Council staff with a learning disability are playing a valuable role in encouraging their peers to talk about cancer, by starring in a regional awareness video.

The Be Cancer Aware video sees Ben Newton, Julia Smith and Paul James, from Durham County Council’s Adult and Health Services Engagement Team, alongside other community representatives, describing common signs of cancer and highlighting the importance of having symptoms checked.

The North East and Cumbria Learning Disability Network video has been co-produced by people with a learning disability, for people with a learning disability, working in partnership with disability groups and cancer experts from across the North East and Cumbria.

Information officers Ben, who has Autism, and Julia, who has Down’s Syndrome, and team facilitator Paul, who has Lowe’s Syndrome, have all worked for the council for 12 years helping to deliver messages from its Adult Care Team to people with a learning disability and ensuring that service users’ opinions are heard.

Their involvement in the video is a key part of a wider campaign, running throughout July, which also includes delivering Be Cancer Awareness training sessions, something the Engagement Team are now qualified to run in County Durham.

Paul said: “We’re promoting cancer awareness to people with learning disabilities by delivering the key messages very clearly. The most important point is for people to know what is normal for them and to tell their doctor if they notice any changes to their body.

“Ben, Julia and I are all really pleased to be part of such an important project, helping people to understand more about cancer and encouraging them to seek diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible, which will give them the best chance of recovery.”

Cllr Lucy Hovvels MBE said: “I’m delighted that our Engagement Team have been chosen as representatives for the Be Cancer Aware programme. The project is a great example of collaboration between organisations, working together to increase cancer survival in our region. Ben, Julia and Paul’s contribution has the potential to make a massive difference in people’s lives.

“During the coronavirus pandemic, some people may be anxious about visiting their doctor about cancer. However, the best course of action for anyone with symptoms that they think may be cancer is to contact their GP for advice – a message which this campaign is doing a fantastic job of emphasising.”

Julie Tucker, Macmillan Cancer Project, North East and Cumbria Learning Disability Network, said: “Be Cancer Aware is an amazing example of how people can work together to increase knowledge and skills. We have 35 amazing trainers from across the North East and Cumbria who work together to share cancer awareness messages and training. This video is another great example of their work.”

Further information about the Northern Cancer Alliance can be found at

Support for anyone affected by cancer is available from Macmillan Joining the Dots County Durham, a free, personal service for people aged 18 and over who have been diagnosed with cancer, their friends, carers and relatives:

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