A image of Daniel. You can see his head and shoulders, and he’s got a small smile on his face!

Daniel has recently been promoted to Direct Payment Team Lead. Congratulations Daniel! So we grabbed him for a quick Q and A Session.

What is your role at Disability North and how long have you worked here?
Direct Payments Team Lead. I started in February 2023 as Personalisation Advisor before being
promoted to my current role in June 2023.

Can you tell us what the promotion means to you?
It means a lot. I believe what we do as a team makes a huge difference to the individuals we
support, so to have the opportunity to lead and improve our service over time, is something that
I am very passionate about.

What’s your favourite thing about your job?
This would be the people we work with. Everyone has their own story and own support
requirements, so getting to know each person or family over a period of time is very enjoyable.
I’m going to add another favourite here, and that is being able to come up with new ways
of improving our processes internally, meaning we can offer an even better service.

What is the most difficult thing about your job?
The workload is challenging and can mean we don’t always get to meet everyone’s expectations
in as timely a manor as I would like. We do our best though, and I think people recognise and
appreciate that.

What are you most proud to have achieved in your job?
Two things. Firstly, getting promoted to Team Lead after only being in the advisor
role for a few months. Alongside this, I am proud to have supported an individual to reduce their
contribution to care costs by almost 90%.

Disability North pride themselves on being an inclusive employer. What does that mean to you?
I think this was apparent to me from my very first contact regarding the Direct Payment Advisor
role. Having an employer who has such a strong understanding of disability and the need for a
flexible approach for employees is very reassuring. I know that my PAs are accepted and
welcomed too, which means I can get the very best out of my own support and therefore thrive
in my role.

Last week the daughter of the late Donald Dempsey OBE contacted Disability North to let us know that her Father had sadly passed away at the end of August.

Donald was one of the original founders of The Newcastle Council for the Disabled, now known as Disability North.

When talking about the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Newcastle Council for the Disabled Donald described it as

“One of the North of England’s pioneering charities for people with disabilities has reached a milestone in its history.”

The Newcastle Council for the Disabled, known as Disability North since 1995, was formed on the 25 September 1972. It quickly became a leading provider for disabled people throughout the North of England establishing one of the country’s first aids/equipment centres, and one of the first specialist advice and information services.

Recalling the history of the organisation, Donald M Dempsey OBE- the founding Secretary, and former Director of Newcastle Council for the Disabled said:

“It is particularly rewarding to be able to record the 50th anniversary of the formation of Newcastle Council for the Disabled as it shows the foresight and commitment of its founding members, staff and volunteers. Under the Chairmanship of the late Dr Graham Grant MBE, the increasing provision which followed its establishment proved to be of immense benefit to tens of thousands of people.”

In the formative years of the 1970s and 1980s, this progress set the foundations for the further developments to follow.

Donald Dempsey added that “aspirations were high, as demonstrated by the successes which ensued” one of which was the building of the Dene Centre, where almost 40 years later Disability North is still carrying out the work that The Newcastle Council for the Disabled began 52 years ago. 

Vici Richardson Chief Executive Officer of Disability North said:

“We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Donald and would like to extend our warmest sympathies to his family and friends.

We know that Donald and the team around him were fundamental to the work that is continuing to this day. They were instrumental in securing the first purpose-built centre of excellence for the northern region and with a major charity appeal, alongside the support of Newcastle City Council, Newcastle Health Authority (Teaching), Northern Regional Health Authority, Northumberland County Council and Northumberland Health Authority, the construction of the Dene Centre was commissioned and officially opened in 1985.

There is a saying about standing on the shoulders of giants and Disability North would not be where it is today without the good foundations it has been built on and we would like to recognise Donald and the many others who have played their part in founding, leading, and working with the organisation over the last 50 years.”

An image of a bus door with a ramp onto the pavement

A member of our network wrote about their experiences of travelling by bus

As the clock strikes 5pm, I log off my computer, put the blinds down and lock the office door behind me. The rain is coming down, so I put my hood up, ask my PA to cover the back of my chair as I pop the little protective bag over my driver control. We join the buzz of many other people leaving work and rushing
through Newcastle to get into the train station or a dry space at the bus stop.

Even though it’s chucking it down, the short walk to the bus stop is quite motivating. I have had a good day at work and am part of a community of people all traveling together, rather than individually in their own cars. We are all doing our bit to support the clean air zone in the city centre and wider
environmental impact caused by too many vehicles on our roads. I reach a packed bus stop… where people obviously recognise that carrying an umbrella and driving a powered wheelchair is a tricky task… so they kindly make a space under the bus stop.

We don’t have long to wait as the first of three possible buses comes around the corner, which will take me very close to my front door. I join the flow of people queuing to travel. The public step aside and signal to the driver to pop the ramp down first as they are happy to wait. The driver continues to avoid
eye contact with me, encouraging people to come forward. Then there is just me and my PA left on the stop. The driver is forced to look at me and mumbles the bus is full… There are people actively moving bags and prams to create a space, but the driver closes the door and drives away.

This would be bad if it happened once, but the record is five separate buses, with five separate drivers on the same rainy evening. This is not just a one off event but has happened several time… My 20 minute commute becomes 2 hours with no justification given.

I began to wonder why this happened. It wasn’t about the physical accessibility of the bus, because this investment has already been made. I asked my disabled friends and colleagues for their thoughts and to my amazement, we all had similar stories… Two ‘sober female’ wheelchair users not being allowed on the bus together at 11.30pm at night, even when the bus was empty! Drivers saying they had medical issues, meaning they couldn’t put the ramp down! Friends who use a walking aid, being refused access because
there is already ‘a wheelchair on’ and colleagues who have a visual impairment being grabbed and placed in their seat.

Lots of people have told me I should complain… yes, I know I should but in the 25 years I have worked in the disability field, ‘public transport’ has always been a hot topic for improvement. I honestly thought things would be different in 2023, but we still have a long way to go to achieve inclusion and its easy to
become a bit despondent about change. That said… there are far more excellent friendly, jolly, compassionate, sensible drivers out there, than the ones who have influenced my decision to leave my job in the city centre.

I am going to miss the city centre vibe and feel sad about the environmental impact of my travel, but the fear of discrimination, cold and rain on my commute to work has stopped me doing what most people do without even thinking about it.

Life Science Centre (or ‘Life) is based near Central Station in Newcastle. It is a space for learning and fun, with hands-on exhibitions, a planetarium, practical laboratories, sensory activities and creativity too. The centre welcomes thousands of visitors every year, from schools, to tourists to families. It is a fantastic resource.

David Jones is the Community Liaison Manager at Life. David has been working with a variety of organisations in the north east to make Life Science Centre as accessible as possible. 

The facilities at Life are user-led. There have been some extremely positive steps taken to not only be accessible to people with neurodiversity, but also to empower visitors to be themselves. The whole centre is wheelchair accessible, with accessible toilets and changing spaces, and adjustable height tables in practical areas. Life has replaced the squeaky laminate for noise-suppressed flooring. There is also a packed lunch area, so visitors can bring their own food to enjoy at the centre.

There are sensory bags available for a £20 refundable deposit, containing ear defenders, a laminated list of contents and a laminated visitor guide. The guide provides warnings for areas which may have flashing lights or sudden noises. There are also a variety of fidget toys to provide soothing distraction when needed.

One of the most successful projects they have launched are ‘Relaxed Sundays’.  Every second Sunday of the month, all loud installations and those with flashing lights are turned off. There is a limited number of entries to ensure the centre doesn’t become crowded. The planetarium is left with the door open, so people can enjoy the show from the doorway, or leave if they need to. 

David Jones has done a huge amount of work with North East Autism Society, and following this work, he asked for our help to find some families with children to test out Relaxed Sunday. One of the families stayed on and spent a day at Life and they gave this feedback:

“On arrival we were given all the information we needed, including the guide which highlighted noise, light and smell areas throughout the museum. This was a great idea and I’m sure will be very welcomed by lots of parent carers.

The range of activities was fantastic and kept both of my sons who are 5 and 8, one of whom finds it very difficult to engage for long periods of time was fully engrossed in all of the activities and we spent over 3 1/2 hours at the museum, I think we could’ve even spent longer if the café was open or we’d thought to bring a packed lunch.

The thought that has gone into the relaxed sessions didn’t go unnoticed and it was really refreshing to be able to attend a venue where we felt our boys were in a safe environment and didn’t have to ‘risk asses’, even down to the finer things such as having hand dryers switched off and paper towels on hand, it was very much appreciated. My husband and I even managed to get involved with some of the exhibits, which is a rarity!”

There is nothing like proper user-led training with people who encounter the barriers and can give feedback and solutions on how things can be inclusive. As David says- there is always more learning- but the work they have done so far is fantastic.

We were delighted to help   Life. Helping arts and culture venues with accessibility is something we are always happy to do. From connecting with families from our network, to accessibly workshops by Angie (who has just refreshed her access audit training), we love to work with local venues and workspaces. We’re currently working with Family Explorers, and we’re looking forward to seeing that progress.

For more details about visiting   Life please check out the website: www.life.org.uk.

Some neurodivergent visitors find it helpful to be able to prepare for their visit. There is a Visual Story included in the Sensory Bag, but this is also available on the website. Here is the link to the present Visual Story, which is regularly updated to reflect the changing offer within Life: https://www.life.org.uk/app/uploads/2023/07/Life-Science-Centre-Visual-Story.pdf