In the last week of November 2010 we visited the ‘Disability Centre’ in Rocheway and were greeted by Stuart Kirk, the Project Manager for the Centre. Stuart is an enthusiast, a believer in ‘his’ Centre and, as you read through the pages covering it, we hope you’ll agree he has every reason to feel enthusiastic about it. However, as you’ll also see, there are some open ends, which Stuart desires to do something about. Not only did Stuart give us an amazing guided tour of this facility but he also gave us over an hour’s instruction as to what we might call the ‘how, why and wherefore’ of the Centre. We have therefore taken all he shared with us and (with only a little bit of editing) have turned it into three articles, the titles of which you’ll find at the side of each page and which also act as the access to each page.
1. The Charity
Interview with Stuart Kirk of “Disability Essex” (22nd November 2010)
Rochford Life: Stuart, can you tell me a bit about who is behind this centre please?
Stuart: It is the new home for a charity which has been in existence for sixty years. Back in the late nineteen forties the Central Council for the Care of Cripples established the Essex Association for the Welfare of the Physically Handicapped. Their remit was to create and then support local self-help groups for people with disabilities. My read of that is people coming back from the War with bits missing. This Central Council later changed its name and is now known as RADA, a national well-known charity (The Royal Association for Disability Rights – see http://www.radar.org.uk/radarwebsite/).
The Essex Association has had several name changed and Disability Essex (see http://www.disabilityessex.org/) is our latest incarnation. We are a registered charity under the name of Essex Disabled People’s Association. We are wholly owned by the clubs that we support across the county, so we are a company limited by guarantee and all the various charities are our shareholders and are limited to a liability of ten pounds in the event of our folding. They own us; we don’t control them and over the past years we’ve done a whole raft of activities aimed at supporting these self-help groups.
For example, back in the fifties and sixties we had a couple of holiday flats in Walton on the Naze so that our clubs members could have a week’s holiday, a change of scenery to get away from it all, which many of them couldn’t afford otherwise. That scheme only came to an end when people said they wanted to go to Costa del Sol rather than locally, so that faded out.
We also had wheelchair accessible minibuses. These small charities could not afford their own transport and how else could a wheelchair user be moved around the county? So we had wheelchair accessible minibuses which were available to be used by our neighbour clubs; it was a matter of sharing the costs with maximum usage. Over the years these clubs got more affluent, the price of minibuses came down, and so the need fell away. It’s now gone full circle; clubs are beginning to struggle, the price of insuring and maintaining these minibuses is going up, and several people have said, can you take the bus off our hands and we’ll hire or borrow it from you as we need. There are a couple of our minibuses out there that are Minibus Share Essex. It’s a wholly owned trading subsidiary which owns the buses and it’s a way of segmenting the organisation, so that if any one activity collapses, it’s not affecting the core. So these buses are available to be borrowed by our member clubs. We used to have about one hundred and fifty to two hundred clubs at the peak about ten to fifteen years ago. (See the website for the list of about 77 present listed clubs)
As a spin-off from that we also train the drivers to drive the mini-bus, and learn how you strap a wheelchair into a mini-bus and so on. If a member club wants to take on volunteers they need CRB clearance. We can provide that at special rates.
We used to provide our members with public liability insurance. If you had a small charity club and you wanted to hire a hall, you had to have insurance but that could cost a couple of thousand pounds which is beyond the means of a lot of groups. We had all our members automatically covered. Over the past few years, our county council grants have plummeted. It’s been steadily declining since about 2000 and it’s likely to get worse in the present climate. So last year we had to bite the bullet and tell our members that we will refer you to our insurance broker who will give you a special deal, but we can no longer pay it for you. It came as quite a blow to some groups because of how much insurance they would have to pay. Some couldn’t and some have gone to the wall. As much as we hate it there isn’t a lot we can do.
We can no longer afford to subsidise, so we have been looking at ways that we can support these groups which we were set up to support all these years, and if they need any help with any of the charity regulations – finance, anything really – we hope to be a one stop shop for them.
We also try to help people with disabilities directly. In the foyer there is an electric wheelchair and over there we have a mobility scooter. Several years ago we had a bequest to be spent on people with disabilities. We talked with the solicitors and came up with a package whereby we would accept the donation of a mobility scooter, have it professionally refurbished and then give it back to the community to somebody who needed it and we recycled, I think it is fifty or sixty scooters with the money that we were given, bearing in mind it would cost about a hundred and fifty pounds each in order to have them refurbished with new batteries, new brakes and the whole package, and we think that was money well spent.
There was one lady, her daughter had MS and she died at the age of 24. She had an electric wheelchair. Do you remember your first car, the freedom it gave you? And this electric wheelchair was that girl’s freedom. For the first time she could go down to the shops for her mother, go round to see her friends – freedom, independence – and her mother was quite tearful when the scooter went, and she said make sure it goes to somebody who will get the same pleasure out of it as her daughter did. We had it professionally checked out and then gave it away, no money involved. We still accept, now and again, some scooters but we haven’t got the finances to give them away. So now, for example, if somebody said they needed a scooter, we’d have to sell to them one of our spares just to cover the cost of refurbishing it, which could be one hundred and fifty to two hundred pounds.
We have a couple of health care buses out there. Originally the project was funded by the Lottery, then some of the PCTs took it over. Stroke awareness – a nurse would park the van up outside local supermarkets or wherever and catch people walking past for a health check, blood pressure, lifestyle questions etc. You don’t have to go to the doctors, you are just attracted on the way past. During the course of several years of the project, nurses have seen about ten thousand people, and I think is about 10 or 15% have been referred to their GP and in some cases the GP has immediately referred them to A&E – by ambulance! The idea of that project was to help prevent people from becoming disabled. That’s just another little project that we’ve been running in the past.