An inspirational young woman with Asperger’s Syndrome, whose emotional speech about achieving independence in her own home moved the audience at the Conservative Party Conference, was thrilled to get a surprise meeting with the Prime Minister.
Sarah Cookson, an Ambassador for the pioneering Advance Housing and Support scheme that changed her life, finished her presentation with an unscheduled comment saying her dream was to tell David Cameron herself.
Within the hour she was chatting with him, thanks to Charnwood MP Stephen Dorrell, a keynote speaker at the fringe discussion organised by think tank ResPublica.
“It was the icing on the cake. I’m a big fan of David Cameron, because he’s good looking, smart and he understands disabilities,” said Sarah, 33.
“I was also glad I could do it for Advance, because everyone should be able to achieve what I have. I was very impressed with how much David knew about my flat and Advance. He’d done his homework,” added Sarah, who lives near her parents in Surrey and helps out at a church creche and at Halow, a local charity for young adults with disabilities.
Seven years ago Sarah, who also has a mild learning disability, was far from the confident person she is today.
Now she travels the country to tell conference audiences how Advance, based in David Cameron’s Witney constituency, and its unique Shared Ownership programme has changed her life.
“Sarah’s story demonstrates the value to people of innovative housing solutions,” said Stephen Dorrell.
“She made the case to Conservative Party members and I was very pleased that she had the opportunity to make the case directly to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has since told me how much he valued meeting Sarah.”
Caroline Macfarland, Managing Director of ResPublica, added: “Sarah’s contribution to the ResPublica fringe discussion was truly inspiring. As a think tank we pride ourselves on platforming real-world stories which can influence broader policy debates. We were delighted that the Prime Minister was available to talk with Sarah and have a chat about her experiences.”
This was Sarah’s first party conference speech, and she admits she was nervous, and a little tearful when she talked about the joy of getting her own home. But she was as cool as a cucumber when she met the Prime Minister, says Advance Chief Executive Tim Cooper, who also spoke at the event.
“Sarah is a great Ambassador for Shared Ownership, which has been a huge success over the past 14 years, with over 600 disabled people becoming home owners through our programme,” he said.
“We are really keen for the Government to re-state their commitment to this work, so it was great that Sarah had the opportunity to discuss her experience directly with the Prime Minister.”
Find out more about Advance Housing and Support at www.advanceuk.org.