Friends are real whizz kids

Oliver Parkinson and Ben Harland with back row (left to right) MP Iain Wright, Hollyoaks stars Jimmy McKenna and Nick Pickard
Oliver Parkinson and Ben Harland with back row (left to right) MP Iain Wright, Hollyoaks stars Jimmy McKenna and Nick Pickard

BEST friends have won national acclaim for their campaigning work – at just 12 years old.

Oliver Parkinson and Ben Harland have pushed for more spacious toilets for disabled people and to stop people using disabled parking bays who do not need them.

Their tireless work has seen them visit St James’s Palace to meet Princess Anne and speak in the Houses of Parliament after being nominated for awards.

The boys, who both have cerebral palsy, first began thinking about the problems they face when they became members of the Hartlepool branch of Whizz-Kidz, a national charity that supports young, disabled people, a year ago.

Their campaigns were hailed the best in the country last week at the Whizz-Kidz’ Celebrating Achievement Awards that saw the boys make a speech in front of politicians during an event hosted by Hollyoaks actors Nick Pickard and Jimmy McKenna.

Ruth Madeley, a co-ordinator with the charity, said: “It’s been absolutely incredible and the boys have been amazing.

“They really work hard and are so professional.

“To be able to speak in front of so many people at their age is truly inspirational.”

Oliver and Ben meet at the Headland Sports Hall, in Union Street, Hartlepool, as part of Whizz-Kidz six times a year.

They were invited to St James’s Palace in November after being shortlisted for a Hearing Unheard Voices Award.

The pair did not win, but met Princess Anne who was full of compliments about their campaign.

Oliver and Ben, who both live in Stockton and go to the town’s Bishopsgarth School, had carried out a survey of parking habits as well as revealing that many public toilets were too small to turn a wheelchair.

They also found many do not have handles on the walls for disabled use.

Hartlepool MP Iain Wright was so impressed by their efforts that it led him to ask a series of Parliamentary Questions on their behalf.

He said: “They have taken campaigning to a new level, to the point where I think I could learn a thing or two from them.”

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