Mr Michael Francis Dixon from Lisburn has been awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for 2016 for services to people with learning disabilities in Northern Ireland through Stepping Stones NI.
Michael is a founding member and the first chairperson of Stepping Stones NI. The award winning charitable organisation provides adults with a learning disability and difficulty with the opportunity to access accredited training towards gaining employment.
Having a son with a severe learning disability, Michael is passionate about changing attitudes and perspectives towards adults with a learning disability or difficulty. He worked tirelessly with the then Down Lisburn Health and Social Services Trust at the time and other parents, carers and business people to establish the first support services in Lisburn with the creation of Stepping Stones NI in 1996.
Stepping Stones NI has grown extensively in the last eighteen years with Michael playing a pivotal role in its development. The charity now operates six social enterprises in Lisburn, Downpatrick and Newtownards. Each social enterprise serves as a realistic training platform for trainees and is supported by a Training and Employment Services team to support clients with accredited training, work placements, job coaching and securing paid employment. Last year the charity directly supported 246 people with a learning disability or difficulty with 130 clients supported into employment resulting in 90k of earned wages.
Michael served the board of Stepping Stones NI for fourteen years retiring in 2012. He was an active member particularly in the area of fundraising having raised in excess of £285,000.
Michael is humbled to receive the award and says “It has came as a great surprise and is indeed a great honour to be awarded the BEM. I am proud to have been part of Stepping Stones NI and to have worked with a committed team of people who are passionate about supporting adults with a learning disability or difficulty to realise their potential for a better future”.
Stepping Stones NI Chief Officer, Paula Jennings, comments on Michael’s award “I am delighted that Michael has been honoured with a BEM for his services to people with a learning disability and difficulty. Michael is one of the most visionary, determined and passionate people that I have met and it has been a great pleasure to work alongside him over the last 18 years”.
Stepping Stones NI has had a recent expansion in the last twelve months taking the award winning service into Downpatrick and Newtownards employing over sixty staff. With two coffee shops, a wedding stationery business and a Guild Commended Picture Framing business in Lisburn, the charity also operates The Garden Café at the Saint Patrick Centre in Downpatrick and The Gatelodge Café on Church Street in Newtownards. All profits from the businesses are reinvested back in to supporting adults with a learning disability / difficulty to realise their full potential.
The organisation has received a list of awards with its Chief Officer awarded ‘Business Person of the Year’ and securing ‘Best Social Enterprise’ at the 2016 Lisburn & Castlereagh City Business Awards.