Bristol-based volunteer who supports others to smile again wins Prime Minister’s award

August 19, 2014

Reproduced with the permission of the Cabinet Office:

Bethan with her Points of Light award from David Cameron

Bethan with her Points of Light award from David Cameron

An inspirational volunteer from Bristol who has fought life threatening injuries to help launch the Facial Palsy UK charity, is the winner of a new volunteering award, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced today.

Six and a half years ago at the age of just 22, Bethan Robertson-Smith suffered a serious car accident which led to her permanently damaging both facial nerves and fracturing bones in her skull. This left her unable to do every day things such as close her eyes, smile or even say her own name.

Determined to leave a lasting legacy on the condition of facial palsy, Bethan helped to launch Facial Palsy UK in 2012. The charity provides support to over 100,000 people living with the condition. Bethan’s remarkable efforts have made her the latest recipient of a Point of Light award, which recognises outstanding volunteers who are making a change in their community. Each day, someone, somewhere in the country is selected to receive the award to celebrate their remarkable achievements.

Bethan knew only too well how isolating it can be living with facial palsy, so last year she helped to set up the Bristol Facial Palsy Support Group. She networks with other people living in Bristol offering friendship and support both informally and at the support group meetings. The group offers informal support; an opportunity to share experiences; and exchange of information. This means that in the South West people living with facial palsy regardless of the cause can access a support network which was previously absent.

Despite Bethan taking 3 months to learn to walk again after her accident, which has left her with permanent visual impairment and balance issues, she was determined to raise funds and awareness for Facial Palsy UK. One of Bethan’s greatest achievements came this summer when she organised a team of 10 friends and herself to run 105k between them, so far raising £3,500 for Facial Palsy UK.

Prime Minister David Cameron said:
“Bethan has overcome so much at such a young age. To rebuild her life in such a positive way after such a serious accident is remarkable. Her work to launch Facial Palsy UK, raising the profile of the condition and supporting other people living with facial paralysis is having a lasting impact. She is a true inspiration and I am delighted to recognise her as a Point of Light.”

Bethan is the eighty-eighth UK Point of Light. The new daily award has been developed in partnership with the hugely successful Points of Light programme in the USA, originally established by President George H. W. Bush. Over 5000 US Points of Light have been awarded and both President George H. W. Bush and President Barack Obama have publicly supported the partnership with Points of Light UK. Regardless of whether it’s a doctor restoring local monuments in her free time, a father teaching young people life skills, or a local musician giving a voice to lonely people, the Point of Light award honours shining examples of volunteering across the UK.

Bethan supports others not only in Bristol but across England and Wales. Her speech at the charity launch which was a courageous and personal account of life with a face that cannot move was filmed and made available on You Tube. This has enabled people from around the world to hear her story for which she has received thanks and admiration.

Bethan said:
“It feels strange being recognised for the work I have achieved with Facial Palsy UK, although I am glad that I am able to help others now that I feel happier in my own skin. I am now determined to ‘spread the word’ about Facial Palsy through sharing my own experiences to help others.”

Stephen Williams, MP for Bristol West, said:
“I would like to offer my heartfelt congratulations to Bethan, who has demonstrated extraordinary bravery, determination and dedication in the face of extreme adversity. She should be hugely proud of the achievements that she has made, not only helping to raise awareness of facial palsy but also raising huge amounts of money in the process.
Her Points of Light award is thoroughly deserved and I am delighted that her remarkable efforts have been recognised by the Prime Minister.”

Notes to Editors
1. The Points of Light awards recognise outstanding individual volunteers, people who are making a change in their community and inspiring others.
2. The Prime Minister makes daily announcements of the winners to celebrate, encourage and promote volunteering and the value that it brings to the country.
3. Groups and organisations that are demonstrating the Big Society in their work or activities will continue to be recognised by the Prime Minister through the Big Society awards.
4. If people want to nominate a Point of Light they can do so by writing to the Prime Minister
5. You can read more about Bethan’s story here.

Ross Palmer
Media Officer, Prime Minister’s Office and Cabinet Office Communications

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