Transgender volunteer from Leamington wins national citizenship award

l-r Rebecca Wilcox (Dame Esthers daughter and co-presenter), David Werthmann, sales director for Care Choices, Ben Whelan  and Dame Esther Rantzen.
l-r Rebecca Wilcox (Dame Esthers daughter and co-presenter), David Werthmann, sales director for Care Choices, Ben Whelan and Dame Esther Rantzen.

A transgender volunteer from Royal Leamington Spa has won a national citizenship award.

The judging panel at the Markel Third Sector Care Awards described Ben Whelan, who lives in Old Town, as a 'role model' and an inspiration.

He was presented with the award at a gala dinner hosted by Dame Esther Rantzen at the London Marriott Hotel.

Ben, 37, has worked with Making Space for three years, volunteering a day a week with the adult health and social care charity.

Working with Warwickshire Co-Production Service, he supports people with mental health issues and regularly gives presentations and talks on behalf of the service.

Kim Arnold, national lead for Experts by Experience, who sat on the judging panel for the citizenship award, said: "Ben portrays himself as a role model to inspire his fellow peers after overcoming adversity to regain his own citizenship.

"He is also enabling people who use services to contribute to society as equal participants."

According to the Third Sector Care Awards' website, the Citizenship award celebrates an individual who enables those that they support, irrespective of their disability or needs, to be able to contribute to their community.

Ben, who came out as female to male transgender aged 23, also volunteers for Springfield Mind and hopes his volunteering will help him to gain paid employment in a mental health or social care setting.

Ben said: "It means a lot to have this appreciation for what I do, but I accepted this award on behalf of everyone I work with.

"Without the unending support of the staff at Warwickshire Co-Production Service, I wouldn't have been in a position to win this award.

"I have grown so much through volunteering and I think everyone should volunteer.

"I want to use my life experience - good and bad - to help other people. To see someone smile or make them laugh is reward enough for me".

Warwickshire Co-Production Service, run by national charity Making Space, gives people with mental health conditions the opportunity to shape the services they access, from counselling to psychiatry.

Holding regular forums and workshops, the programme puts people's experience and opinions at the heart of service improvement.

It can be contacted on 01926 679207.