Message from the chairman
It is with a mixture of sadness, gratitude and pride that I compose this, my last message as chairman of this fine charity.
Sadness, that I hope you will understand, as my six-year tenure has come to a close; gratitude for the opportunity to serve as a trustee for my full term and towards those who have supported Leonard Cheshire Disability; and immense pride in the lasting association that this now means.
When I started in my position in June 2009 the world was, in many ways, a wholly different place. Britain was feeling the full force of the financial crisis. Times were tough: local authorities had less money to give to our work, as did the public who had so generously supported us over the years. Things were even tougher for disabled people, who were hit hard by the crisis and faced an uncertain future. Across the country, and across the world in all of the countries in which we operate, it seemed that doors were closing, opportunities were shrinking.
However, even in those times of reduction, we broadened our horizons. Inspired by our founder, Leonard Cheshire, we adopted a wholly positive attitude. By using our resources efficiently and imaginatively, by looking for constructive solutions, by building partnerships and most of all by never forgetting our mission, we developed and introduced new methods of care and support.
If I were to select one example that might be a legacy of my time as chairman, it would be our steps to create independent living developments — The Maples in Northern Ireland being an amazing instance — that are a world away from the traditional model of housing with care. In places such as The Maples, disabled people live in modern flats and maisonettes, working and socialising alongside their non- disabled neighbours. They play a vital part in their communities, living independently with self-confidence.
This year alone, we invested over £6m in accommodation for disabled people in the UK to make sure that the people we support can enjoy better surroundings from day to day.
I would also like to take a moment to highlight another important result of our determination to meet the adversity of hard economic times with a positive intent — our focus on the issue of employment. This is especially important, since disabled people tend to face higher rates of unemployment — a problem that became more pronounced during the financial crisis. Working for a living and having a job is so much more than having a salary. For all of us, having a meaningful job creates dignity and purpose, and allows us all to contribute to society as a whole. In the last year, for example, our Change100 programme gave disabled graduates paid work experience with some of Britain’s top companies. Best of all, dozens of those students have now found permanent positions within the organisations they worked with — this means they have a real opportunity to improve their skills, forge a lifelong career and change their lives for the better.
And our focus on employment was not restricted to the British Isles. I am extremely pleased that our international employment programmes have supported almost 8,000 disabled people in Africa and Asia with training and the opportunity to earn a living.
It’s a testament to our values that, even in difficult times, we continued to look to those communities who face even more challenges than we do. I am hugely proud of the Leonard Cheshire Global Alliance and those teams around the world who are making our global society more understanding and inclusive. Over the past six years, in addition to the work that we have done on changing the nature of social care, and our pioneering work on employment, we are all proud to see our voluntary income rising.
Voluntary income is critical for many reasons, not least so that we are able to support disabled people in ways that enhance and enrich their lives — whether that is by supplying wheelchair-accessible transport to schools in Africa or speech technology in East Anglia that literally gives a voice to someone without one. In short, we are supporting disabled people to live full and fulfilling lives. Fundraising also offers people from all walks of life and all ages and backgrounds to make a personal commitment to Leonard Cheshire Disability. Whether it’s running marathons, organising summer fetes or simply donating through our website, I have been humbled by the personal stories that have accompanied each and every pound that has been raised.
Along the way I have also thoroughly enjoyed making my own small contribution. I was lucky enough to run in four London marathons, as well as participating in the Great North Run, and, rather memorably, jumping into the North Sea on Boxing Day in aid of Marske Hall two years ago. However, my two favourite events are the spectacular run up Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland in 2012, and the fantastic Dambusters Run where I ran alongside the extraordinary 617 Squadron to mark the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid. Covering 700 miles in seven days, it was more than a challenge — but running for Leonard Cheshire made every step worthwhile. I completed seven marathons in those seven days, and I am so pleased that some of the personal relationships made during those times will endure into the future.
I’ll take many other memories from my six years in the Leonard Cheshire team. In particular, I’ll never forget my visit to St James’s Palace last year, where Her Majesty the Queen hosted an event to honour our work. Disabled people, volunteers and staff came together, from all walks of life, to celebrate the difference that we’ve made to people’s lives around the world. It reminded me just how important our work is — and how much we should celebrate it. We cannot ever say ‘thank you’ enough to Her Majesty for her support over the decades. We are lucky to benefit from her patronage in such a meaningful way.
I wish the new chair every success, and would simply hope that they enjoy the privilege of being part of this incredible charity as much as I have.