If I can help even one parent through difficult times, it will be worth it

Guest post from Rahna (above right), a befriender at Scope’s new Face 2 Face service in Redbridge and Waltham Forest, London. Befrienders offer emotional support to parents of disabled children – and they all have disabled children of their own. 

Rahna’s daughter Husna, 15, has a rare progressive condition called Friedrich’s ataxia.

My daughter Husna was four years old when she began to display the symptoms of Friedrich’s ataxia and Asperger’s syndrome, and we finally received a diagnosis when she was eight.

Rahna and 15-year-old Husna, a wheelchair user, outside their house
Rahna and her daughter Husna

Friedrich’s ataxia is a rare inherited disorder that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. We were told that Husna would gradually lose the use of her legs and arms, become blind, deaf, lose the ability to eat, swallow and speak.

There was nothing we or anyone else could do. For a parent, there is nothing worse you can hear.

How I felt

My world had fallen apart. I was dealing with my own emotions and everyone else’s. Every day was a struggle, and normal life as I knew it no longer existed.

I remember desperately wanting to speak to another parent whose child was going through a similar experience. It wasn’t until years later, when Husna started at a special school, that I found out that any kind of support existed.

Four female audience members applauding
Rahna (second from left) at the service’s launch earlier this month

I always had a lot of support from family and friends, but I felt unable to share all my feelings with the people around me – I was seen as the strength holding everyone up.

And although everyone was being so kind and helpful, no one really understood what I was going through, because they hadn’t been there themselves.

Why I became a befriender

Parenting a child with such complex issues is mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. The day never comes to an end – it just merges into the night which merges into the next day.

You have to cope with so much, and to be able to speak to someone who has been through similar experiences, and share your anxieties and fears with them, really helps you feel less alone.

I first heard about Face 2 Face when I was approached by Andrea, the coordinator, at my daughter’s parents evening. Immediately I knew it was definitely something I wanted to do.

The training has been almost like being at a support group – everyone felt relaxed and we were able to express ourselves and talk about our personal experiences, knowing we were all in the same boat.

Group of befrienders holding their certificates
The newly-trained befrienders

I would have benefitted tremendously from a service like Face 2 Face if it had been available when Husna was younger. There were times when I was feeling very low emotionally, and really needed to speak to someone who understood.

If befriending means I can help and support even one parent through such an emotionally difficult time, then it will be worth it.

We’re launching four new Face 2 Face services in London this summer, and there are more across the country. Find a service near you.

What did we learn from the Queen’s Speech?

On Scope’s blog on Wednesday we set out some of the things that disabled people were looking out for in the Queen’s Speech. So what did we learn about what we can expect in the new Parliament?

As expected, a Full Employment and Welfare Benefits Bill was announced, reflecting both the Government’s ambition of supporting more people into the workplace and plans to reform and find further savings in the welfare budget.

The bill will place a legal duty on the Government to report on its progress towards achieving full employment. The gap between the employment rate for disabled people and the rest of the population has remained static for over a decade. The Government recognised in its Manifesto that to achieve full employment, we need to halve the disability employment gap. Whilst the details of how progress towards this goal will be measured are not yet clear, for Scope it’s essential that disabled people are central to this conversation and are better supported to access the jobs of the future.

The bill will also set out measures to freeze the majority of working age benefits from 2015 to 16 onwards. The Chancellor has consistently stated that the Government plans to find £12bn of savings in the welfare budget in this Parliament. However, the Queen’s Speech also reiterated that benefits relating to the additional costs of disability will be excluded from the freeze, which is certainly welcome.

DLA (Disability Living Allowance) and PIP (Personal Independence Payment) have a vital role to play in supporting disabled people to meet the extra costs of their disability. The Prime Minister recognised this before the election and indicated that he planned to ‘safeguard’ and ‘enhance’ PIP. Scope will now be looking to the emergency Budget on 8 July for additional detail about where savings in the welfare budget are likely to be made and for detail on how the value of extra costs payments will be protected in the new Parliament.

Social care plays a vital role in supporting disabled people to live independently, and on Wednesday there was further confirmation that the Government will continue its commitment to integrating the health and social care systems.

Whilst this continued prioritisation of integrated care is welcome, Scope is concerned that despite increasing numbers of people needing care support, fewer people are getting it. Investing in the health system must be matched by an investment in social care. Working age disabled people make up one third of social care users and just under half of social care expenditure. As such, they must be seen as a priority in the development of the integrated care system, and initiatives such as the Better Care Fund must be made to work for disabled people.

A big talking point ahead of the Queen’s Speech was the Government’s plan to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights. However on Wednesday it was announced that these proposals will not be put forward in the first year of the new Parliament. The Human Rights Act provides critical protection for disabled people and we will be closely monitoring any developments in this area.

Elsewhere, a new Charities Bill will make it easier for the voluntary sector to undertake social investment as well as protecting charities from abuse and strengthening the powers of the Charity Commission.

The Government also gave further details of how powers will be devolved to cities and regions across England. This move towards decentralisation has the potential to offer improved support for disabled people in a number of areas, including employment and care support. It’s important that disabled people are seen as a priority group in the individual growth deals moving forwards.

The overarching theme of yesterday’s Queen’s Speech was delivering a ‘one nation’ agenda, and the Prime Minister repeatedly expressed his desire to “bring our country together”. The July Budget and subsequent Comprehensive Spending Review will go a long way towards setting out the detail of how he plans to achieve this. One thing is clear – if he is to realise his ambition, disabled people must be front and centre of his legislative programme.

Enjoy live music? Why not join Gig Buddies!

It’s not always easy for music fans with learning disabilities to get out to gigs. But Gig Buddies, a volunteer project run by the charity Stay Up Late, is changing all that. Director and co-founder, Paul Richards explains how.

Gig Buddies was one of those ideas you assume someone must have already thought of. We were wondering if there was a way to make use of the spare seats in people’s cars as they travelled to gigs, and whether people with learning disabilities who love the same music could occupy those seats.

That would give people with learning disabilities an opportunity to, not only see live music but also extend their social networks beyond typical care settings.

It was an idea that developed, and we spent around a year laying the groundwork for the project before it launched in Jan 2013. We conducted some research to find out what the barriers were to people getting out. We found the reasons were things like having no money, being low in confidence, not being able to access public transport at night, not knowing what’s going on, and not having anyone to go with.

But what we also found was there was a real desire for people with learning disabilities to be getting out there.

What makes a good Gig Buddies volunteer?

We also thought about why people didn’t volunteer, and we decided it was largely because they didn’t have the time or didn’t know what to do. So the idea behind Gig Buddies was simple: it was about turning something people enjoyed doing into a volunteering opportunity.

There are really only two requirements: you have to be a nice person, and you have to have an interest.

We have volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds, with a diverse range of interests. While Gig Buddies started out being about live music, it’s now grown to include things like the theatre, nature walks, church and sport. The point is that participants are in control of choosing their ‘gig’, whatever that may be.

One of the key aspects of Gig Buddies is that it’s all about relationships. It’s about enabling socially isolated people to develop friendship circles, and we spend a lot of time meeting with everyone – participants and volunteers – to find out what their interests are.

We ask that every volunteer commits to at least one gig a month and also meets up for a coffee once a month with their buddy to plan the next trip. All our volunteers receive training and on-going support once they have been matched.

The other core principle of Gig Buddies is about enabling people with learning disabilities to make real choices about the way they lead their lives, and to pursue interests they enjoy in their local community. At Stay Up Late we often get asked why we don’t organise more events for people with learning disabilities. Our belief is that all events should be open to everyone, including people with learning disabilities. This is something that underpins our work.

What’s next for Gig Buddies?

We now have over 60 participants and 60 volunteers, and a full waiting list. We are committed to developing our project in Sussex.
However, we can’t run the project beyond Sussex, as its strength of relies on relationships. So we’re aiming to share it.

Our first pilot site is in Sydney, Australia – with ACL Disability Services – and it’s attracted a lot of excitement over there. Several other large cities also wanting to get involved. The second pilot site is in Midlothian, and being run by Thera Scotland.

The next step is to work with organisations who share the same ethos as us, and this year we’re planning to invite another 10 organisations to work with us and set up Gig Buddies in their locality.

There’s a lot more I could write about the project, but it’s probably best left to one of our participants, Bella to tell you about it. Bella has a mild learning disability, depression and anxiety. She has had a Gig Buddy for a year now, and has gone to lots of gigs.

Bella says: “Before I had a Gig Buddy, I felt like I was lost at the weekends. I had never been to a music gig before, but having a Gig Buddy has meant that I’ve discovered new music. It means that I can travel to Brighton, which I couldn’t do before. Once you start going out you are more able to do other things – it improves your confidence.”

For more information about Gig Buddies visit the Stay up Late websiteStay Up Late is a small Brighton based charity that promotes full and active social lives for people with learning disabilities.

What we’ll be looking for in the Queen’s Speech

Today, the Queen will formally open Parliament and set out the Government’s legislative programme for the coming year.

There has already been a lot of speculation about what her speech might contain.

Here are three things disabled people will be looking out for:

How to ‘Half the disability employment gap’

The Conservative Manifesto stated the aim of halving the disability employment gap.

This means more than a million more disabled people entering and staying in work.

In the latest Office for National Statistics figures there was some good news with the disability employment rate rising to 48 per cent, with the rate of increase now rising faster than the rest of the population.

However, the gap between the employment rate for disabled people and the rate for rest of the population still hovers at around 30 per cent (31.3 per cent), as it has for over a decade. There’s a lot more to do if the Government are going to meet their bold aim.

This will be top of the agenda for the new Minister for Disabled People Justin Tomlinson and the new Minister for Employment, Priti Patel.

With reports that a ‘Jobs Bill’ will be a centre piece of the Queen’s Speech, disabled people will be looking at what measures will be included to support disabled people into work.

Too many disabled people slip out of work, because employers often struggle to provide personalised and flexible support. The financial support available for work place adjustments must also be strengthened, as should the personalised back to work support for disabled people. With the Government also looking at regional growth, there is a real opportunity to join this up with ensuring that disabled people are able to benefit.

Protect PIP

If we’re going to get a million more disabled people into work, it’s important to understand that life costs more if you are disabled. From travel costs, to higher fuel bills or specialist equipment – research shows that this adds up to on average £550 per month.

This has a huge impact on disabled people’s ability to hold down a job or even make ends meet. Scope is working with the independent Extra Costs Commission – led by disabled entrepreneurs and business experts – to look into what can be done to get disabled people a better deal as consumers. It’s clear businesses need to value the purple pound and disabled people need to be savvier consumers.

But there’s a big role for the Government. Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments (as it is becoming) are a lifeline that can go some way to cover these significant extra costs. The Prime Minister stated in the election campaign that he wanted to ‘enhance and safeguard’ PIP. Disabled people will be watching closely to see how the Government makes this happen.

The right to live independently

Twenty years on from the Disability Discrimination Act – which enshrined equal rights for disabled people – too often disabled people find that even basic decisions are taken out of their hands.

Human rights are hugely important in enabling disabled people to live independently and to have the same opportunities in life as everybody else.

Human rights legislation is vitally important for disabled people. It a clear legislative tool to challenge decisions and actions which could restrict disabled people’s ability to live independently and – before it gets to a legal stage – understand and articulate their rights.
Disabled people will be watching closely to see what any change to this legislation would mean.
At the same time council-run social care supports disabled people to live independently, work and play an active part in the community.

The promised investment of £8billion in the NHS and plans to devolve power to regions can’t be separated from the crisis in social care.

More and more people need support, but fewer and fewer people are getting it. LSE research for the Care and Support Alliance revealed that around 500,000 older and disabled people who would have got care in 2009 are no longer entitled to it, while the Local Government Association and Association of Directors of Adult Social Services estimate we are heading towards a £4.3bn black hole in social care.

Without care people become isolated, slip into crisis and the emergency and health service picks up the pieces. Care is the critical piece of the puzzle of making local services work.

We’ll be tweeting during today’s speech and will publish a blog later in the week with our analysis.

“I didn’t know about web accessibility until I applied to Siteimprove!”

Lola Olson is Digital Marketing and Content Manager at Scope, which means that web accessibility is their primary concern. Lola says “having an accessible website isn’t just nice to have, it’s something we need as a disability charity.” One of the tools Scope uses to ensure our website is accessible is Siteimprove.

For Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Lola interviewed Bryn Anderson, Customer Experience Manager from Siteimprove about accessibility.

Lola: What personal interest do you have in accessibility?

Bryn smiling at the camera, wearing a blue shirtBryn: I am a partial albino and very short sighted, which is common for albinos. I can’t drive or read the number on the bus. On the whole, it’s fine but sometimes 2D vision makes heading the ball on a Sunday afternoon an act of God. So I think it’s fair to say I have always been interested in accessibility.

In regards to using a computer, I use a large monitor shifting my upper body from left to right and back again, a bit like a windscreen wiper. But I didn’t even know about web accessibility until I applied for a job at Siteimprove! It’s pretty unbelievable considering I have a degree in Interactive Media Production.

Lola: What part does Siteimprove have to play in web accessibility?

Bryn: On one level, Siteimprove’s Accessibility tool monitors how accessible websites are. But the key aspect of our tool is being able to check websites from conception throughout their entire life.

People mistakenly think that web accessibility is a project – but it’s not. Redesigning your website is a project. Moving content over is a project. But accessibility is an ongoing project that has to be maintained. It’s not just about building layouts that are accessible, but also keeping track of content. And having a quality monitoring tool is integral to web accessibility.

Lola: What difference do you think accessibility makes to people using websites?

Bryn: Responsive designs are key for retaining information and a useable layout when zooming in, which I do a lot of. Sometimes when I zoom in things disappear. And you wouldn’t want that happening if you’re trying to book a flight or buy a train ticket!

And for anyone using a screen reader I can imagine that when people link text like “Read more” instead of “Accessibility blog” it creates a lot of problems. Those kind of links are as useless as a tube map of stops all called ‘station’… no thanks!

Lola: Is Siteimprove doing anything special for Global Accessibility Awareness Day?

Bryn: Yes we are! In collaboration with the Danish Association of the Blind, we’re organising a biking event in Copenhagen for the blind, partially sighted and sighted people alike on May 21. Participants will ride 100 tandem bicycles and afterwards the bikes will be donated to tandem clubs and people with visual impairments.

To learn more about Siteimprove and accessibility, visit Siteimprove’s website.

“Access in the UK infuriates me” – Jameela Jamil

Jameela Jamil set up Why Not People as a way of providing accessible music events to disabled people, who are too often excluded. Here she blogs for us and tells us why it’s so important to her. 

I am delighted to say I am someone who works alongside Sophie Morgan, Patron for Scope and Director for my company Why Not People. Sophie and Scope both embody everything I stand for… which is a passion to improve the lives of disabled people.

I started my company Why Not People because I’d grown up surrounded by disability, having some experience with it myself also, which really allowed me to see first hand, how disgraceful access in the UK is. It infuriates me. We are not a developing country, we are advanced and privileged. We have all the tools necessary to build an accessible Britain. One of the main places I knew I could help was with music gigs, given my career at Radio 1. Gigs are a rite of passage that should be open to be enjoyed by everyone. From every age, colour, race, creed and capability. We put on big, fully accessible gigs where everyone is welcomed and nobody will be sectioned off in the corner separated from friends and family.

Sophie was my first ambassador, and has been our force of inspiration and energy, because she is sick and tired of being denied a world she s fully entitled to. She’s had such an incredible life and career and is an example of how we all need to get involved and work together to change our world. There is no point just waiting for someone to fix things, we need to campaign. We need to support companies that promote access, so that other businesses, venues and government members will realise this is a business, and something worth paying attention to.

Sophie doesn’t believe in being cast aside. Nor do we at Why Not People, and nor should you. Please join us in this important cause.  Things are finally changing. I hope to see you out with us someday soon.

Head to Why Not People to see what we’re about.

Lots of love, Jameela x

Pssst! Disabled people like going to gigs

Disabled people, like anyone else, often want to see live music and arts performances. Whether it’s at a gig or festival, the issue of accessibility at these events is a hot topic right now, and we’re very glad!

Colourful flags flying at GlastonburyAccessible ticket sales at gigs and festivals have increased by 70% in the last year, according to research from Attitude is Everything, a charity that works to improve access to live music in the UK.

So here’s a little round-up of some great events happening this summer, which put accessibility right at their heart.

Why Not People

Sophie Morgan and Jameela Jamil smilingThe brilliant Why Not People are taking over our social media for the day tomorrow, to raise awareness of their accessible music events. They launch on 1 July, and they’ve got some amazing acts signed up including Tinie Tempah, Coldplay, Mark Ronson and Sam Smith, to name a few.

Their founder, Jameela Jamil says: “Why Not People ignores the notion of limits and discrimination and caters to all people for all walks of life. It is a chance for us all to party with the people we should have partied alongside all along. With accessible venues, the finest talent on the planet, we promise to put on gigs, events and club nights that you will never forget.”

Fast Forward Music Festival

A Paraorchestra consisting of seven musicians holding various instrumentsThe Fast Forward Music Festival will feature a flagship performance by the British Paraorchestra, the world’s first professional ensemble of disabled musicians, alongside the Inner Vision Orchestra, the UK’s only blind ensemble. The  festival aims to give its musicians, who are at the top of their game, the respect and critical attention they deserve.

The festival will also feature a mixture of seminars, workshops, open rehearsals and more celebrating of disabled arts and artists.

Disability Rocks

Young boy with Down's syndrome in red t-shirt at a festivalDisability Rocks is all about having a positive experience through music and arts.

They produce and deliver disability and family friendly festivals, including a range of live music, theatre and arts, with a few interactive workshops thrown in for good measure.

They have two more events coming up to finish off their summer tour – in West Yorkshire and Essex. Get your tickets!

New Forest Spectrum

A large house set in a field with lots of treesThis is the first ever British music festival for people with a learning disability, set up by two New Forest-based charities.

Set in 65 acres of woodland, they will be providing a safe environment where you can dance, watch bands perform, get involved with fun workshops, and eat some lovely food.

Although this one isn’t about making mainstream events inclusive and accessible, this seems like a step in the right direction. What do you think?

We hope this has got you excited for a summer of fun in the fields! Let us know if there are any accessible events happening near you.

Foresight and Innovation: 1 Year on

Scope set up a Foresight and Innovation Unit in April 2014. In this blog Ruth Marvel, the Director of the unit, looks back at what went well, what didn’t, and the lessons learned along the way.

Innovation is all the rage at the moment, especially the disruptive kind. So, when the idea of establishing an innovation unit first came up at the end of 2013 it was very tempting to be swept away on a tide of post-it notes, ideation sessions and 3D printed hackathons!

But, I was clear from the outset that I wanted the unit to focus on how we could do things better, not just differently, and ensure our approach was firmly grounded in the real life experiences of disabled people and their families. For me innovation in the social sector has always been about creating greater social value. When it’s really effective it can change a whole system and the behaviours of those in it for the better. This is why for social change organisations like Scope, innovation is a powerful and essential tool.

So, when we created the Foresight and Innovation Unit at Scope just over a year ago we set out to do three things:

  • Support the organisation to innovate by providing the process, tools, facilitation and space for staff to develop new activities or improve existing ones.
  • Stimulate the organisation to think about old problems in new ways by sharing insights, innovations and trends from the wider world.
  • Lead a small number of in-house innovation projects to support our strategic goals.

A year on, I am really pleased with where we have got to. As a team of just three we have led three brand new innovation projects, developed and tested our own innovation process (as well as putting a couple of  external ones through their paces), and started to connect the organisation to new thinking and the latest trends through our disability innovations blog.

That’s not to say it’s been easy, or that it’s all gone swimmingly. With the benefit of hindsight here are some of the key things we’ve learned.

Really understand the problem you are trying to solve – the innovation approach we have chosen is based on the double diamond design methodology. We chose this deliberately because it puts a really strong focus on understanding the needs, content and behaviours of the person or people you are designing solutions for. This approach has really put people out of their comfort zone but the benefits of getting out of the building and really testing our assumptions has been invaluable.

Be focused and time limited – giving people the space and the tools to really understand a problem and test different ways of solving it has worked really well. But, we’ve learned not to give people too much time or they lose momentum and projects can stall or drift.

Align innovation with strategy – it’s much easier to get traction around innovation if you can show how it supports the core priorities of the organisation. Getting buy in from senior colleagues around some key priorities for the innovation team is crucial to ensuring you can secure the time and space you need to try something different. I feel I learned this lesson the hard way, but it’s been one worth learning.

Prepare for landing – it’s important to consider how innovation projects can be main streamed back into the core business. This sounds obvious but some of the most interesting work we have developed this year has no clear place to sit in the wider organisation. We have mitigated this in part by including staff from existing teams to get buy in and help us think through how a new product or service could be integrated into the existing organisational structure. But, there’s a need to do more to prepare the ground for new innovation products over the coming year.

Aversion to risk pops up everywhere! – Risk is often cited as a barrier to innovation and our experience is no exception. No matter how strongly colleagues talk positively about innovation, being bold and taking risks, change is always scary and we need to acknowledge that. Showing how you can mitigate the risk of failure by testing ideas with minimal expenditure of time and money and to create organisational boundaries that separate experimentation from business as usual will be vital to helping the organisation feel more comfortable with risk.

And finally, putting Foresight in the title of your department makes you a hostage to fortune on all things related to the weather forecast!

What the General Election means for us

(Image copyright Michael D Beckwith 2013)

Parliament returns on Monday with a new Conservative Government and a new Minister for Disabled People, Justin Tomlinson MP.

In the run up to the General Election, we called on the next Government to improve the lives of disabled people by:

  • protecting the value of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) / Disability Living Allowance (DLA)
  • halving the disability employment gap
  • investing in social care so that all disabled people have the support they need to live as independently as possible.

Halving the disability employment gap

We’re really pleased the Conservatives identified halving the disability employment gap as an important part of realising their objective of full employment. Their manifesto said ‘We will aim to halve the disability employment gap; we will transform policy, practice and public attitudes.’

The BBC have reported that as part of the Government’s plans to achieve full employment, there will be an Employment Bill within the Queen’s Speech that aims to create two million new jobs over the next five years.

We know that disabled people want the same opportunities to work as everyone else, and nine in ten disabled people are in work or have worked in the past. Yet only 48 per cent are currently in work. We will be looking for the Government to ensure that disabled people are at the heart of employment strategies and regional growth plans.

This week we have seen a welcome rise in the number of disabled people in work but the disability employment gap has remained largely unchanged over the last decade, at around 30 per cent.

We have made a number of recommendations on how the Government could increase the disability employment rate by:

  • creating more flexible workplaces
  • ensuring disabled people are connected to regional growth
  • ensuring that all disabled people receive effective and personalised support.

There is also an important economic case for addressing the disability employment gap. A recent report by Scope found that a 10 percentage point increase in the disability employment rate would increase Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by £45 billion by 2030 and also result in a £12billion gain to the public purse.

It’s vital that the Government continues to see addressing the disability employment gap as a key part in achieving full employment, so that disabled people who want and are able to work are supported to find a jobs, stay in work and progress in their careers.

Extra costs payments

Life can cost more if you are disabled and the extra costs faced by disabled people can have a significant impact on disabled people’s living standards. Scope research shows that disabled people spend an average of £550 a month on costs related to their disability. PIP and DLA are payments that are designed to contribute towards these extra costs.

During the election the Conservative Party announced they planned to make £12billion worth of cuts to welfare and there was much speculation on their welfare spending plans.

Last year in his speech at the Conservative Party Conference the Chancellor said that a future Conservative Government would protect DLA and PIP in any freeze on benefits, a commitment that was also in their Manifesto.

We’ll be looking to the Government to protect the value of extra costs payments.

Independent living

Working age disabled people are a third of all social care users. Social care supports disabled people to live independently, work and play an active part in the community.

However levels of unmet need within social care are high, with 97,000 disabled people who would have received social care five years ago, now receiving no support. That is why Scope has called on the Government to introduce a new sustainable funding settlement for social care.

During the General Election there was considerable focus on the conservative party’s commitments on NHS funding, but it’s crucial though that investment in the NHS is not looked at in isolation from social care funding.

Earlier this year the Care and Support Alliance published the findings of a survey of over 800 English GPs which found that almost nine in ten believe reductions in social care services have contributed to pressures in their surgeries.

When the Government sets out their priorities within the Queen’s Speech, we hope to hear about increased and ongoing investment in social care, so that the ambitions of the Care Act, to promote independence and well-being, can be realised.

Find out more about Scope’s campaign to improve living standards (PDF).

London Marathon proposal…did she say yes?

Guest blog by Pally Chahal. The 2015 London Marathon will be a day 132 Scope runners will look back on for years to come – but Pally’s memory will be even more special.

On Sunday 26th April 2015 I embarked on my fifth London Marathon. However, unlike my previous accomplishments, this marathon was going to be very unique, special and one I will always look back on with fond memories. This marathon I was going to go down on one knee and propose to the love of my life, Pam, in front of thousands of runners and spectators cheering us on.

Training time

I was able to build up to 20.52 miles by late February, which was quite impressive considering I was plagued with calf injures and general life tends to overrule training. My commitment to running and at the same time my family fish and chip shop business is quite high, so I never really got a full day of recovery from long distance runs. However, this training would not be like my previous regimes – this time I was training with an engagement ring in a box in my pocket. Many times it hampered my training due to constant rubbing on my thigh.

Final preparations

Around late March I was running around 45 to 55 miles per week and was quite happy with how the box was sitting in my pocket and its constant bashing against my thigh. All that was needed now was some guidance from Scope, for whom I have raised nearly £8,000 over four London marathons. They are a great bunch of people who are always available to give advice and support for fundraising ideas and will always stay in touch with your marathon training. The last four marathons have always been that little bit easier at the 14.5, 18.5 and 24 mile marks where you can rely on the Scope volunteers to cheer you on. Once I had revealed my idea to the team they did everything to help me make sure I succeeded in meeting up with Pam and my family members to carry out the proposal. They provided me with grandstand passes which is yards away from the finishing line, with Buckingham Palace providing the perfect backdrop to propose to Pam.

The marathon

The conditions were perfect – overcast with a slight drizzle of rain, all of which made for a great day of running and hopefully another personal best – sub three hours 30 minutes was on the cards. One thing I didn’t account for in my training was carrying my mobile phone just to make sure I could stay in touch with Pam at the grandstand. It was going to be interesting to see how the phone sat in my other pocket but I remained positive and channelled my thoughts into proposing and seeing the love of my life yards away from the finishing line. As the race progressed I was really comfortable – my pace and breathing were awesome. Around half way I managed to ring a friend to get some information on my predicted time based on my half marathon completion and it was three hours 13 minutes. During this time I was totally ecstatic and managed to ring Pam to find out she was with family by the grandstand – at this point I could barely contain my excitement and gave a surging roar to the crowd of supporters.

London Marathon CheeringThis seemed like plain sailing; surely it couldn’t be that easy with only eight miles to go. I could visualise myself proposing to Pam and topping it off with a personal best at the finishing line. Little did I know running off too fast during the first half of the marathon would come back to haunt me. I slowly started feeling pain under my foot, a pain I have been overcoming during training. For up to 21 miles I managed to march through the pain. Eventually it became more excruciating and unbearable, causing me to stop and attend to my foot. As the miles remaining decreased so did my energy to fight against the pain. The personal best became a distant memory and I channelled my thoughts into proposing to Pam. The Scope team at the 24.5 mile mark really spurred me on to finish strong. As I approached the last 385 yards they never seemed more beautiful – the constant sound of cheering, clapping and the whole atmosphere made me, and I’m sure the rest of runners, feel like celebrities as we approached the finishing line. However, my job was not finished yet and this young lady who always surprised me was now going to have the surprise of her life.

The proposal

On the right hand side of The Mall, facing the finishing line, I managed to see my brother who pointed out where Pam was standing and I slowly staggered towards her as she cheered my name. I can remember fiddling with my pocket zip and came over to Pam to kiss her whilst managing to unzip the pocket. I slowly stepped away from Pam and somehow plucked up the courage to get on one knee after a brutal 26.2 miles, holding on to a pole for support and said those precious words ‘will you marry me?’. The look on Pam’s face clearly showed she was absolutely shocked and the supporters around her started cheering. Knowing the pain I was in Pam didn’t hesitate and quickly said yes. At this moment I was the happiest man alive – all the pain I went through was well worth it. I managed to pick myself up and come across to Pam for a well-deserved celebration kiss. I collected myself together and gave another roar, clenching my fists in the air and marching to the finishing line as a very happy man.

Engaged life Coverage of the proposal on facebook

I finished in three hours, 43 minutes and 17 seconds; not my best time but very insignificant in terms of what I will remember from this year’s London Marathon. We managed to meet up with everyone at the post-race reception which Scope hold for all their runners and families. Here all the runners got a complimentary professional massage for their efforts and refreshments. The Scope team provided us with glasses of champagne to celebrate our engagement.

When I went to work the next day, customers started to congratulate me on the wedding proposal – they’d seen the video which went viral on Facebook. It was also covered by ITV news and the Daily Mail. I could not have imagined this sort of response at all and to be honest it was all so surreal. I would just like to say a big thank you firstly to the Scope Team for making this special event turn into a very special day for Pam and me, a day we will always cherish. Secondly a big thank you to all my customers, family and friends from Eltham, New Eltham, Sidcup and far out who have always donated generously for a great course and continue to do so. And a special thanks to Pam for making my dreams come true and being my true angel.

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