In the build-up to The Investors in People Awards 2021, we’ve been speaking to the finalists, asking them to tell us their stories and what winning an award would mean to them.

Hello! I am James Sweeney, a 22-year-old student born and raised in the Swansea Valleys. I am delighted to be nominated and shortlisted for the Investors in People’s ‘Young Person of the Year’ award. I will be talking a little more about my journey in today’s post.

I hope you all enjoy reading through my answers; if you have any other questions you would like to ask me, please send me a message!

Can you give us a brief description of your company/role and why/how you’re making work better?

Over the last year, I’ve been very fortunate to work in several different positions. My main role was working as a Communications Coordinator for the University of Reading during the Professional Placement Year of my degree programme.

I loved working in the role and did everything I could to make the most out of my time there. I was able to get involved with many assignments, with my personal favourite being when I played a key role in creating and managing the MyName project at the University of Reading.

The MyName project is designed to tap into the rich tapestry of culture within our names, their stories and their pronunciations through a series of blogs, videos and social media content.

I helped transform the MyName project from a simple series of videos looking at the pronunciation of names into a far more diverse and inclusive multicultural appreciation scheme, celebrating and presenting names, stories, backgrounds and cultures at an international level.

One of the key elements of my placement role was to include and present the student voice across all of the university’s projects, which I found fascinating as I gained the ability to see how decisions were made, both from a student and from a staff member’s perspective.

I accumulated countless knowledge and lessons from my time in the position. Still, as well as learning, I sought to teach and educate my colleagues on topics that genuinely mattered to me. I held several workshops on Stuttering, hoping to help teach fellow employees how to recognise, react to and support a person with a Stutter.

I thoroughly enjoyed working as a Communications Coordinator and am so incredibly thankful to my student success and engagement team for helping me make a real difference and making it a year that I will never forget!

In September 2020, the President of The Youth Group, Jack Parsons, messaged me on LinkedIn to see if I would like to work for The Youth Group as a Changemaker, which I was delighted to accept. My primary focus is to help promote the group’s goals and aspirations to help young people achieve what they want in life.

I connected quickly with this role, as it allowed me to reach out to young people across the globe and do everything I could to help them achieve what they want to do in life. Transforming the lives of fellow young people is a truly tremendous thing to be a part of, and I love seeing the difference that we can make.

Creating a safe community for young people

I also run my blog page, called Sweeney’s Blogs, where I write about topics such as Stuttering, Stress and Mental Health. I aim to write in a way that combines facts and information with my own stories and experiences, hoping to present a fair and real representation of the world today.

When I started the page back in February 2019, I didn’t just want to create a single page; I wanted to build a community. I envisioned Sweeney’s Blogs as a place where people could come and talk about the things which genuinely matter to them, and it makes me so proud each day seeing that dream become a reality.

The page has grown so much over the last two and a half years, amassing over 24,000 total views from over 140 different countries. As the page grows, I hope to keep reaching out and supporting as many people as possible. I always put my heart and soul into the page, and when I get messages saying how much I have helped someone, words truly cannot describe it.

Running Sweeney’s Blogs has been a sheer delight, and it has also led me to work with the hhruk group, which I work for as a Health and Wellbeing Associate. In this role, I research and write articles based on health and wellbeing, which are then published on my LinkedIn profile. This position has helped me give back to society and has given me the perfect opportunity to continue learning more about how to support people wherever I can. 

Why were you entered for this year’s awards?

My professional mentor, Polina Changuleva, nominated me for this year’s awards, which I am grateful for! I believe that I was nominated to acknowledge myself for the differences that I have made in numerous lives.

One of my main goals for life is to help and support as many people as I can, whether through my professional job, my blog and LinkedIn posts or through me as a person. I put myself out there as much as I can, and seeing people relate and connect to me is so refreshing.

I was nominated because I never stop working to better myself and aid others throughout this life journey!

Are there any goals/challenges you hope an award will help you achieve/solve?

Reflecting on my life, I have always struggled to recognise my successes and accomplishments. 

It’s something that I have been working a lot on over the last couple of years, and although I am not fully there yet, I am continually making good progress, which is great to see. 

Being nominated and shortlisted for this award has done me the whole world of good and has allowed me to reflect on what I have done and what I will do.

This award has helped remind me of the person I am, the journey I have been on, and all of the obstacles that I have gotten past to become the person I am today.

It’s helped me regain that sense of pride in myself and my work and that all of the long hours have all been very well spent.

What does being shortlisted mean to you?

Being shortlisted for such an incredible award means so much to me. When I first found out that I had been chosen, I didn’t quite believe that it was all real, so I was just sat there refreshing the page, just to be sure! I felt this wave of positivity and pride suddenly hit me, and I had the biggest smile that I have ever seen on my face!

I had just come from seeing my grandparents when I saw the news, and as I was driving home, “Red Light Spells Danger” by Billy Ocean came on in my car, and I can remember singing along as loudly as I could, feeling elated with everything.

I have had a couple of weeks to process it all now, yet it all seems like a dream, and I don’t remember ever feeling this proud of myself. Being selected has helped remind me that all of the hard work I have put in this year has been worth it; it’s simply incredible.

What would it mean to win?

If I were to win this award, I would feel like the happiest man on Earth! Being shortlisted already left me speechless! One of the first things that I would do is go and phone my family to tell them the news, and then I’m sure we’d find a special way to celebrate!

On a serious note, if I were to win this award, it would help me restore my inner confidence and self-belief. Looking back over the years, I can see that I have achieved a lot with my life and that this award would help me appreciate that journey and help set me in good step for whatever is to come going forward.

How does being shortlisted benefit your colleagues?

I view being shortlisted for this outstanding award as a reflection of my hard work, determination, and drive to better the world and that of my colleagues, friends, family, and others alike.

From the first day of my Communications Coordinator role, my Student Success and Engagement team were welcoming. They helped me grow and develop immeasurably throughout the year in a professional, personal and social sense.

The students and staff members that I regularly worked with for various projects have been crucial to why I have flourished in my year working at the University of Reading.

Over the last year, I have been very fortunate to have kept in contact with a number of my colleagues from The Youth Group. These fellow team members never fail to inspire me and encourage me to pursue what I want out of life. It’s a brilliant group to work with, and the work that we do positively contributes to the lives of young people across the globe.

Being shortlisted for this award helps bring together, celebrate and highlight my amazing colleagues and how they have not only supported and assisted me in my journey but have played a vital role in countless lives and adventures internationally.

How would you use being the recipient of this award to influence others?

Being the recipient of this award would act as a monumental booster for my mission of supporting others. It would help me in furthering the reach of all of my different channels. From this, I can aim to make a significant difference in numerous lives.

I would use this award to help remind people that anything is possible; we encounter so many new and exciting potential pathways each day. Who knows what’s possible if we set our minds to it!

If I were to win this award, it would help amplify the message that giving back to society and your local community is 100% worth it. I’ve been so fortunate to have met such incredible people in my life, and I know that as I continue to grow and develop, I will meet many more inspirational individuals.

What can we expect to see from you in the next 12 months?

I have recently entered the final year of my BSc in Management with Information Technology course. My modules for this year look fascinating, covering topics such as fairness, our relationship with technology and business strategy on an international level.

Looking ahead to the Summer of 2022, I will be looking for internships after I finish my degree to help gain some pivotal experience for my plans. 

I ideally want to start my own business in the next couple of years, and these internships can help give me the extra building blocks needed to flourish.

Moreover, I will continue posting regular content on my blog page, Sweeney’s Blogs, and LinkedIn page. I have many different ideas for moving the page forward and am keen to see how some of these can play out.

I will also be continuing my work as a Changemaker for The Youth Group, which is always really nice.

I do have a couple of other potential projects planned for the next year, but I’ll be keeping a lid on them for the near future until all is ready to be revealed!

What advice would you give to anyone entering The Investors in People Awards 2022?

My advice to anybody entering into The Investors in People Awards 2022 would be to enjoy the process. Being nominated for one of these huge inspirational awards is something that you should be so proud of and acts as a beacon of recognition for all of the fantastic work you do in your day-to-day life.

At times, it can be tough to appreciate all of the good we do in the world. These awards provide you with the perfect chance to take a couple of minutes out of your day and reflect on everything that you have done with your life, as well as all of your future endeavours that are yet to come.

Read more of our finalist’s stories on our Awards page.

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