Posts Tagged ‘disabled’

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The Last of the Mohicans

August 19, 2021

Twenty two years ago I stayed in a care home for six weeks following an operation to finally mend my broken collar bone. I can’t say I was really looking forward to the stay and never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined myself enjoying life in a home for disabled people. How wrong I was! I fell in love with the spirit of the place and the philosophy of its founder, Leonard Cheshire. Six months later I moved into the Lodge there; a run down old bungalow in desperate need of some TLC. I’d not just found a community to be a part of, but also an opportunity to put a roof over my head, for a price I could afford, by renovating and maintaining the Lodge and managing land. The combination of the opportunity of a life time and the love and care of an extended family was just what I needed to overcome a life changing accident that had left me a paraplegic. I’m not sure how I would have built a new life for myself without Heatherley Cheshire Home.

The Red Feather symbolises strength and vitality, courage and passion

Two world wars brought out the worst in mankind, but also the best. The camaraderie that Leonard Cheshire experienced led him to seek a new way of coming together in life and, having failed in his first attempt at setting up a communal living project, he set up the most fantastic movement to provide homes for disabled people. Many post war movements sought to capture the spirit of a new age, however, none were strong enough to survive the persisting onslaught of the ‘old order’. The hippies were far too hedonistic and wrapped up in drugs to last the test of time, but even the Leonard Cheshire homes, that were so grounded in a practical way, have fallen prey to an outdated social economic system, together with ever increasing legislation and bureaucracy.

It wasn’t long after joining the community at Heatherley that I realised all was not roses. Head office were starting to take control and the nature of the home was changing from a local community affair to a managed business. In many ways the change was necessary in order for the home to survive, however, you can argue that it hasn’t survived. It has been swallowed up by the old order it sought to replace and the spirit of the new age simply cannot flourish in such a climate. The volunteers are all but gone, friends and relatives are no longer embraced as members of the family and in fact there is no extended family left, no community. All that is left is a business that provides for existence. This is not life and not what those early pioneers began and if it continues we must fear for the future well being of disabled people. It’s not about blaming anyone or being angry, it’s about understanding what has happened so that we may have hope for the future.

The last remnants of spirit remain in the fabric of the place and in those disabled people strong enough to uphold that spirit. I feel like the last of the Mohicans waving the banner of a dying way, a way that I will continue to fight for until it is reborn, and reborn in a way that will last. The ‘old order’ must be defeated and not just in our Cheshire Homes. We must all find a new sense of coming together in community throughout this land and we have those wonderful post war movements of Leonard Cheshire, and others, to show us the way. This is the challenge of our time.