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Beauty therapist, West Notts college

When 18-year-old Elizabeth Hopkins began her NVQ level 1 beauty therapy course at West Notts college, staff were sceptical. No one with such severe language and communication difficulties as Elizabeth has, had ever successfully completed such a customer-oriented course .

Almost a year on, Elizabeth has not only got her level 1 NVQ but has also been accepted on next year's level 2 course. She is, says tutor Gemma Cox, an exceptional student: "The level 1 students learn how to assist the senior beauty therapist, to set up the work area, to do facials and manicures, to do reception duties and take bookings. Elizabeth has a support worker who helps her, but her professionalism and client care are outstanding, her treatments are brilliant. She is a model for other students: she's the first to clean up or do laundry. She will do anything for anyone."

Since the age of nine, Elizabeth has been a pupil at the residential school Dawn House, run by charity I-CAN for children with communication difficulties. After a near-miss cot death, oxygen deprivation and brain damage as a baby, her language was very limited and she was not expected to live independently.

Yet her determination to learn was so great the school entered her for a Diana Memorial Award in 2004, which she won, says Dawn House family liaison worker Philip Chandler. "Not just because people thought 'she's a nice girl, let's give her an award', but because she really is exceptionally enthusiastic, helpful and happy."

Interviews by Karen Gold

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