FORMER Bradford College student James Owen Thomas has designed a series of special pictures to communicate the climate crisis for youngsters with complex needs.

The talented artist has designed the very first PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System) symbols to help children and young people with complex communication needs to understand the climate emergency and help them to express their passion for action.

As a passionate environmentalist who feels a deep sense of connection with the natural world, the project is close to James’s heart.

James worked on the symbols with Louise Hotchkiss, operational director of Pyramid Educational Consultants, the official global training provider of PECS, and the Tree Council.

He is a Young Tree Champion Ambassador with the Tree Council and last year he was chosen by the Prime Minister's Office to be a One Step Greener Ambassador for the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP26.

Unveiled at the Artmaker Symposium and Festival at Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre in Knaresborough, the pictures or symbols, include a polar bear afloat on a small piece of ice, a sapling in a mound of earth, a forest fire and a flooded city.

James has made a name from himself through creating artworks from items people throw away. Through his artwork James - who has autism - has inspired thousands of Young Tree Champions in schools across the UK to connect and protect nature.

He leads on engagement with special needs schools and, learning from his own communication challenges, he decided to create a set of symbols to help others with similar challenges understand and communicate their passion to tackle the crisis.

‘’Growing up, I relied on PECS to share my thoughts and aspirations with others. When I first became aware of the environmental crisis, I realised there was no way for those with complex communication needs such as mine to contribute to the conversation and to understand that they too can be a powerful part of the solution.

“Equality is something that I am passionate about - it is so important that everyone has a voice, that everyone has the opportunity to understand the crisis and to speak up in their own way. Children are our future, and these symbols make all the difference to those who care about the environment and have complex communication needs. My goal is to give those that need them the tools to become a force for nature. This is my way of giving back.’’

Richard Pollard, The Tree Council’s National Schools Programme Manager, said: “We are so proud of what James has achieved and we are thoroughly excited by his work with PECS symbols. His empathy for others and his drive to help everyone become Forces for Nature like him, no matter what challenges they face, is nothing short of awe-inspiring. We could all learn a thing or two from James.”

Louise Hotchkiss, operational director at Pyramid Educational Consultants, the official global training provider of PECS, said: “We are thrilled to be able to support James in his work as a Tree Council Ambassador by producing a special edition set of environmental themed symbols. James used PECS to support his communication when he was younger; it is fantastic that he is now using symbols to aid him in spreading the message about climate change and what everyone can do to prevent further damage to our planet.”