amazing people.
How did I get there? I have no idea but it still feels so unbelievable to think that writing about my experiences of living with sight loss has lead to something so prestigious.
With details of the ceremony being a very welcome addition to my inbox, the next couple of months were spent marvelling at the thought of the black tie event which was set to be the grandest celebration of diversity in the UK.
ITV News were one of many sponsors of this year’s NDA’s and shortlisted nominees were given the opportunity to share their experiences on regional news channels.
I was lucky in the sense that I got to film with ITV Wales News in the weeks running up to the awards and it’s one of my favourite interviews to date. Despite the seriousness of talking about some of the realities of sight loss, a lot of laughs were had and it felt more like a chat rather than a TV interview.
After a few months of anticipation, the 20th of September finally arrived and with the heels and bag I wore to the ceremony only arriving half an hour before we needed to leave the house, it’s safe to say that it was a very close call.
A couple of trains later and my mum and I made it to Liverpool, the vibrancy of the city almost tangible as soon as we stepped on to the platform.
With a couple of hours to spare at The Jury’s Inn (our hotel for the night) we used the time wisely to get glammed up for the evening ahead. After snapping a few outfit shots, we waited patiently in the gusty northern winds with fellow attendees, one of which was wearing the same dress as I was – we both must have great taste!
We shared a taxi with my dress twin and as we approached the Cathedral we were met by the sound of a drumming band playing outside. As we stepped out of the taxi, we were immersed in a sea of people – all dressed to the nines – with an array of different coloured dresses and dapper suits marking the occasion.
With the gusts still strong, we were suitably windswept for a quick snap the photographer took of us before we headed inside.
All smiles, we walked into the breathtaking venue, making our way up to the main seating area which was bathed in a beautiful blue light. There were over 50 tables extending towards the east window with the stage appropriately set up against the stunning backdrop.
I couldn’t see these aesthetics but my mum did well in describing our surroundings, ensuring that I could paint my own picture of what was around us.
The voices of attendees filled the space as more and more people filed in. A few camera clicks could be heard around us, a flurry of flashes also indicating the fact that everyone were capturing this moment with a clink of champagne glasses punctuating the beginning of the celebrations.
We met Jenni, who was a fellow (and very worthy) shortlisted nominee in the disability category, and her mum before everyone took their seats at their tables. Jenni is an incredible advocate for invisible disabilities and she works hard to raise awareness of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome and a cerebrospinal fluid leak. I love her fabulous blog and YouTube channel so it was lovely to meet her and her mum and relish in what we were about to experience.
As we ventured to find our seats for the evening, my mum gleefully announced that we were sat on one of the front row tables, directly in front of the stage. I have no idea how we managed that but it felt so incredible to be so tangibly close to the stage and all the hard working people that would later be crowned on it.
A bag of Lush goodies were waiting for us on our seats – Lush were one of the sponsors of the awards this year – as were Able magazine who gifted everyone with their latest issue. An article of mine was included in this specific issue so I was secretly proud when met with the knowledge that this was something attendees would be taking away with them.
But the cherry on top of the cake was a certificate of appreciation which was sitting proudly on the table. The writing stating my place in the Positive Role Model for disability shortlist, goosebumps raising as my mum read the words out to me.
The evening was no longer a whisper of a dream and we spent the ensuing hours getting to know the people on our table and cheering on the winners and nominees of this year’s National Diversity Awards.
Speaking of those who were on our table, we had the company of people such as Gavin Neate (the entrepreneur behind the app, Neatbox), Cheryl Robson who was shortlisted for the Lifetime Achiever award, Alan Quick who was up for the Positive Role Model for LGBT award and Errol Murray – the founder of Leeds Dads who was shortlisted in the Community organisation for Gender category
I have to admit that I hadn’t been feeling the best in the run up to the ceremony but the awards were the perfect antidote. Providing everyone with uplifting speeches and tears being teased whilst inspiring videos echoed through the room as winners made their way to the stage. The energy was infectious with the promise of even more heartfelt speeches on the horizon as the ceremony continued.
Actress and comedian Sally Phillips was the host for the evening and what a great one she was! She greeted the audience at the beginning of the evening with a flurry of inspiring, uplifting and funny words before introducing Paul Sesay, the CEO and founder of the awards.
He highlighted the importance of the ceremony, talking us through his aspiration to create the NDA’s before going on to talk about how many people the awards have recognised since its inception eight years ago. A record breaking 28,543 nominations and votes were received this year alone with 126 shortlisted nominees attending the ceremony on Friday night. How incredible!
But whether you were taking an award home or not, Paul stated that to him, everyone was a winner. I second that.
The awards clearly hold a monumental place in the name of diversity and I felt incredibly proud to be amongst the celebrations.
A speech was also delivered by Liverpool’s first black mayor, Anna Rothery, who highlighted that Liverpool has always been a city that celebrates diversity. The capturing and inspiring words of every speech were perfect to kick off the night.
We were then treated to a three course meal (gluten free for me) and an opportunity to mingle with other attendees before the ceremony itself started.
The evening was live streamed by ITV on their YouTube channel from 9pm onwards, you can watch it back here if you fancy.
It felt like a movie. Only there weren’t any main characters, everyone had an equal part.
I won’t talk you through all the winners as we’d be here all evening (and you know how I can ramble) but if you’re intrigued to know who took home each award, the full list of winners can be found on the National Diversity Awards’ website – here.
The Positive Role Model for Disability award was the second to be announced with Able magazine editor, Tom Jamison, and former footballer and Sky Sports pundit, Chris Kamara, being the two men to present it. Kamara even treated us to a short performance of The Beatles’ ‘Let it Be’, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that he has quite a lovely singing voice – who knew?
My heart raced as the names of the shortlisted nominees echoed through the cathedral. I had no expectation of winning since every nominee was incredible. The fact that I had no speech prepared is testament to the unlikely outcome (I’m not sure what I would have done if my name was called out!)
When the winner was announced, some of the men on our table said ‘And Elin’ and their cheers were enough to make me giggle. That’s just a nod to the extent of the support that filled the cathedral that evening, it was so incredibly heartwarming.
The winner of the award was the amazing Strongbones youth ambassador, Myles Sketchley, who works hard to campaign for young people with disabilities. A very worthy winner and someone I was honoured to be shortlisted alongside.
Applause and cheers filled the cathedral as 15 people and organisations were crowned the best of British diversity with fabulous speeches being delivered by the presenters of the awards and their recipients.
One that stood out to me was Annie Wallace’s, who presented the award for Community Organisation (Multi strand). She expressed her dilemma when choosing what colour to wear to the ceremony, thinking that opting for black would be too funeral-like. But then she went on to say:
“Maybe it is a funeral, maybe it’s a funeral for intolerance, and hatred, and lack of diversity, and racism, because every single person here is killing it stone dead.”
The attendees bursting into rapturous applause, displaying their agreement. The cathedral being struck by an even stronger sense of unity.
These claps and cheers were the footnotes of a celebration of equality. Every inch a symbol of diversity, encouragement and acceptance. Something we need more of in the world.
The evening was laced with those uplifting cheers whilst trepidation melted away, leaving space for support and unity. No trace of detachment, misconceptions or judgement.
There was also plenty of entertainment throughout the evening with Jelli Studios capturing us all with their singing and dancing. A performance of Les Miserables ‘On My Own’ was a personal favourite of mine although I can imagine that I would have loved their Toy Story production if I could see it.
The X Factor’s LMA choir wrapped up the evening with incredible performances of songs such as From Now On and the Circle of Life with everyone listening intently before filing on to the dance floor and singing along to the powerful rendition of The Greatest Showman’s ‘This is Me’ – a very fitting song to mark a night of diversity, equality, acceptance and unity. Everyone soaking up the words that remind us we should embrace the people that we are and be proud of every step we take. The moment being an emphasised symbol of unity.
As shortlisted nominees, we were asked to mosey on to the stage for one final photo before the evening drew to a close.
After a few goodbye’s, my mum and I made our way back to the hotel, sleepy and satiated.
We ventured out into the bustling city centre on Saturday but chronic fatigue caught up with me, meaning that we had to cut our visit short. So after a quick sandwich at the M&S cafe (being the glamorous people that we are), we headed back to the hotel to collect our cases before hopping on the first train home.
And so the National Diversity Awards 2019 were over but the memories we captured during the evening will stay with us forever.
The people recognised throughout the evening don’t ask to be in the spotlight, they don’t plead to be acknowledged. They simply work hard to make the world a more diverse place and they do so in such incredible fashion. Many underestimate the power of their own work and the positive influence they can have on others and this is why they deserve to be recognised and celebrated because without them, change wouldn’t be so tangible.
So let’s raise a glass to every single person who is working hard to make a difference, whether they were a part of the NDA’s or not. Be proud of yourself and everything you do because YOU can make a difference even if you don’t always see it.
To have so many incredible individuals under one roof was something really powerful and my mum and I felt incredibly lucky to share the evening with so many people who are striving to make a positive difference in today’s society.
We were propelled into an incredibly positive and inspiring atmosphere, something which was enough to make anyone feel like a winner.
It baffles me that writing my blog has lead to something so incredible. I started blogging with the sole intention of reaching just one person, completely oblivious to where it could lead. I’m still left blown away when someone reaches out to me stating that my writing has helped in some way so for my work to be recognised on such a prestigious level is an absolute honour, I can’t quite put it all into words.
So I want to say thank you to everyone who supports me. Whether you read every post or if you’ve only read one, thank you. If you’ve ever reached out to me, liked, shared or commented, thank you. Your unwavering support will never go unnoticed and it’s no secret that I wouldn’t be where I am today without it, thank you so much.
If I can continue to use my writing to make a positive change then I’ll take the opportunity to do so with both hands. As someone who used to be so shy, especially when it came to talking about my disability, I’m astounded when thinking about the position I’m in today. But I’d like to think that this is testament to my development in both confidence and acceptance. So in a way, I have to thank my vision impairment too for equipping me with experiences and knowledge that I wouldn’t otherwise have and for allowing me to share those things in the hope of raising awareness and helping others who are in a similar situation.
Just one last note about the NDA’s; I want to thank the National Diversity Awards for working tirelessly to put on such a powerful display of diversity and for allowing my mum and I to be a part of it all this year. The energy in the room was intrinsically positive, with nominees cheering each other on in a true display of equality. It’s safe to say that I’ve never experienced anything like it. Everything about the evening was so magical.
Who needs the Oscars when you have the National Diversity Awards?!
Congratulations to everyone involved, every nominee, Paul Sesay the founder, everyone behind the scenes and of course to everyone else who are working hard to raise awareness and make the world a more diverse place.
You should all give yourselves a pat on the back – it’s so well deserved.
There’s no doubt that the National Diversity Awards have become a cornerstone of British diversity and I have no doubt that they will continue to strive to recognise those who are making a real difference. It was such an honour to attend the awards this year and even more mind-blowing to be shortlisted in one of the categories – something I’ll be forever grateful for. If you ever get the opportunity to attend the awards, I can assure you that it will be one of the most inspiring and magical things you’ll ever experience.
So let’s raise (another) final glass to the NDA’s and all those who strive to make diversity and equality a reality for everyone.
Source – Written by Elin Williams – Featured by https://myblurredworld.com/2019/09/29/celebrating-equality-at-the-national-diversity-awards-2019/