…..How? I hear you all ask. Well I have always been someone who firmly believes that simply moaning in life doesn’t get you anywhere. Also contrary to what some people will tell you I thought long and hard before launching the Equality Act and Local Press on my town council, even though to everyone they can see I have a case. Why, well I have lived in Wymondham most of my life, my childhood memories and all my firsts from riding a bike to riding……….well let’s leave that. Needless to say I am passionate about what I consider my hometown. I enjoyed school and have friends I still see who I first met at school. Many of us now have children going through the same schools, why because it is actually for the most part a lovely place to live. The schools are good, there are plenty of cafe’s and as long as people keep supporting them a good selection of independently run businesses in the town. Some do cost a bit more, but increasingly you get what you pay for. Take my house purchase, bought from a Wymondham business owner who’s family grew up here, he could see my need for a bungalow, but was also fully aware of the potential for a builder to make a buck. It made little difference to him who bought it either way he got his money. However he spoke to the vendor to let them know about my circumstances and that it would become a family home for another Wymondham family. Now at the end of the day money talks, but I’d like to think maybe this extra piece of work that he did (off his own back ironic given the condition of my back) swung the sale in our favour. Look at me digressing already.
I tried for months to get the council to rectify the issue regarding access at Ketts Park, even contacting them before the park was built making them aware of access issues. I gave them warning last October that the local press were keen to print the story and still nothing. I met with one of my own Councillors and he made what turned out to be lip service and it was only when the same Councillor proposed wasting £60,000 of tax payers money dismantling a park he had pointed out I could get to in my wheelchair that enough was enough. I can take so much, I hadn’t complained about parks that have been in Wymondham all my 40 years even though many, in fact all except one fall below current Equality Act (2010) standards and I hadn’t complained however when I go, get out of my way for a number of reasons. Firstly I am well educated and despite what some people think, being in my wheelchair doesn’t actually impact on my ability to think and make reasoned argument. It may take longer and more planning but the abilty, knowledge and determination is still there, it just uses 4 wheels instead of 2 legs – given that most teens cannot wait to not have to walk everywhere and pass their licences one could argue my wheels are actually an upgrade. Secondly I am a Taurean, by default that makes me incredibly stubborn, add to that, that I was one of 6 boys in a household in my teenage years I learnt to bend not break the rules (cheers Madness and my older brothers mistakes), I learnt how to look after myself and protect those important to me, I learnt to pick my issues carefully, I also learnt that a big family is a powerful ally. My career has seen me work with integrity, morality and to argue for the underdog and to make sure they did not face adversity alone. My community are now my powerful ally, I am a stubborn, educated man with a strong moral compass if you add all that together you come up against a strong opponent. More than all of this I am a solutions man, which means you need to know where your skills lie, and where you need the skills of others.
This means instead of taking on a Town Council alone I have contacted Equal Lives a nationally known disability charity, I have read around the subject, I have contacted local journalists (not just made empty threats), I have spoken to the Equality and Advisory Support Service (EASS) and used some great knowledge from them, I have been in contact with Disability Rights UK, I have spoken to friends and the local community to get their support and then I have launched all guns blazing. More than this though I have been honest with myself about what I can and cannot do, when I have needed help I’ve asked, when I’ve needed to take my time in writing things I have, when I have had to accept help from others this has been greatly received.
Now that this course of action has started we will wait to see what happens from here, what decisions are made and what the outcomes are will be dictated by the council and the courts or arbitration services I guess.
Where in all this is the good and me being more than just a moaner? Well behind the scenes I have been working to try and ensure that nobody will have to go through the embarrassment, indignities and stress that I have been through, initially between April and October alone and then with limited support until the new year. How? Well I have been speaking with others in the community about setting up an Enabling Access in Wymondham group. I want all disabled people to have representation and support, as a wheelchair user I cannot speak out on the needs of people with visual impairments, or learning difficulties nor do I know what it is like to live with any of the Autistic Spectrum disorders (I hate the prefix dis as it assumes we are incapable, which we are not we are different, and need certain barriers removing to participate), I could list a whole wealth of the diversity of conditions but you get my point, we need to be inclusive and for that I need input from service users. I need volunteers and a whole wealth of other things I have probably not even thought about as yet. The purpose of the group would be two fold firstly to build a network of people who would be able to liaise with councils, builders, companies and so on and so forth to offer advice and guidance on how to make existing places, and more importantly new projects in the planning stages accessible for all, and secondly for others who find themselves in a similar situation to me, to have a support group they can contact to help them with their accessibility issues.
Being proactive I have been in contact with Equal Lives, who I know work with access groups within Norfolk to ask for guidance. The response I got was better than any I anticipated. Penny Parker contacted me and in her own words replied with;
“I currently work with all our groups whether to support in the setting up of, or other issues that arise once they are developed.
I would be happy to come out and meet up with yourself and other community members so if you could send me some dates and times when you would be available then we can arrange a date.
I will also see if someone from our other Access groups would be available to come along too, so they can share their experience and knowledge with you.
I look forward to hearing from you and to meeting you soon.”
Furthermore Lauren Cope the reporter from Archant has agreed to run an article about the group and it’s purpose in an attempt to spread the word to a wealth of people.
As if all this wasn’t enough already, a local many I have been speaking to who already runs the Talking Newspaper has an accessible venue and a sponsor who is willing to cover the cost of the initial meeting, there we go people already using their strengths and contacts to do the things I know I cannot.I was overwhelmed with the response I got from people for the photo shoot at the Kings Head Meadow, I cannot begin to explain how happy I am with the response to this project.
It is all to easy in this day and age to complain, next time before you do think, do you have a genuine reason for your complaint, but more than that do you have it within you to help prevent similar issues arising and if so be that person to initiate change!