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Autism charity chair and dedicated youth worker awarded prestigious medals

The long-serving chair of an autism charity and a man who has devoted his life to enriching the lives of children and young people have both received the highest civic honour in County Durham.

Cllr Joan Nicholson, Chair of Durham County Council, presents Gavin Bestford with his Chairman’s Medal
Cllr Joan Nicholson, Chair of Durham County Council, presents Gavin Bestford with his Chairman’s Medal

Gavin Bestford and Simon Healey have been presented with a Chairman's Medal by Durham County Council’s Chair, Cllr Joan Nicholson.


As the outgoing chair of the North East Autism Society (NEAS), 73-year-old Gavin Bestford received the honour for his decades of work to make the world a better place for autistic and neurodivergent people.


Inspired by a personal mission, to make life better for his son and other families with autistic children, Gavin became chair in 2005 when it was renamed from the Tyne and Wear Autistic Society to NEAS.


Some 19 years ago, the society had one school, an adult service, some care homes for adults and children, and employed around 250 people. Today, it has four schools, a college, skills centre, large social and vocational units, a multitude of high-quality residential care homes and supported living homes and employs 1,200 people.


It carries out family outreach work, provides short breaks for families, and has a department that arranges work placements and routes into employment for autistic and neurodivergent people.


Simon Healey was honoured for his commitment to creating memorable opportunities for young people through the Durham Association of Boys and Girls Clubs (DABGC), one of the Chair’s chosen charities.


Simon was nominated for the award by a youth club he encouraged to become involved in DABGC, which provides sport and recreational activities for young people, including athletics, football, table tennis, and cross county competitions, as well as residentials and away days.


In his role as executive youth officer, the Chair was told Simon’s dedication is such that he never misses an activity hosted by the charity; giving his spare time to attend events and all the while making sure clubs have arrived safety, that everything is in place and, most importantly, that the young people are having fun.


Cllr Joan Nicholson, Chair of Durham County Council, said: “It is my delight and privilege to award the Chairman’s Medal to two men who have given their unwavering commitment to the communities they support.


“Through his own personal experience as a parent of an autistic child, Gavin has been able to grow the support available to families in the North East and shape it to what they need.


“Simon has generously volunteered countless hours of his own time to ensure that the young people of County Durham and the wider region have access to amazing and memorable opportunities that will help them develop the confidence and skills to last a lifetime.


“Their communities are lucky to have them both and I would like to thank them for their care and outstanding work.”



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