Thirteen years ago I was in the greenhouse, at the Cheshire Home that I had recently moved to, with a volunteer who grew the tomatoes. He said to me, “I can’t do this anymore ….I don’t do it for management, I do it for the residents, but more and more do I find myself working for a business and I can’t do it anymore.” The tomatoes were just ripening, but he left that day and never came back and I took over from him in the greenhouse. It was a sad day. That spirit of togetherness with which it all began had been so overrun by the corporate ways of the charity that the management no longer knew how to embrace volunteers within the family, and in fact no longer even recognised the family, but just the service provided to those in need.
I had moved to the Cheshire Home to be a part of the family, longing for the community that it could offer, and yet it seemed that it was falling apart even before I got here. I wasn’t going to give up without a fight though. I couldn’t just give up on all the hopes and dreams I had for a better future. Thirteen years later I have no choice left but to come to the same conclusion as the volunteer who stood in the greenhouse with me that day. I’ve put my time and effort into one project after another, but no longer can I work for this business. The concept of family has been totally lost along with the vision of Leonard Cheshire and all the other pioneers of these homes. Just recently we’ve had a new manager at the home. She’s good, and in fact the best we’ve had, but the very fact that she’s such a good manager has been the final nail in the coffin. She’s paid to manage a service and not to uphold the spirit of our founder.
My relationship with those that live here will not change. Of course I’ll keep up the friendships and will always do what I can to help my neighbours, but I’ve now relinquished my official duties and there will be no more Cheshire Home projects. I can’t describe how sad I find this and how much I’ve been living under a cloud these last few weeks since realising that I have to accept it’s over and that I have to move on to something new in life. Before I despair too much, though, I need to appreciate that just as this road is coming to an end so a new road is branching off in earnest, with new hopes and dreams and a resurgence of spirit.
One of my projects at the Cheshire Home has been the management of a five acre field with Soay Sheep. It was always intended to be something for everyone here and although many of the residents would love to be involved there has never been the will of management to make it work for them. Access issues are never straight forward with wheelchair users, but until you get people out to see the sheep it’s difficult to generate the enthusiasm for the craft projects that result from the wool etc. However the project did not go unnoticed and last year I was approached by the manager of the ‘Secure Children’s Unit’ at the end of the lane. They asked me if I’d keep some animals in the grounds of their unit in order to show the kids another side of life. They’re kids in the care system that need locking up for their own safety or the safety of others. They’re not criminals and have not been convicted of anything and it’s a case of setting them on the right path in life and when you realise just how much the odds are stacked against many of these kids, then you realise why you need to lock them up to do this.
So last summer that new road began. I got a gang of lads together from the local pub and we fenced off an area in the grounds of the secure unit. We included the barn in the compound and an area in front of the barn for growing winter fodder. The seeds were set for a whole new series of initiatives that are slowly coming to fruition. Lambs were born this spring and wool harvested for spinning. Fodder beet planted for the sheep and flowers cultivated for the bees. This has also led on to workshop projects with a quad bike and go-carts which has involved some of the lads in mechanics and riding go-carts. It’s really quite touching how the kids have taken to my involvement, but more importantly it’s fantastic to find a way in which I can truly input into the workings of society despite my terrible physical disadvantage.
Work is always a difficult one when you’re this disabled. I have many practical skills and can turn my hand to most tasks, but I can only work in my own time and way and can never operate at a commercial level. I’m capable of taking an office job, but sitting at a desk all day would physically run me into the ground and would leave no room for the really important work I have to do; ‘Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation’. I believe I was born for the role of being the living embodiment of this pioneering work that is taking the understanding of our physical health to new levels and that fate brought me to the point of embarking on this work. I must find a way to continue with ABR Therapy at all cost and with the therapy demanding thirty hours of my time each week there is only so much time left for other sides of life.
Despite my vision of community not working out at the Cheshire Home, I feel that with my work at the Secure Children’s Unit I have finally arrived at a way of life that both embraces my rehabilitation to the highest possible degree while also satisfying my social conscience. The Cheshire Home may not have given me what I hoped for but it has provided me with everything I need. The work I have done to rescue the Lodge from dereliction has allowed me a wonderful cottage with a great garden and field at the back, all for a level of rent that I can afford. The cottage doubles up as a therapy studio while my animal husbandry perfectly compliments my exercise program in imbuing my life with the spirit of nature and allowing me to pursue my thirst for conservation work, while the gentle exercise from managing the garden and land provides for the right conditions for my health to flourish through ABR Therapy. My animal husbandry has also opened up the opportunity for my voluntary work with disadvantaged children which completes the balance of give and take.
It’s taken a long time for my life to settle into such a well ordered existence and I hope now that the status quo may prevail for a good while. Life will inevitably move on to new ground in time, but for now I must concentrate on putting one hundred percent effort into ‘Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation’ while continuing to pursue my animal husbandry and work with children.