Photo of Jessica Widdowson

Jessica Widdowson

Jessica Widdowson has been nominated by Sam Tasker-Grindley. Sam says “Jessica is 24 years old and has been changing lives since the age of 16. She currently works for Barnsley College running their Talent United initiative, supporting young people, developing their skills and engaging with local businesses. Her whole reason for living is to help and support other people, promote inclusion and diversity. She isn’t a future star, she’s a star already!”

Jessica says “Since the age of 16, I have dedicated the most part of my life to supporting others. I have also been an eager performer, focusing specifically on singing and drama.  When I turned 16, I realised that whilst I had been fortunate enough to go to drama school, many young people within my school didn’t have access to such opportunities.”

Who have you helped?

“I opened Class ACT (acting, confidence and teamwork), which focused on drama and the key skills involved in drama that are required for any job/ social situation. Since then, I have worked with people of all ages in a range of situations, from underprivileged children, to homeless adults, addicts, children and adults with additional and complex needs and most recently, college students.

For me, the dream is to support ad many people as I can through performing arts and drama and through talks delivered by myself.

Most recently, we have a selection of new students at my drama groups in Doncaster and Chesterfield. I pride myself on the fact that my classes are accessible to all and everyone is treat as an equal. We have students aged 3-19, from a range of ethnic and social backgrounds an also students with severe allergies, autism, ADHD and Down Syndrome.

At Barnsley College, I used my creative nature to create bespoke opportunities for our students. I get to provide sessions day in, day out, which truly make an impact on people’s lives. The sessions allow them to start their own business, find their ideal career or, at the very least, feel truly supported to go on achieve their dreams.”

What’s worked?

“Being able to adapt! Having worked with such a diverse range of individuals and groups, there is no one that I am not happy and comfortable to stand in front of. I think it would also about making opportunities readily available to people and becoming a face of diversity and equality.

I often support a range of charity events through singing and taking my students along, to perform themselves. At my schools, I have found ways to allow students to perform on local and regional stages and even London’s West End.

We have regular workshop weeks (which have included make-up effects, recording studio sessions and filming workshops) at no extra cost to their parents. The thing that works best is being adaptable, thinking outside of the box and considering the needs of others.”

What have you learnt? Any challenges?

“I have faced many challenges, the main one being criticised for being young. So many times, people have suggested that I’m not skilled enough or experienced enough to know what I’m doing, but I have continually striven to prove people wrong.

Another challenge is ensuring we can remain accessible by providing spaces with disabled access and ensuring that staff are prepared and trained.”

What’s next?

“My long term goal is to speak to more people and encourage self-belief. I would also like to look into new ways of engaging with people throughout the community. I would like to create an adult theatre group which also caters for adults with special or additional needs, allowing fully inclusive productions, with sessions that are appropriate for all levels and abilities.

In terms of my work within the college, I’d like to continue to work with my incredibly hard working team to provide new and exciting opportunities. I would also like to look more into cultural opportunities for students, giving them an insight into other cultures and also a more in-depth insight into British culture. I want to mould our young people into well-rounded and employable individuals with an eagerness to succeed, no matter what path they choose to take in life.”

What advice, contacts or resources would help you?

“Cultural opportunities or theatrical contacts, who could provide my students with opportunities and new experiences.”

Why we’re sharing these stories

An individual or organisation from each of our five categories will be recognised at our Igniting Inspiration recognition event in November, but we want to publish all relevant stories to spread awareness of all the positive work that goes on in the North!