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A fantastic year! – Engagement and Inclusion in 2023

As I put my out of office on and send my last email of 2023, I thought I would write a blog in an attempt to sum up what a busy and fulfilling year this has been. I confess taking on my new job role: ‘Engagement and Inclusion Lead’ at Disability North was quite daunting, but it has been a brilliant whirlwind of exciting opportunities.

Never forgetting Disability North’s mission ‘To promote Inclusion, independence and choice for disabled people and their families’, the focus of my role is to make the world more accessible and inclusive for everyone. Taking on ‘the world’ in the first twelve months was a little ambitious, so I focussed on breaking down barriers in the north of England, ensuring people with disabilities will be able to have equal access to opportunities and services.

There have been so many highlights, I hardly know where to start! Funding from Skills for Care has enabled over 200 people (so far) to receive training, which raises awareness of the Personal Assistant (PA) role. The course gives information on why disabled people wanted more control over who supports them and how this support needs to look, so they can live the life they choose. Also offering top tips for the recruitment process and developing a professional relationship with their employer, this course has increased the number of people on our vacancy bulletin and applying for PA vacancies advertised by Disability North and beyond. The feedback has been 100% positive and the biggest message has been before this course, people did not know this profession existed… but they do now!

As an employer of Personal Assistants myself, I know having a PA gives you choice, control, dignity, independence, self-determination, empowerment and simply enables you to live a very ordinary life, the way you choose. Managing people can be challenging and stressful at times, which is why in 2024 we are launching our new workshop for individual employers, thanks to support from Skills for Care. It requires a great deal of patience, empathy, and communication skills to employ PAs and ensure everything runs smoothly. Both the employer and PA will have their own strengths and weaknesses, and it is important to find the right balance between being a supportive employer and maintaining your own boundaries. This and the development of peer support is the focus for the new workshop in January. You can find out more and reserve your place here…

I now have a tape measure, spirit level and camera tucked into my work bag alongside my laptop! Something I never thought I would hear myself say! A huge thank you to Ian Streets from who guided me every step of the way through my training to become a qualified Access Audit Consultant 😊. I have been putting my new skills to the test with the aim of making places more accessible for everyone. Inclusivity is important for people with all kinds of disabilities, and it’s important to make the world a more welcoming place for everyone. The Spire Hospital in Washington has been my largest audit so far. I created a report for them to make improvements and make the hospital more accessible. Many of the recommendations costed very little, but they make such a huge positive difference. I have some audits in the diary for next year already and watch out for a large project where we will work alongside more disabled people, to advise what can be done to improve accessibility when using the hospital sites in Newcastle. There has been lots of work going on behind the scenes to make this happen with Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust… It is going to be a fantastic collaboration!

There has been so much more activity over the last twelve months that I could mention here, but there is a risk of this turning into a novel rather than a blog! Just to mention a few more things… There has been lots of action to develop employability initiatives. This has involved engaging with other organisations to develop opportunities for disabled people to find employment they will love. I have also met with several organisations who do amazing work improving inclusivity for neurodivergent people.

I love getting up every morning knowing that whatever I am doing that day will involve promoting the vision of Disability North:- ‘To be the best resource for disability in the North’. It is truly wonderful when you are employed by an organisation whose values, align with your own. I am confident that Disability North is my perfect match.

Our new five-year strategy will take us to 2028 and will guide us towards many new projects and partnerships to look forward to. There are new people to meet and engage with. Together we will make lasting change.

In the second paragraph of this blog, I said that “taking on the world” felt a little too ambitious… but with the dedication of the Disability North team and connections with likeminded people and organisations, anything is possible. Achieving Inclusivity for everyone needs us to come together with the passion to make this happen. By educating ourselves, creating opportunities, and promoting diversity, we can create a world where everyone feels valued and respected. A huge thankyou to everyone I have met this year. Let’s make sure we continue to make Inclusivity a reality in 2024 and beyond.

Q and As with Daniel, our Direct Payments Team Lead

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.

Disability North mourns the loss of Donald Dempsey OBE, one of our founders

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.”