A View from the Chair – December and a Review of 2013
When I wrote the introduction for this year’s annual report for WDP I was delighted to have been able to list so many fine achievements, which I suppose started at last year’s annual meeting with the exciting news that my fellow trustees had awarded my wife Pam the title of Honorary Lifetime President in recognition of her hard work and commitment to WDP that stems back over 20 years.
Warrington Disability Partnership
It doesn’t feel like it was twelve months ago that I described 2012 as a rollercoaster year. In comparison, at this year’s annual meeting I described 2013 more akin to a carousel ride. This was thanks in part to the calming influence of our new Chief Operating Officer Derek Jones and his new management team comprising of Gavin, Brun and Caroline. A point that was confirmed by the large number of nominations we received from members of staff that saw Derek voted as ‘Employee of the Year’.
The carousel ride did have a few bumps here and there, which was due to the knock on effects of the relentless financial pressures faced by our funding partners in the local authority and NHS, which has resulted in continuing short-term contracts. This affected staff moral in certain teams and overall it stifled our long-term business planning.
Contract changes unfortunately led to the sad loss of two posts in our nationally recognised Independent Living Team. In the true spirit of "Team WDP" Lynne returned the following week as a volunteer to lead our popular Luncheon Clubs. In contrast, funding from new partners and income from our successful social enterprise ‘Disability Trading Company’ supported the overall expansion of our team. This included Tom Coleridge who took up the post as our Disability Information Officer through funding from the Poppy Factory. The return of several volunteers and the recruitment of many more also led to the expansion of this area of our team. In addition we added new skills and a wealth of experience to our board of trustees when we welcomed Mark Wilson OBE, ex-district manager of Jobcentre Plus and national lead on disability with the Department of Work and Pensions. Plus Councillor Maureen Mclaughlin, Warrington Borough Council's lead on Equality and Diversity, accepted our invitation to become our latest Patron.
Other high points of the year included:
Disability Awareness Day
The hard work of DAD’s Army of volunteers, plus the financial support of our sponsors and supporters led this year by Your Housing Group, and an increased number of exhibitors, combined to make our 22nd Disability Awareness Day, ‘Simply the Best’ so far. In contrast to last year’s wettest event, this year’s was the hottest and driest, which helped to attract record numbers to most of the 12 supporting events held the week leading up to the big day, plus a record number of visitors to Disability Awareness Day, including our special guest Ester McVey Minister for Disabled People who paid tribute to everyone involved, she made reference to DAD as the world leader in disability awareness and independent living events. The Minister said that ‘DAD was the catalyst for organisations across the world to run similar events’.
DAD was featured in a four page article on disability in the national Guardian newspaper and confirmation that the MESSAGE Institute based in the Punjab in India and Closing the Gap Group from Cameroon held their versions of Disability Awareness Day underlined claims that DAD Warrington is truly an international leader in the field of disability. Interestingly a couple of days after DAD I typed ‘Disability Awareness Day 14 July’ into Google and was blown away with over ten pages of findings that included the websites of many of our sponsors and exhibitors, but it was whilst reading websites like www.goodreads.com that it dawned on me that we have achieved global recognition for our event. Their headline read, Disability genre: this giveaway is to celebrate Disability Awareness Day on 14th July and high street clothing retailer Topshop had a lead article ‘to coincide with Disability Awareness Day’ featured Sophie Morgan, an artist, designer and presenter who talked about her personal experience as a wheelchair user and paraplegic. www.insideout.topshop.com BBC Cebbies also carried an article on DAD. Several international organisations referred to DAD including one in Mexico which quoted that a user led organisation based in Warrington England was responsible for launching the International Day of Disability Awareness, when I clicked on the link it took me to our DAD website. WOW!
The lowest point of the year was news of the sad loss of Anne Thorpe MBE; Anne was first and foremost a friend, she was one of our original trustees and a key member of several disability organisations including Riding for Disabled People, Arthritis Care and Griffiths Court Foundation.
Another sad day saw the closure and more recently the demolition of the Dallam Day Centre, the place where we established our foundations over 20 years ago. As I think back to my early days at the Centre I remember friends and members WDP who are no longer with us, including Jim Cowan, Bob Jack, Annette Clemo, Alan Smith, Ethlyn Whitaker, Dave Connor, Chris Sykes, Pat Roberts, Raza, Mark Rushton, Nancy, Shelly and Michelle.
Other sad news saw fellow Trustee Adrian Derbyshire retiring from competitive fencing after a burglary resulted in the loss of his bespoke equipment, but Adrian has turned his plight into something positive as he has refocused his attentions to championing Disability Hate Crime.
It was smiles all round with everyone at WDP, as staff and volunteers melted at the sight of a new baby girl, mum Kerry, a WDP volunteer had a queue of budding child-minders. I also heard that Debbie, one of our volunteer co-ordinators has signed her up as a WDP volunteer. I think Debbie was taking my suggestion that we need to get more young people on board, a little too far. In the same month a cap and gown, and a bottle of champagne was the order of the day when Naomi, WDP's first Young Ambassador who is back with us working in the main office received her Social Work Degree. Fellow Trustee Dave Cheetham said watching daughter Naomi was a very proud moment for him and his wife Christine.
I remember back about eight years ago when I first met Naomi, she was looking to raise funds to employ a temporary support worker so she could join her school colleagues in a visit to South Africa and later to Rumania. In return for helping raise the money she needed, Naomi agreed to share her experiences at our Annual General Meeting, and I remember looking round the room whilst Naomi talked to her slide presentation, she captivated the audience. She is now working with Tom visiting schools where they share they experiences, raising awareness of stigma and bullying.
After years of 'will they won't they', our good friends John and Brun finally tied the knot with a September wedding. I must admit, I thought John was going to propose whilst we were all on holiday in Egypt last year. I was honoured to have accepted John's invitation to be his Best Man. Brun announced her news to Team WDP via an 'all users' email and the news had everyone sending their best wishes. But the news that brought a big smile to my face was that the venue for their wedding was Walton Hall, home for DAD. I'm just thankful that they didn't choose to get married during DAD Week; I think running DAD might have distracted me from the Best Man speech. On that point I managed to use my 5 minutes to embarrass John, with one or two stories of my own, plus several more embarrassing ones about his childhood, courtesy of his mum.
During the past year, several members of staff and volunteers returned to work after battling serious illness during the year, keeping up the WDP ‘can do’ attitude. On a personal note, picking up the ‘Entrepreneur of Excellence Award for Disability’ at the National Diversity Awards in Leeds in September was an honour and a humbling experience. Oh, and it was one of the rare occasions when I was speechless on stage! During the year I was guest speaker at several Rotary and Lions Clubs and a couple of Universities and Royal Colleges where I shared my journey, including the development of WDP.
With the support from my dive buddy Dave Williams we each managed to add over 30 more dives to our Dive Logs, plus another PADI course. Together with our wives Pam and Janis we made two more trips back to Sharm el Sheikh, John and Brun joined us for the second trip and John completed his PADI Advanced Open Water qualification. We even managed a dive in Capernwray Lancashire on the wettest and coldest day of the summer. This was part of John’s ‘Stag Day’; we were joined by Dave Molyneux, my son Gavin and grandson Jamie. The jury is still our over the fact that Gavin said him and Jamie were wetter that we were underwater.
Although our third annual 'Going the Extra Mile Scuba Challenge' won't be remembered for raising the most funds, it will be remembered for the best in terms of raising the profile of Disability Awareness Day and Warrington Disability Partnership. Terry and his crew from Cheshire Scuba Academy provided the equipment, and Terry convinced me to complete the 64 lengths using the Poseidon Rebreather system. As news spread that I could be the first person with my level of disability to have used the Poseidon Paul Crone from Granada TV News agreed to meet up with Terry, John, Janis and I at Sankey Leisure Centre to film an interview that was aired four times on ITV the following day. Filming was expected to take thirty minutes, but we were still there two hours later. But thanks to Live Wires team at Sankey we completed the task in hand. It was a really memorable session as only a few feet away, we were being watched by nearly sixty kids attending a teaching session. Terry and I felt like film stars. Follow this link to see for yourself http://www.itv.com/news/granada/topic/dave-thompson/
The 'Going the Extra Mile Scuba Challenge' was a great team effort, with staff and volunteers from WDP, Birchwood Lions together with friends, family and supporters. The atmosphere was fantastic and the colourful promotional flags and banners helped to set the scene for a great event that attracted over thirty divers. I touched the wall for the final time after 64 lengths and I surfaced feeling absolutely shattered, but the cheers soon instilled an injection of energy needed to swim over to the pool-hoist where Terry confirmed that my time was one hour fifty seven minutes, just three minutes under our two hours target! Visit this link on you tube to see a DVD of the event. www.youtube.com/watch?v=Alqy52c-Olkk
Welfare Reforms was the focus of discussions throughout the past year, both at WDP and during my job at 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. Under Occupancy Payments, better known as the Bedroom Tax, Universal Credits, online applications, moving the Social Fund from JobCentre Plus to Local Authorities and Personal Independence Payments replacing Disability Living Allowance have combined in raising anxiety and frustration amongst disabled people and carers. Added to this, recent funding changes to Legal Aid have resulted in a reduction in support available from local Citizens Advice Bureaus.
A challenge by a group of disabled people against the government’s decision to close the national Independent Living Fund (ILF) led to a landmark case which saw the Court of Appeal quash the Government’s decision, ruling that the Minister for Disabled People breached the Public Sector Equality Duty. The Department for Work and Pensions had planned to close the ILF in March 2015, because they considered it to be financially unsustainable,. The fund, which supports more than 19,000 severely-disabled people, was closed to new applicants in 2010 but remains the lifeline to enabling disabled people to live in their homes in the community. Without it, many would need to live in residential or nursing homes.
During the past 23 years since I began my journey as a disabled person I have had a personal interest in welfare benefits and associated funding that has supported my independence. It is clear to see that as the government attempts to manage the national debt, it is set on continuing reductions in welfare benefits and cuts to Local Authority budgets which is resulting in constant reviews of service criteria, all of which impact negatively on the lives of disabled people, carers and their families.
If independence for disabled people is no longer a priority for the government, user led organisations like Warrington Disability Partnership will be needed more than ever before, otherwise disabled people will be subjected to stigmatising and soul destroying means testing or worse we will become reliant on charitable hand-outs.
Looking to the Year Ahead
As the dust settles in our stockrooms at Warrington Market we have been very busy finalising the money raised from our fantastic Christmas fundraising activities that included a Santa’s Grotto, Teddy Tombola, Christmas Raffle and sale of Christmas stock, all of which is set to top a fantastic £11,000. We have planned our 2014 schedule of fundraising events that include regular quiz nights, sponsored swim, sponsored walk, going the extra mile scuba challenge, music nights, and our first meeting of the Trustees, Disability Forum and the Disability Awareness Day (DAD) management team are only a few weeks away. In addition, contract negotiations, bid writing and further development of our Disability Trading Company will be high on our agenda. I’m sure that there will be plenty to celebrate, and there will be one or two hard decisions to make along the way, but overall I know we will continue to stay strong as a team.
Finally I would like to apologise for not posting my regular monthly ‘View from the Chair’ articles, this was due in part to a very serious event that occurred mid-April when my wife Pam suffered a stroke, which although it only had a mild impact on her physical health and speech, the emotionally impact was far greater. Especially when it was confirmed that an underlying long-term health condition that had remained undiagnosed for nearly five years was to blame…. During the rest of the year Pam has had countless hospital visits, tests and medication changes. I would like to thank everyone who has supported Pam and I through this very stressful time, especially our children Gavin and Emma, their partners Caroline and Tommy, and our best friends Dave and Janis Williams, and our friends and colleagues at WDP.
And there you have it in summary, the year that was ‘2013’.
On behalf of Team WDP may I wish you all a very Happy New Year
Until next time, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed it.
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