Guest post from Stuart, whose twin brother Fraser has Down’s Syndrome. He is riding the Prudential Ride London 100 for Scope this year in memory of Sheena Walker, a tireless disability campaigner and former Scotswoman of the Year who helped Fraser and his family to get a better deal in life.
On 10 August I will be cycling 100 miles in the Ride100. More important than the physical challenge of cycling 100 miles is the challenge to raise money for Scope – a charity which I have a personal connection with.
My twin brother Fraser was born with Down’s Syndrome.
Glasgow in the mid 1970s wasn’t best equipped to deal with this. Indeed at this point most people were barely able to even talk about it. I recently discovered an official letter from the hospital following Fraser’s birth which rather cryptically refers to “Fraser’s problem”.
Support and respite care was also pretty much an alien concept at this time. One of the options open to my parents at the time would have been to send Fraser to the nearest hospital – Lennox Castle. The towers of the Castle were visible from my primary school. Nestling in the countryside next to the Campsie Hills to the North of Glasgow, it seemed like an idyllic setting.
However horror stories about what went on there used to do the rounds of the playground. Such was the reputation of the place, my parents never once entertained it as an option for Fraser. They never even visited it.
Decades on, the horror stories proved to be true as revelations emerged about people being starved, drugged and abused at the Castle.
My parents wanted something better for Fraser. As a result they faced a long hard struggle to ensure as bright a future as possible for my brother.
At this point my family was fortunate enough to come into contact with a woman called Sheena Walker – one of the most truly remarkable people I’ve ever met. Sheena recently passed away but she made a huge mark on the community she served.
As my mother noted in one of the many newspaper tributes to Sheena after her death, she was a former Scotswoman of the Year and a tireless campaigner for people with disabilities. To borrow my mother’s words: “She was such a strong person who took on the government, took on social services and anyone else she thought was not giving disabled young people the help they needed….She said she’d find a better place for her boys and other children even if she had to build it herself. And that’s what she did.”
Not every family that is affected by disability is as lucky as us though.
This is why I think Scope is so important.
Scope exists to make this country a better place for disabled people and their families. They do this by running a range of services, raising awareness of the issues that disabled people face and influencing change across society. They provide support, advice and information for more than a quarter of a million disabled people and their family members every year.
So thankfully, times have changed. The grounds of Lennox Castle are now home to Celtic FC’s new plush training facilities. Attitudes to disability have changed. Attitudes towards care for the disabled have changed. And attitudes towards supporting families affected by disability have changed.
But we cannot rest on our laurels. In the current political climate, charities are facing tough times – and they need help. Disabled people have been particularly harshly treated as a result of recent public sector cuts. I’ve witnessed this first hand – and indeed live with the fear that one day Fraser’s care package will be affected by the decisions of a government which seems at times intent on targeting the most vulnerable in society – rather than the culpable.
I am riding in memory of Sheena Walker in an effort to continue the legacy of remarkable people like her. With your help I’m raising money to help other families facing the daily challenges of disability.