Leeds children given Diana award for inspiring communities

PICS: James Hardisty
PICS: James Hardisty
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Teach them well – and let them lead the way.

That’s how the song goes, and these youngsters are a living example of the universal truth of those lyrics.

Two inspiring schoolchildren from Leeds were among more than 60 from across the North of England who were publicly honoured in the city yesterday (Sept 28) with the prestigious Diana Award.

Named after the late Princess of Wales, it is one of the highest accolades a young person can achieve for social action or humanitarian efforts, and is supported by Princes William and Harry.

The award winners, who were presented with their gongs at a star-studded ceremony at Leeds College of Music yesterday, were honoured for campaigning, volunteering, fundraising, or overcoming extreme life challenges.

Leeds’s two homegrown winners were Daniel Iancu and Leigh-Taylor Arundale.

Daniel moved to Leeds from Romania just a few years ago, speaking not a single word of English.

Subjected to bullying and racism directed towards the Roma, Gypsy and Traveller community, he rose above the negativity to make friends, change attitudes, and is now a mentor to other youngsters with limited English, helping them to thrive and adjust to life in a British school.

He is also on the school council at Leeds City Academy, leading discussion on issues affecting the school and, as he explains, “trying to make the school better and help people”.

“When I came here people were being racist to me because of my background, because of being Gypsy,” Daniel said.

“But I started to get to know people more, to do activities with different people. I started to make friends. I think I am alright now.”

He added: “I used to be annoyed, because I couldn’t speak the language as well. People were being mean to me without even knowing me. But you should never judge a book by its cover.”

Daniel also volunteers at a local youth club, delivering language lessons, cooking traditional food, playing Romanian games and showcasing Roma culture.

When asked what a society should be, Daniel said: “A place where people are free to be who they are.”

Also honoured yesterday was Leigh Taylor Arundale, 10, a pupil at Fulneck School in Pudsey,

Inspired by her grandma, whose favourite flower was the poppy, Leigh-Taylor has been raising funds for the Royal British Legion since the age of just five.

She has produced her own poppies, baked cakes and rallied the whole school community to get involved.

Most recently she has started producing poppy keyrings that show the name, rank and service of those people wish to remember. These are now available to buy across the UK.

“My nan’s favourite flower was the poppy because it reminded her about the servicemen and women who have fought for our country,” she said.

“Fundraising is my hobby and I do it for lots of different charities like Epilepsy Action.

“If any other children want to do something in their community, I would say they should do some fundraising. Start with something little and then it will get bigger and bigger.”

Among the guests at yesterday’s ceremony was Musharaf ‘Mushy’ Asghar, who found fame in the hit TV show Educating Yorkshire – which focused on his school former school in Dewsbury. Mushy won the hearts of the nation with his attempts to overcome a severe stutter.

He is now studying journalism at university and also works as a motivational speaker. ’m really and honoured to be here at the Diana Awards,” he told the YEP.

“It’s amazing seeing these kids, at such a young age, being able to change lives and make an impact on the environment around them.

“Myself when I look back, when I started at 16, I just needed someone to believe in me.

“And some of these kids have started since the age of five. It’s amazing to see kids out there wanting to make a change, and trying their absolute best to make this world a lot more positive.

“I’m proud of every single kid here who has made a change.”

All 66 of the award winners were nominated by adults who know the young people in a professional capacity and recognised their efforts as a positive contribution to society.

Tesse Ojo, chief executive of the Diana Awards, which are in their 19th year, said: “Young people are sometimes not talked about in a great way, and the Diana Award is about shining a spotlight on the collective brilliance of young people.

“We are so privileged to see the change that young people can make, with the right support.

“We know at the Diana Award that young people have the power to change the world.

“I am so proud of the young people we are celebrating.

“And I am proud that some of them have looked beyond barriers, beyond their own personal difficulties, and have touched the lives of others. That is what young people can do with the right support.

“For me the stories are absolutely amazing.”