Katie Parlett, CEO of the Lighthouse Futures Trust, was recently awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours List. We spoke to Katie about how she found out about her award, and what receiving this tremendous honour meant to her.

Katie, you were recently awarded an MBE, how did you find out that you were going to be receiving the accolade?

I went to get the post and it was full of bills, so I put them in my bag as I was in the middle of cooking the kids’ tea. I noticed an official envelope sticking out and instantly thought it was a circular, but when I noticed Cabinet Office I thought I better take a closer look. It took me a few days to get the courage to open it and read it properly! I can genuinely say I was so surprised that I didn’t know how to process it, and I obviously couldn’t share it with anyone until it went public, so I tried to put it to the back of my mind, which was almost impossible. The tricky bit was lots of family gatherings over Christmas and not being able to spill the beans!

How did it make you feel when you found out?

I don’t take praise or recognition easily, so it felt very strange. It did make me feel proud about what we have achieved. Often, when you work around the clock and have a family, you can easily lose sight of what’s gone before and focus purely on what’s coming up next.
I don’t think I’ve ever stopped to think about what we have done and what we have built, so I did feel a little sense of pride.

Does the award feel like recognition for all your hard work?

When I stepped out of the world of business and dedicated myself to education and employability of young people with autism and learning disabilities, I have never worked so hard, or faced so many challenges. I needed huge amounts of resilience and drive to keep going – as well as prioritising my family above all else.

What does the award mean for Lighthouse and the work that the organisation does? Do you think it might help in raising awareness of the charity and of autism in general?

Without a doubt – I am not a self-publicist, but where there is an opportunity that needs credibility this will certainly provide it. We are constantly seeking funding and supporters, so this honour enables individuals and organisations to build trust with us quickly, and to believe that we can deliver on our promises.

Were you given an explanation as to why they decided to give you the award?

The only explanation I’ve received has been from the press. The Yorkshire Post published an article that contained insight from the Cabinet Office, stating: “She places great emphasis on preparation for adulthood and had created a number of opportunities for work experience and training for the students leaving school. She has formed ground-breaking partnerships with local and national companies to create internships and develop micro-businesses, where a widening group of young people with autism are building valuable life skills and work experience.”

How did the students react to the news? Were they excited?

They were delighted, especially as Made in Leeds came to film them. A handful of students loved seeing themselves on the television – they were true professionals. It was lovely that on camera they all talked about their futures and what they want to be! It has not been the norm for young people with disabilities to have aspirations for the future – let alone a plan – so this confirmed that our school and charity work around employment opportunities is really making a difference.

How did your family react to the news?
Big hugs, my husband was utterly delighted and my Dad was proud.

Are you excited at the prospect of meeting the Queen?

Of course, what a chance in a lifetime! Taking my family will be exciting too. To have my son there, who will remember this for the rest of his life, and my daughter who is the main reason I will be standing there, makes me very emotional. Also, having my husband Gary by my side to share it with makes it a perfect day.

…And finally, will you be getting some new business cards?

Well, a new dress and shoes definitely. Thinking about the cards, when I’m used to it, yes!