It’s not every day that you receive a personal letter from the British Prime Minister but that’s exactly what happened to Gower College Swansea student Sophie Billinghurst recently.
Sophie, who is studying a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Health and Social Care at the Tycoch campus, was astonished to find out that she’d been chosen as a UK Point of Light in recognition for her work in raising awareness of the importance of sign language.
Points of Light are outstanding individual volunteers who are making a change in their community.
“When I found out I’d been chosen for the award I was pretty gobsmacked,” says Sophie. “It didn’t feel real until I actually received the letter from Boris Johnson, and my certificate.”
Sophie first started learning sign language in 2015 after being inspired by her younger sister, who has hearing loss, and joining a local charity - Talking Hands in Hafod – with her family.
In 2018, Sophie completed an official qualification in Level 1 British sign language and is keen to continue onto the next level once the current Covid restrictions are lifted. That same year, Sophie was elected as a Welsh Youth Parliament member, where she continued to advocate on behalf of people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Sophie feels very strongly that everyone should have a basic knowledge of sign language and that it should be on the school curriculum. As part of her work with Talking Hands, she has joined a group called Deffo which aims to expand the teaching of sign language into schools.
“It would make such a difference to a sign user’s day and would make life so much easier for them,” she says. “Not everyone is going to go to France or Spain but we still learn those languages in school – yet everyone will meet at least one person in their lifetime who relies on sign language.”
In his letter, the Prime Minister said:
“I was inspired to hear of your own personal story learning sign language and using it in the Welsh Youth Parliament. Your advocacy work with Talking Hands is a fantastic way to break down barriers to inclusion. You are showing young people with hearing loss, like your sister, that they are part of the nation’s conversation.”
After College, Sophie would like to progress on to a career as a paediatric nurse or a midwife where she would be able to utilise her signing skills, helping people to get the right information at the right time.
UK Points of Light
Points of Light are outstanding individual volunteers and people who are making a change in their community. Every week day the Prime Minister recognises an inspirational volunteer with the Daily Point of Light award.
First established by President George H. W. Bush in 1990, over 6,000 US Points of Light have been recognised in the USA. UK Points of Light was developed in partnership with the US programme and launched in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street in April 2014.
Since then hundreds of people have been named Points of Light by the Prime Minister, highlighting an enormous array of innovative and inspirational volunteering across the length and breadth of Britain.
Doing everything from tackling knife crime, to supporting families of dementia patients, our UK Points of Light are fundraising, awareness raising, problem solving heroes who all had an idea they decided to make a reality. Their actions have changed lives and their stories can inspire thousands more to get involved or start their own initiatives.