A Strange Reference


Mr X deserves more credit. he's earned it.

Mr X deserves more credit. He’s earned it.

A heavy discussion ensues across the desks. It concerned the value of advocates. I was being portrayed as an exemplar. “You have done a lot for me”, said the junior member of the team, “I would never have known about disability rights, disability politics without you. Like it or not you are a leader”.

I don’t like it. “Where would Burn Pudsey Friday (BPF) be without you”. I have administered and facilitated BPF and kept it in a restricted public eye, but have actively avoided assuming leadership. Building BPF so that people can participate at their own level, in their own way. I’m not even confident this opportunity is ever taken. However, its slightly different this year. Savile, abuse, links to charity.

Then a new revelation.

“Mr X would certainly miss you. He has massive respect for you. He sees you as a father figure. he didn’t have much of a life with his own dad who was always beating him and his mom, telling him he would never amount to anything; that he was hopeless. You showed him what he could do. you believed in him. Through you he became a service user representative. you gave him the chance to take photos, gave him the confidence to tell his own story, made him a trainer, showed him how to engage with professionals”.

I am knocked back by this. I did not k now the father issues, the damage he had waged. I thought about Mr X and all the times I jovially told him how much I hated him. It was only a joke and X knew it but if I had known his history I would have found a kinder joke.

Mr X was always there. he had the skills, massive humour. He was the real leader. His story is what makes him so great. The man survived institutionalisation for more than 40 years. His impairments saw him lost to society for far too  long. the difference I made if any came from not being risk averse, committed to enabling the empowerment of those who could be responsible for themselves. Mr X is something else. he came with personality, cheek. He was already trusted by his peers. I don’t think they ever recovered from his move towards independence. Whilst they lost him his life exploded. He found a place in the community, somewhere to live and grow. Friendships developed. Social Capital worked for him. he found shops to go to where he could trust that proprietors would not rip him off but support his lack of understanding over money. people responded to him. he learned to trust. He had an acute intelligence. He knew the places he could feel safe in a sometime hostile environment.

I had a lot of time for Mr X. He had time for me and the organisation I worked for. The power of our relationship, his gifts as my co-trainer, in our Becoming Independent co-production, worked because of what he gave. It feels strange that i should be credited for what he gave. Advocacy shouldn’t be like that.

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