On 11 June 2021, Liam Preston, Head of Communications for YMCA England & Wales, received the British Empire Medal (BEM) in recognition of his dedication to young people. A well-deserved award for a YMCA colleague who is passionate about his work.
Liam Preston, 35, is originally from Essex in the United Kingdom (UK). He has been working for YMCA England & Wales for almost 10 years. Each year, Queen Elizabeth II officially rewards people in the UK and the Commonwealth who have gone ‘above and beyond’ to support their communities. “You are nominated by someone or by an organisation, but the entire process is secret, you never find out who proposes your name in the first place,” explains Liam. “So it was such a nice surprise to receive a letter to notify me that the Prime Minister had recommended me to the Queen. And a few weeks later, my nomination was officially and publicly confirmed”.
Liam Preston was recognised for his ‘services to young people’. He shares: “I constantly see the potential of young people. They are moldable and learn quickly. When it comes to issues related to young women and men, it is important to work on the prevention more than on the cure. This is why at YMCA we give them the space and the time to learn and to grow. And importantly, to make mistakes. Because learning how to fail, and refining this until we make it right, is the key to success in the long-term”.
Liam’s journey was always related to youth work. During his film-making studies, he launched a radio station with students, and then became a Board member of the British Youth Council: “I was dealing with parliamentarians and ministers. I learnt a lot about campaigning, youth policies, lobbying and advocacy”, he says. “I know that a small change with a well-thought-through policy can make a huge impact on people.” He started at YMCA England & Wales as Parliamentary and Policy officer, then moved to the Communications team. During the pandemic, he led changes designed to respond to needs: “Local YMCAs in England and Wales wanted more coordination, more collaboration and more resources. Therefore, I shifted the internal communications strategy to make it more responsive in providing the tools and the content that people needed.”
Like everywhere else in the world, the situation of young people in Britain is difficult, and Liam Preston is working even harder: “I am not counting my hours. The future of young people is not as bright as we would like it to be, but at YMCA, we are here to give hope to those who do not have any, and to offer a shoulder to those who need comfort. This crisis has refreshed our energy to face the challenges ahead and to provide the help young people ask for”.