- Can you tell us about your school days and if you had any hopes for what your future might hold?
School was and remains, the most detrimental experience of my life. It effectively saw me starting life at a morale deficit. I left school with zero formal qualifications of any merit and zero prospects for a future of any kind. Awareness in Jersey of Autism in those days was abysmally low, both senior teachers and representatives of the education department were ardent in their discouragement at any mention of seeking a diagnosis. Part of my motivations for founding NeuroDiversity Jersey was to normalize the conversation around NeuroDiversity within schools and put enthuses on the value proposition neurodiverse individuals bring to society. Working with a group of business leaders, we displayed posters with empowering messages and role models across secondary schools in March 2020.
- 15% of the UK population are 'neurodivergent', a category of conditions that cause individuals to think differently such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia and dyspraxia. What was it like to be finally diagnosed with autism in your late teens and did the diagnosis assist you?
Receiving a diagnosis was pivotal and a lifeline in an existence that I was certain would have been otherwise short-lived. I felt able to move forward and take ownership of who I am in an uncompromising way. Prior to being diagnosed, I had no real reference for why so much seemed insurmountable and why I was so unable to adhere and operate within societal norms and conventions. Although I was pretty certain I was autistic before the diagnosis, the confirmation enabled me to reconcile so much which had become the source of so much confusion in my waking day.
- At 19 years old, you spent one-week on a coding course teaching you the basics of HTML and CSS. What motivated you to enrol and was it a positive step?
I identified the opportunity and pursued it. I actually got a place on the course twice through two different providers due to my persistence and appealing to a politician called Francis Le Gresley directly who was sympathetic to my circumstance. The course enabled me to learn the building blocks I could then use to build myself up. It gave me a skillet and focal point to progress in life that was accessible and free of the stigma surrounding difference and lack of formal education. It was by no means plain sailing but it gave me sufficient building blocks to start building towards a future.
There were drawbacks of course such as not being considered as a high enough caliber for the Digital Jersey Coding Program but in many ways, the lack of the opportunity has enabled me to take a much broader view in business and operate at a much more senior level by not having fallen into the trap of being hyper-focused on one particular area.
Receiving a diagnosis was pivotal and a lifeline in an existence that I was certain would have been otherwise short-lived. I felt able to move forward and take ownership of who I am in an uncompromising way, prior to being diagnosed I had no real reference for why so much seemed insurmountable and why I was so unable to adhere and operate within societal norms and conventions.
- Moving forward, you became a freelance web developer and then began delivering bespoke courses to business leaders and autistic individuals. Is it important for you to keep your working life as varied and diverse as possible?
I quickly discovered that for me my drivers were more akin to purpose and impact than monetary gain. For me, true success is broader than personal success and brings you a sense of fulfillment in yourself and your contribution to your field, industry, or country. With anything there must be a balance and trade-offs will need to be made but I believe strongly in the pursuit of purpose as a priority.
- At 22 years old, you became the first person on the autistic spectrum to gain a place on an apprenticeship scheme which trains young people on how to become a successful board member (Board Apprentice) and you secured sponsorship to complete a Professional Certificate in Mediation Skills at Queen Margaret University, the first Channel Islands accredited autistic mediator. Can you tell us what these achievements mean to you?
The scheme was a great success locally with Autism Jersey and has since been replicated with Autistica, the U.K.’s biggest autism research charity. It was a great experience and opportunity to learn from local business leaders. The relationships forged through the scheme I have come to value greatly and still catch up with a number of the trustees for coffee from time to time. Becoming an accredited mediator through queen Margaret University was a great achievement and certainly gave me some great transferable mediation skills which I utilize today when considering disputes at leadership level.
I quickly discovered that for me my drivers were more akin to purpose and impact than monetary gain, for me true success is broader than personal success and brings you a sense of fulfillment in yourself and your contribution to your field, industry, or country. With anything there must be a balance and trade-offs will need to be made but I believe strongly in the pursuit of purpose as a priority.
- You co-founded the online platform, GGGovernance in 2017, which teaches best practices of corporate governance and helps further understanding of how best practices work within the boardroom. How did this venture come to light?
It was very much a chance encounter of like-minded individuals, I was working on an online platform in the Digital Skills Space and there were some clear synergies. I had a skill set that was complimentary so it made sense to work together, we were also very similar in our thinking so that helped a great deal.
- One of your varied roles has been a CI Ambassador, Head of UK Events and more recently, Head of Strategy at National Coding Week – a week which celebrates and promotes digital learning and skills for people of all ages and abilities. How relevant do you think digital knowledge is in our community?
National Coding Week has been incredibly successful. We’ve collaborated with the likes of City and Guilds, Barclays, and GCHQ over the years and garnered great support in creating a National Week that is respected and advocated by both major tech companies and UK Government bodies such as the Department for Education and The Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport.
Digital Knowledge is key to our community and vital with the recent Covid restrictions. Historically there hasn’t been enough done in Jersey to embrace a more digitally up-skilled community, however that may be changing and I am thrilled to hear the announcement that Digital Skills training will be offered for free by the Digital Jersey Academy. It is certainly a step in the right direction and a great opportunity to start shifting Jersey towards a more digital future for the island.
I am keen to be shining a light on ‘Diversity stories’ in The Road to Diversity Podcast series which I am pleased to say I am hosting. I am also very excited about the launch of our IoD Diversity and Inclusion Charter which I’m sure will push businesses in Jersey towards a more inclusive future.
- You founded Develop Autism in February 2019 after becoming frustrated with autism awareness training models focussing on defects rather than value for employing autistic individuals. Can you tell us more about what you do in this role?
I think the prospect of spell training and the threat it posed to autism in the workplace was a key enabler to the decision. Narratives are delicate things and they have to be managed with finesse. I was not seeing evidence of the narrative being managed well and lack of narrative management leads to barriers for autistic individuals in the workplace. The damage in many ways has already been done by well-meaning but ill-considered individuals, it was important for me to create something that would start repairing that narrative.
Upon entering the space, I quickly discovered that many wins for autism in the workplace were related to creating a more NeuroDiverse friendly workplace, looking at the whole picture of NeuroDiversity and how we deliver equity in the workplace for those who think and process information differently to ensure their talent is not lost.
- In Sept 2019 Lyndon Farnham and Kristina Moore were named as the first ever politicians to hold the newly created role, ‘Autism Ambassadors’ in Jersey. As the Council Chair, could you explain what this breakthrough has meant to you?
It was great to set up and create the Autism Jersey Advisory Council - an idea I had shortly before becoming a Board Apprentice on the board of Autism Jersey. This was my first Chair position and I’m pleased to say the council was highly successful in achieving 2nd place for the category of Outstanding Achievement in the Large Charity within its first year of operation. We also enjoyed great success with bringing Lyndon and Kristina on board as political ambassadors and rewriting the Charity’s Mission Statement.
During this role, I built the council from the ground up, dealing with the creation of a constitution, recruitment of members (who were all on the autism spectrum), and the creation of a recommendations sub-committee to ensure there was ample opportunity for all autistic members of society to take part and contribute to our impactful work. It was very much a labor of love, I have since passed on the Council to Autism Jersey for stewardship having built it up and brought the voice of autism to the table. They now have the right mechanisms in place to deliver on an enabling future for Autistic Islanders.
- You have given your time voluntarily to join the IoD Diversity Sub-Committee. What do you hope to achieve in this role?
I think stories can be very powerful in the D&I space so I am keen to be shining a light on ‘Diversity stories’ in the ‘Road to Diversity’ Podcast series which I am pleased to say I am hosting. I am also very excited about the launch of our IoD Diversity and Inclusion Charter which I’m sure will push businesses in Jersey towards a more inclusive future.