How Leonard Cheshire has changed in 50 years

Dick Harris

Dick Harris has been involved with us for 50 years. He tells us about his journey from resident to staff member and how the charity has changed over those years.

Dick Harris in his wheelchair outside a front door

With a lot of the world still under lockdown, it’s a strange time to be marking my golden jubilee at Leonard Cheshire. Three months can feel like a lot longer when things change as rapidly as they have done in 2020. But looking back over my half-century with the charity, I can see how far we’ve come – and how my experiences changed the course of my life.

Meeting Leonard Cheshire

When I first lived at Leonard Cheshire services in the 1970s, I shared a room with three other men. One was in his late 60s. A dormitory set-up in itself is relatively alien – now people have their own rooms and things have moved on a bit!

Back then, Leonard Cheshire himself was still a regular presence at the charity. The first time I met him, I was about 18 years old and living at Oxfordshire Cheshire Home in Banbury.

Of course, he was impressive: but he didn’t want to be the centre of attention and he didn’t want much fuss. Leonard Cheshire was interested in talking to people. He had time for everyone – residents and staff. I think he had a very calming influence. He could just put people at ease.

Getting the support to increase my independence

As the charity continued to evolve, so did the way we approached disability and independence. And my life changed with that shift. By the end of the 1970s, I’d moved into my own place after nine years with the service.

You can’t downplay how fun it is to be out on your own. When I moved out into a shared house with other disabled people, I spent my entire food budget on the first night in the pub!

Going out on my own also led me to meet my wife, Angi. We got married and had two children. Fast forward and we had a five-year-old grandson and three-year-old granddaughter (with another grandchild due in September).

Working to support others on their journey to independence

Finally, as the charity changed with the new century, I came back into the fold – 35 years after first living in one of the homes. I was headhunted to re-join the organisation as an independent living advisor. This time, it was about enabling other people to have the same journey to independence as I did. I helped 13 people to move out into the community.

And today? As they say, the only constant is change. I’ve since held a customer support role, speaking to people in our services and gathering their views. After that, I spent some time in Fundraising, and I’m now in the Marketing team.

As we deal with significant changes to our lives and ways of working, I find it interesting to see just how different the world – and my life – is compared to when I first arrived at my Leonard Cheshire home aged 18.