A young woman who spent much of lock down promoting her favourite charity in a series of online events and zoom calls has been given a special recognition award.

Natalie Hibberd, from Petersfield in Hampshire, was awarded the accolade by Support Dogs, which trained her pet labradoodle Cleo to be her disability assistance dog.

Natalie, aged 23, has cerebral palsy which affects her lower limbs and means she can’t walk unaided.

During lock down she was confined largely indoors because she was vulnerable to Covid, but nevertheless took part in numerous zoom calls and talks, on behalf of Support Dogs, to community groups near her home, including WIs, Rotary Clubs, scouts and beaver groups. More recently, since lockdown eased, she gave talks at Corhampton Golf Club and Springs Golf Club in Wallingford.

“I explain about how I found Support Dogs, about the training, what Cleo does for me and the massive difference that she has made to my life,” said Natalie, who writes children’s fiction for a living. “People usually cry – and so do I!”

Cleo helps Natalie around the home, picking up items she’s dropped from her wheelchair, helps her put on and take off her coat, socks and shoes, opens doors, presses buttons, and dashes off to fetch help when needed.

She also provides important canine companionship and Natalie describes her lovely dog as the light of her life who keeps her safe and gives her confidence to leave the house.

“I was very chuffed, very surprised and very proud that Support Dogs have given me their special recognition award,” said Natalie.

Chief executive of Support Dogs, Rita Howson, said: “Natalie is a really worthy recipient of this award. All our clients are special, but we really appreciated all that she did in raising our profile and funds during a very tough time.”

Support Dogs is a small national charity that provides and trains assistance dogs for children and adults with autism, epilepsy and a variety of medical conditions, enabling them to lead safer, more independent lives.