Yorkshire Champions inspiring the young
Gill Arnold JP DL has been a magistrate for 20 years and during that time has seen countless young people come before her whose lives, she says, could have been so different had they been given more support and a clearer direction in life.
It was her experience of dealing with youths and young adults in the justice system that inspired her to establish the Yorkshire Champions Group in 2016 – her main aim was to recruit role models to inspire young people to show them that anything is possible, whatever your circumstances.
Seven years on and she now has a small army of committed volunteer ‘champions’, from a diverse range of backgrounds, including people in the police, fire service, university professors, judges, fitness instructors, models, sports professionals, creative arts individuals, technology specialists, nurses, entrepreneurs and
All of these people volunteer their time for free to give inspirational talks to youngsters in schools, colleges and universities across Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Champions website only went live in January 2022, however the Champions have already given inspirational talks to almost 30,000 children and young people. She’s also had some moving testimonials from those who have listened to the talks.
Above: Yorkshire Champions founder Gill Arnold
Gill said: “Many children feel that success, well being and a secure future is for other people, underestimating their own value and abilities. Often some youngsters think they are fighting against the world. Exposure to our diverse range of Champions will engage and inspire our students. Our aim is to encourage ambition and drive to succeed. We want all children to recognise that successfulness and having ambition is not the preserve of a few.
“There are many reasons why young people do not always achieve their goals or dreams in life, or become what they would like to be. This is not just determined by their background, immediate family, or financial and emotional support. It can be as simple as feeling 'ordinary ' or believing they have no special or distinctive qualities. If these qualities and talents have never been tapped into, then this immediately closes off many avenues of opportunity for that young person.’
“Children need mentors, they need to understand what is available to them or how to create a path to reach their ambition. We have to instil confidence in their capabilities. Each and every child has, without doubt, special qualities and talents. And it is our duty as a community, to encourage and help each young person to discover and utilise those talents to the best of their ability. That is how as a society, we develop and improve.”
Gill Arnold, who is Chair of The West Yorkshire Bench and is also a Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, added: “Both I and the Champions are passionate about improving the life chances of the young people of Yorkshire and the group is going from strength to strength. I am very excited for the future.”
University of Bradford Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Professor Zahir Irani, who isa Yorkshire Champion, said: “The Yorkshire Champions group signals the passion that many of our regional leaders have in raising the aspirations and ambitions of our early-stage learnings across our district. I am proud to be a supporter and member of the Yorkshire Champions and will continue to work on reducing inequalities through the University of Bradford and other high impact voluntary organisations. I really hope other regions across the country see how we are opening up the world of opportunity to our young talent.”
Case study: Simone Reid
At school, Simone Reid’s assignments would often be scrawled with the words, ‘Simone, this work is a FIASCO! Come and see me.’
Exam papers would bear a simple ‘X,’ denoting the youngster hadn’t ‘bothered’ to turn up to take them.
But, despite a difficult childhood and struggling in school, Simone went onto become a managing director - and now she volunteers as a Yorkshire Champion to help inspire the next generation.
For the last 13 months, Simone has volunteered as a Yorkshire Champion, an organisation of mentors which support, inspire, and motivates young learners to think beyond what they often think is possible through hearing the lived experiences of ambassadors of Yorkshire Champions, like Simone, who have their own story to tell; often a story that sits outside of privilege. The ambassadors demonstrate what is possible to the school children through school visits and talks.
Above: 'Yorkshire Champion' Simone Reid delivering a lecture at a school.
Simone Reid said: “In almost every school I’ve shared my story with, there has been a student or a teacher who has come up to me and said, ‘I needed that message today. Thank you for sharing your story.”
The experience of a broken home, and early childhood traumas, marked a painful start to Simone’s life and education.
She said: “My teachers were trying to teach me my 123s and my ABCs, but it wasn’t reaching me because my ears were blocked, filled with the traumas I had and the issues I was going through at home.
“My formative years were built on traumas and tragedies. While other students would carry apples for their teachers, I would carry the weight of shame and poverty and lots of issues that didn’t allow me to interact and perform well.
“By the time I got to my GCSEs, I wasn’t bursting with great qualifications.”
The turning point came in the spring of 1999, when Simone went with her family on a trip to the London Planetarium, at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich. It was there that she gained a new perspective and a desire to achieve.
She said: “Most people on that visit might have been blown away by the technology and just the experience, but I was literally shifting in a space, in a dimension that I can barely describe.
“I had this moment where, all of a sudden, I realised life is incredible. I’m here, part of this. Something so huge and I’m so small. In the Planetarium, looking at the globe from space, all these personal issues that had felt so huge, suddenly felt small.
“I walked out sucking in the beauty and the wonder of life.”
The following Monday, Simone hurried into Yorkshire Martyrs Catholic College and went straight to her English teacher, Mr Sneddon, telling him: “I need to pass my GCSEs.”
She said: “He said the best thing anyone could have ever said to me. That I haven’t been putting the work in, but if I really wanted to change, then I could. He said, ‘Simone, it’s possible.’
“That was all I needed, someone to believe in me while I was just learning to believe in myself.”
From then on, Simone devoted herself to her studies, shunning her favourite TV shows and the outside world to knuckle down.
She said: “I committed myself to my work like I had never committed before. I worked week in, week out, day in, day out.”
Gradually, the D grades and the Xs on her assignments and exams turned to A grades. She gained a place at the University of Bradford to study International Relations and Security Studies, and afterwards, went on to achieve a Master’s in Human and Organisation Capacity Building for Development.
Now, Simone is the managing director of the Dandelion Organisation Ltd., founded and set up by Simone in 2018,a private limited company in personal leadership development.
She said: “The University of Bradford has been such an incredible part of my development, my story. It was so transformative for me.”
Yorkshire Champions is synergetic with the University of Bradford’sapproach to outreach, that supports school children in thinking about the relevance of going to university and the support that can be offered to reach the students full potential.
Yorkshire Champions is run by the Education Partnerships team,supported by theBradford Council.
Simone always tells pupils about her childhood and her visit to the Planetarium.
She said: “I take them into the belly of a difficult childhood and I say, it’s not to depress you or to impress you, but to impress upon you that no matter where you are on your journey, whether you’re on the top and you’re already performing quite well, or at the bottom of performance for various reasons, we’ve always got more ways to go to improve ourselves further towards our greatest self.
“Yorkshire Champions is a beautiful platform to share an important message.
“Everyone’s story has a value and it’s going to connect to at least one individual.
“Sometimes I have had hundreds of students roar, ‘There is greatness in me.’ They say it with so much power in their chests.
“The way we speak to ourselves matters and makes a difference.”
Contact Yorkshire Champions Group
The Yorkshire Champions Group is made up of people from across the region. They are available at 'no cost' to go into all the schools across Yorkshire, with the aim to solely inspire, encourage and motivate young people.
Phone: 07929 668 984