Blog Awards and a Year in the Life of Downs Side Up

I'm not sure if it was the shocking pink stilettos, or that my uniform of jeans and converse had been replaced by a shiny cocktail dress, or simply the fact that I was alone, hundreds of miles from home and out of my parent blogger comfort zone. Instead I'd been set adrift on the industrial blog seas. Either way, I felt distinctly conspicuous as I arrived at the UK Blog Awards on Friday evening.

If you haven't noticed, it's blogging awards season* 

(*Heck, that reminds me Frugal Queen, I still have one of yours that I collected on your behalf at the MADs two years ago...!)

Collecting Frugal Queen's MADs Award

These events are a wonderful way to celebrate all that is amazing about blogging, the way it brings people together, breaks down barriers, its cathartic properties, the support it brings and most importantly the way it allows information to be shared, isolation to be banished and important campaigns and charity work to be fulfilled. It is a lifeline for many.

I adore blogging and I often get a bit dewey-eyed about being part of such an amazing online network. Everyone agrees it's never about the trinkets.

Yet last year I won a couple of those shiny trinkets and believe me, it had a very unexpected effect. 

I cried. A lot. 

And then I went very quiet, a little guilty that others working equally hard to change the world hadn't won. I wanted to share them with everyone, thank everyone. Oddly, I didn't want to celebrate, despite feeling immensely touched that people loved and believed in Downs Side Up as much as I do.

Downs Side Up wins the Outstanding Contribution category at the MADs '15

And then a peace decended, I immediately became at ease with my blog, happy with it and all its flaws. It's clunky home-made, approachable feel. I decided it didn't need pushing forward any more. It had achieved all I set out for it to in the beginning. It had reached new families and supported them through shaky early days following a diagnosis of Down's syndrome, it had become a mouthpiece for those with Down's syndrome, it had spoken to the world and changed the public's perception of the condition, it had persuaded advertisers to adopt a more inclusive approach to advertising and it had put me in touch with wonderful medical professionals who wanted to listen and learn from our story.

My blog and I were at peace with each other.

So as I nervously snuck into Friday's glitzy UK Blog Award ceremony, founded by visionary Gemma Newton  and hosted by technology journalist Kate Russell at the beautiful Park Plaza Hotel, my primary aim was to meet fellow bloggers, share our story and connect with relevant brands.

Under my arm I had two copies of our book I Love You Natty. One for George's Site and one for Motortorque. But was such an overwhelmingly large event that I managed to hook up with neither so the books are in the post boys! 

I did, however manage to share a glass of bubbles with fellow Health and Social Care finalist Chris Lewis of Chris' Cancer Care Community and our richly-deserved category winner Caron who writes Caron Cares

Pictured with Caron Cares and Chris Lewis at UK Blog Awards

The wonderful surprise of the evening was that the judges 'Highly Commended' Downs Side Up alongside the lovely Eco Fluffy Mama

Out of 2000 blogs and 78,000 votes, that was a huge honour. Thank you to judges Cheryl Hersey of Action PR and Amanda Neylon of Macmillan Cancer who I didn't get the pleasure of meeting but who took the time to visit and read our blogs. And extra thanks to the lovely judge Sophie Mellor of Bupa UK who I was lucky enough to chat to on the night.

Downs Side Up is Highly Commended at the UK Blog Awards

As the evening went on, so many wonderful people took me under their wing. Conversation flowed as freely as the bubbles, and I found out some amazing things.

1 - A digital Marketing exec goes a funny shade of green when you tell them to 'Sod the stats', a mantra that I live by.  But a point that was backed up by organiser Gemma, albeit a little more daintily. 

Focus on influence and relationships. Not reach. Aka 'sod the stats.'

2 - Brands really want to work with the unique personalities that our individual voices bring to the blogosphere.  They are quite approachable after all.

3 - Bloggers are universally warm and welcoming people, whatever subject they write about

A special thanks to fellow small-dog-owning foodie finalist A Slice of Slim and her daughter who became great friends during the course of the evening.

Thanks to Digital Marketer James Barrass-Banks whose dulcet royalesque tones still ring in my ears, 'You're awesome, just you f***king remember that". That meant a lot James, thank you. 

And the lovely Storyteller friend-of-a-friend Lucy Campbell who introduced me to all the very friendly Hills Balfour gang as well as an entrepreneur we all respect, editor Nicky Cox of First News, the paper for kids  

It was interesting to chat to Events judge Mel Atkins of Ex Events and meet fellow DS parent and judge Matthew Cock as well as charity founder Sit of Events Trees.

A shout out too to the fabulously crafty Shelley Makes, the irrepressible force of nature Faded Spring, and Fairy Faye who I think I caught a glimpse of as I passed her in the lift as returned, aforementioned patent pink heels in hand, back to my ever so comfy and utterly silent diva suite where I slept like a starfish for 10 hours straight. (That *may* have been one of the highlights of the trip) 

4 - It's excruciatingly embarrassing when you hear a stranger saying nice things about your blog while you are in the adjacent toilet cubicle. It makes you run away without finishing what you came there to do, because you feel you're eavesdropping.

5 - Blowing one's own trumpet is not viewed as such in PR circles. It's viewed as summarising the essential unique selling points of your brand (USP for short)... or blog. It actually helps if others know who you are and what you do. They don't have time to find out for themselves. Summarising it in writing saves a lot of explanation. So...

Downs Side Up's Year at a Glance

... to that end this post is going to include a handy go-to summary of Downs Side Up's achievements over the last 12 months.

  • The Health Service Journal named me one of 25 Rising Stars for changing the face of the NHS, the only one in 2015 not to be a doctor.  (*shocked face*)  
  • Downs Side Up won a Britmums Brilliance in Blogging Award for its Inspiring Content (The one where famously I was outside talking to a journalist when it was announced!). 
  • It also won a Tots100, MAD Blog Award for making an Outstanding Contributon to Society.
    Collecting an Inspire Award from Carol Smillie at the Britmums BiBs Awards
  • I was named as a finalist in the Learning Disability Awards in the Carer of the Year section and was a finalist in the Mumsnet Campaigner of the Year Awards.
  • We ran a second print run of our 5* book for children I Love You Natty, having sold the first 1200 copies around the globe.
International support book for kids, I Love You Natty

Resources for new parents
  • We featured in publications such as Good Housekeeping Magazine, the Sunday Times, the Telegraph and the Guardian Weekend as well as being interviewed on LBC and Radio 4's Womans Hour and You and Yours. 
    Our feature in Good Housekeeping Magazine
  • BBC Spotlight made an Inside Out programme about the work we do alongside the local support group CDSSG here in Cornwall.
  • There've been round tables on Inclusion at Mumsnet Blogfest, talks on online safety at Britmums Live, and a panel discussion on digital activism at Blogfest and more.
    I joined Nimco Ali, Stella Creasy, Helen Lewis and Kirsty McNeill

  • We had tea with the Queen as a reward for services to charity. It turns out she serves nice mini battenberg cakes.

Downs Side Up arrive for battenburgh with the Queen

  • We've travelled to medical conferences such as Positive Choices and LDAN to deliver talks to student midwives and doctors and we made a film with NHS Scotland which will be used in training these professionals. The children are public speakers too now! 
Mia, 11, speaks to student nurses

Natty, 9, speaks to student midwives

  • Natty has featured in the latest Frugi catalogue, continuing to work towards #adinclusion and melt hearts wherever she goes. 
Inclusive advertising counts

  • The Telegraph like my little blog so much they've asked me to write for them. Watch out for an article on travel with kids with special needs coming soon.
  • Natty and her friend Ella produced a video for World Down Syndrome Day in conjunction with the Down's Syndrome Association. It's all about swimming, and friendships. And you'll love it...

  • I continue to write columns for sites Special Needs Jungle and the Huffington Post and have recently joined the ranks of Podcasters at Meet the Parents hosted by Tim Liew. 
  • I've had an article published in the Journal of Family Health, have written a chapter for Steve Hardy's forthcoming book for medical professionals working with patients with a learning disability, another for book Reasons to Smile and have been interviewed for book The Million Dollar Blog by Natasha Courtenay-Smith (as a blog that doesn't make money, but measures success in other ways.) We'll soon be joining the Down Syndrome Diary writers later in the year too, a book that takes glimpses into the lives of families around the world who are touched by Down's syndrome.  

And now I think I need a cup of tea. A large one, while I ponder that although awards are embarrassing and seemingly superficial, and a bit of a jolly, they are a brilliant way of spreading the word about what we all do. They are a way to pull key movers and shakers together to help each others' causes or promotions.

And for me, they are a way to get Down's syndrome on everybody's lips and in everyone's minds and hearts... and this is how we truly effect change and bring about acceptance and inclusion.

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