Zaynab Sohawon, former Chair for Think4Brum, received a prestigious British Citizen Award (BCA) at the Palace of Westminster on Thursday 26 January, for her services to healthcare in the West Midlands.
Zaynab, ZeZe to her friends, received the award for her bravery and determination in using her own experiences of mental illness to create positive change in mental health services in Birmingham.
ZeZe was sectioned in psychiatric units as a child and was an inpatient at Birmingham Women's and Children's NHS Foundation Trust's (BWC) Mental Health Services. Whilst improving her own mental health and independence, she became a champion for youth voice in the Trust.
On speaking about receiving the British Citizen Award, ZeZe said: "The awards evening was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm so humbled to have been a recipient of the BCA. I hope it serves as a platform to broaden my reach and impact even more lives of young people with mental health struggles and autism.”
Elaine Kirwan, Director of Nursing and Mental Health Strategy for BWC and West Midlands CAMHS Provider collaborative, attended the ceremony to support her during the special moment.
Elaine said: "I have seen first-hand the impact of her kindness, campaigning and support to other young people. Even when she was struggling herself, she would always find time for others. She has played an enormous part in the transformation of Mental Health Services across Birmingham and is the beating heart of advocacy for young people with a diagnosis of autism through her charity work."
During her mental health recovery journey, ZeZe became Chair of Think4Brum, a young person's advisory group within Forward Thinking Birmingham, the Trust's 0-25s Mental Health Services. The group is made up of inspiring individuals with lived experience of mental health who help to shape the Trust's services.
As Chair, Zaynab was the driving force behind a £4.6m transformation work at the Trust's Parkview inpatient clinic where she was once stayed as an inpatient. The investment meant that young people now have modern therapeutic spaces and their own on-suite bedrooms, rather than dormitories, to better support their recovery.
Zeze co-produced a brand-new service in Forward Thinking Birmingham called the Intensive Residential Outreach for Children in Care (IROC), a new and unique approach to young people presenting with complex psychological needs and vulnerabilities, which is the only one of its kind in the UK.
At Think4Brum, ZeZe also supported the Trust's Fight For All The Feels campaign, which successfully raised £1 million to fund the Peer Support Worker role at FTB. Peer Support Workers are mental health experts by experience from the same communities and backgrounds as the people they support. Thanks in part to ZeZe, many Peer Support workers (PSW) are now currently in post, using their own mental health experiences to support current service users.
ZeZe held several events during her time as Think4Brum Chair, including the Tale of Three Cities campaign for Borderline Personality Awareness Month. At events across the country, she discussed her experiences and intersectionality of BPD and how her experiences differ being a female and a person of colour. As part of the campaign, a mural, co-designed by Think4Brum, was unveiled in the Custard Factory in Digbeth to raise awareness for BPD.
Zaynab was presented her medal of honour by Tom Redman, General Manager of Big Bus London and TV presenter and Patron of the BCA, Nick Knowles, who hosted the event.
Zaynab said: "I'm so grateful and thankful for Elaine Kirwan and Keith Shaw, CEO and Director of Care Never Sleeps, for joining me on such a momentous occasion. Elaine and Keith saw me at my most unwell state and are now celebrating me in my most lavish successes. I'm so humbled to have their support."
Elaine said: "I am so proud to be part of Zaynab's journey and was honoured to watch her receive this award."
Zeze's determination and drive has since propelled her into developing her own charity (EDA), pursuing a university education and her personal goal of obtaining a flat where she now lives independently.