marion-strudwick-2The co-founder of a charity which offers support and advice to families regarding Special Educational Needs (SEN) has been recognised with a national honour.

Marion Strudwick, of Hampton, has been given a British Citizen Award for her services to education.

The British Citizen Awards (BCAs) were launched in January 2015, to recognise exceptional individuals who work tirelessly and selflessly to make a positive impact on society. BCAs are awarded twice annually, and recognise ‘everyday’ people whose achievements may otherwise by overlooked.

Marion, aged 80, set up the charity SOS!SEN in 2001 with her husband, Bob Parslow, and school governor, Martin Dean, as a result of the closure of a local SEN school. They were extremely concerned for the lack of consultation available to parents, and wanted to support and empower parents to achieve the best education for their children.

The charity offers free, friendly and independent advice to families, helping to ensure they have access to the right support and information.

Marion, who was a coordinator at the charity for 13 years, set up a free term-time helpline run by volunteers, which is available to all parents/carers in the UK. In addition to the helpline, Marion helped set up eight advice centres across the country, giving parents the opportunity to talk to an experienced volunteer face to face, at no cost.  The charity also runs workshops for parents to help them manage the SEN process, as well as running two charity shops.

Despite not having any formal legal training, with the guidance of the legal profession, Marion has represented parents, who can’t afford to hire legal professionals, at tribunals.

The charity, which originally started in Marion’s front room, has gone from strength to strength, and is now in its fifteenth year. SOS!SEN had been set up with a view to support parents in the Borough of Richmond, but quickly began helping parents nationwide, having supported more than 50,000 families.

Marion, who stepped down last year to become a trustee, is still heavily involved with the charity, and is dedicated to supporting parents and children. Parents will often turn to the charity when they are stressed, and may feel they have nowhere to turn, but Marion is always on hand to help.

Before setting up the charity, Marion worked in France for more than 16 years, and founded the International School of Bordeaux.

Marion is one of 29 medallists who will be honoured at a prestigious ceremony on January 26, at the Palace of Westminster. All BCA recipients have positively impacted society undertaking various activities in support of a number of causes. Each will receive a Medal of Honour, inscribed with the words ‘For the Good of the Country’. Medallists are also invited to use the initials BCA after their name.

Speaking about her nomination, Marion said:

“I didn’t know I had been nominated for the award, but I have since found out that a number of volunteers got together to support the nomination, which is lovely. I am absolutely delighted to be receiving the award on a personal level, but also for our charity. I hope the award will raise the profile of SOS!SEN, and help parents realise that they aren’t alone and that support is available.”

The awards are in partnership with customer experience management company, InMoment, and are supported by the world’s largest optical retailer, Specsavers; one of the largest property and leisure management, development and regeneration companies in the UK, Places for People; leading ethical law firm Irwin Mitchell; the UK and Europe’s leading palletised freight distribution company, Pall-Ex, owned by BCAs Patron Hilary Devey; and specialist marketing, PR and communications agency, Lime Marketing – who each had representatives at the assessment day and will be presenting the awards in January.

Marion was nominated for a BCA by SOS!SEN employee, Hilary Knight, who said:

“I have been working at the charity for three years, but first came into contact with SOS!SEN in 2007 when I was seeking help and advice for my son. I was put in touch with Marion, who quickly met with me, dried my tears and gave me the confidence to fight for a statement of special educational need, obtain a diagnosis and find the right school. As a family we were going through a difficult time and didn’t know which way to turn, but SOS!SEN saved our family, and now my son will be able to reach his potential.

“There is no aspect of the charity that Marion hasn’t helped shaped or continues to help, and she has tireless energy for supporting others. Marion’s always available to any parent or volunteer, and has even been known to log onto the helpline on Christmas day, just in case there was a desperate parent on the other end of the line. This woman is an inspiration to many people, and I am really glad she is getting the recognition she deserves.”

To find out more about the charities work, visit www.sossen.org.uk.