Jessica smiles broadly as her Olympic torch is lit, the flame bright against the grey sky. Despite heavy rain and flood warnings, thousands have lined the seafront in Morecambe to support Jess and her fellow torch bearers.
“It’s a moment she will remember forever,” says Jess’s mum, Louise. “I couldn’t be prouder,” she wipes away a tear and gives her 19-year-old daughter the thumbs up sign. Jess throws her head back and laughs – too excited to care about the rain which falls relentlessly, soaking everyone.
Jess is one of five disabled students from Scope’s Beaumont College - an educational service rated outstanding by Ofsted – who took part in the Olympic torch relay across Lancashire on 22 and 23 June. All were nominated for their commitment to giving disabled people a voice, their work spans everyday matters like more choice in the college restaurant to campaigning on national issues including cuts to legal aid.
“Since I’ve been at Beaumont, I’ve learned to be independent,” says student Tom Green, 21. “I like helping people get involved. I give talks in schools about being disabled and I do a lot of fundraising. When I was told I was a torch bearer, I just thought ‘wow!’”
Taking the torch from Morecambe to Preston
Tom is taking part in the relay in Preston. As he waits to take the torch from his friend and fellow student, Dan Crowe, 20, both families look on nervously. “This is such an exciting event,” says Tom’s dad, Peter. “We are exceptionally proud.” Moments later, Tom’s torch is lit and fitted to his wheelchair to loud cheers. “How are you feeling?” shouts a voice from the crowd. “Happy days!” responds Tom.
It wasn’t just Beaumont College students who took part in the Olympic relay. Vikki Brier, 53, a learning support worker at the college, was also a torch bearer. “It’s such a buzz that we’ve all been chosen,” says Vikki who is a tireless fundraiser for Scope and local charities. “To me, Beaumont College is all about creating opportunities. Taking part in the Olympic relay is, quite literally, an opportunity of a lifetime. We are making history!”
Vikki’s torch relay included a pit stop at the statue of Eric Morecambe, the comedian who changed his last name as a mark of respect to his home town. As she balances on the top of the memorial Vikki holds the flame aloft, so it appears Eric is holding the torch. “I think it’s going to be a couple of weeks before I come down from my cloud,” she jokes.
Unlike most torch bearers, who have a well-earned rest after their moment in the spotlight, Vikki, and Tom are now touring local mainstream schools with their torches (which cost £215 to buy!) to talk about the relay. “It’s also a great confidence boost for the young people. They were chosen as torch bearers for their achievements, not because of their disabilities. We are so proud of each other.”
Find out more about Beaumont College.