A ST IVES teenager who has overcome a troubled upbringing last night (Tuesday) won a prestigious young people’s award.

A ST IVES teenager who has overcome a troubled upbringing last night (Tuesday) won a prestigious young people’s award.

John Morris, 18, was named the winner of the Redstone Cambridgeshire Young People of the Year Awards and given an £800 prize. He was praised by judges as “a hugely powerful role model” for the way he has overcome tragedies in his life.

John, of Lavender Way, was brought up in Somersham. He never knew his father, while his mother couldn’t cope and was eventually jailed for benefit fraud and another offence.

As a toddler, John would get his own breakfast and from a young age he cooked and cared for his five younger brothers and sisters. He even tried to clean the house from the age of five onwards. Tragically, one of his baby sisters died of sudden death syndrome. When the police arrived at the family’s filthy house in Somersham, an officer said it was the worst he had ever seen.

John visited his mother in prison once and, although she is now free, he does not know where she is and has little interest in letting her back into his life.

Following her trial, the family was split up. Some children went to live with their father, John’s step-father, others to an uncle while John moved between relatives’ and friends’ homes.

John said: “I was a perfect candidate to dive into drinks, drugs or violence.” He added: “The first 16 years of my life were painful.”

When he was 14, John found another family, the Scouts, and life began to get better – the organisation gave him support and direction. He is now a leader, helping to run three scout units, and is about to lead his first expedition abroad.

John tells his life experiences to some of his scouts, cubs and beavers who might also be facing problems.

“I know what it is like to have a life without purpose and my message to them is ‘the Scouts are here for you’.”

In 2009, John went to the Gambia to help build much-needed teachers’ accommodation.

He said: “It was a great experience and showed me there is always someone in a worse position than you. It also taught me that if I set my heart on something I can do it.”

John will put half his prize money towards his return to the Gambia in December, when he will lead a group of six young people from St Ives and Ramsey.

The determined teenager is also involved with the National Council for Voluntary Youth Services, FairTrade, Youth Action Network and many other groups.

Last night, judges said: “This finalist definitely knows the difference between right and wrong and will be an honest influence on other young people for years to come.”

Michelle Bradley, of Linton, is the partner of John’s step-father and said she is as proud of John “as any mum could be”.

“John is an inspiration to young people,” she said. “He is an incredible young man who has been through things that would put most people down.

“He shows what can be achieved with sheer determination and hard work.”

Despite difficulties at school over the years, John got the A level results he wanted from St Ivo School in St Ives and is off to Keele University to study politics and a possible career in journalism.

John was nominated for the Yopey award by fellow Scouts as recognition for his remarkable turnaround and his tireless efforts to help others.

Sponsors of the awards included LifePlus in St Neots and EACS in Huntingdon.