Disability Awareness Day
Sunday 12th July 2020
It is hard to believe, but true to say that the planning for this year’s Disability Awareness Day and Week (DAD) started whilst we were still putting together the final plans for last year’s event, and during the discussions that took place at our post event evaluation meetings with the DAD management team and the WDP trustees. All of the comments made were considered during the planning for DAD2018.
In November, we received confirmation that our partners at St George Healthcare Group and St Mark Universal Copts Care would be our principal sponsors for a second year running. This provided assurance to our WDP trustees, and we were given the green light to go ahead for our 27th event. December saw the first meeting of the DAD management team, and regular meetings were held during the run up to DAD2018. We were always mindful of the fact that the World Cup final clashed with DAD, but none of us really thought that England would get as far as they did, and we certainly did not consider the additional stress that England’s successful run would bring!
Brun commenced booking the tables, chairs, toilets, generators, fencing, security and much more. However, in late December I was informed of the shocking news that we would need to find a new marquee company, after our supplier for the past 16 years had closed down. During the first few weeks of the New Year, I spent countless hours researching and negotiating with potential suppliers. In mid-January Kate co-ordinated the mail out to our exhibitors.
During the coming months, I had dozens of meetings with possible sponsors and supporters. Sadly, some of our previous sponsors felt unable to supporters again for DAD2018, however, we were able to secure two new sponsors, Expanse Learning and Catalyst Choices. I spent hours on the computer and telephone with Sue from our website team at Skillzone, as we updated the DAD website. During April, May and June Dave and Janis spent many of their evenings erecting DAD signage on roundabouts across Warrington.
During May, we visited Walton Gardens for our usual pre-event visits, where we check the ground conditions and see if any new trees have been planted or any new benches have been located within the event site. To say we were shocked at what we found is an understatement. A huge compound had been built to cover the refurbishment of the Victorian greenhouses; it had cut across one of the main access and egress pathways that we rely on at DAD. It also restricted the space we use for marquees and exhibitor car parking. However, on further inspection of the grounds we were devastated to see the severe damage done by the parks children’s train that had been rerouted across the grass due to the loss of the pathway. The damage was very severe, with massive deep muddy ruts, right through where two of our marquees are usually located. On further inspection, more ground damage was evident within the areas used for two more marquees. This damage was due to trenches dug for cabling for the new CCTV system. The surface had not been reinstated, leaving deep furrows, especially through the access route to the Sports Zone, not just creating a trip hazard, but making it impossible for wheelchair access. Thankfully, Gavin, Walton Halls head ranger and his team did as much as they could to repair the damage, but we were still left with rutted and uneven areas, some within the marquees.
It was clear to see that the amount of damage had left Gavin and his team as frustrated as we were. During the past 26 years, we have constantly strived to restrict the amount of damage to the grounds, and have adopted various strategies during the build-up and take down in order to leave the park in as good a condition as is possible. In early June, we received further bad news; our partners at the Golden Square shopping centre had received an amazing offer to create a World Cup attraction located within the Old Market Place, the same facility we use for the DAD Launch event. It was inevitable that we would need to consider alternative venues and possibly pull the event from the DAD Week programme. After visiting a number of venues and considering other options, we decided to pull the launch event altogether. We agreed instead to focus our energy and resources on promoting DAD at a number of local events starting with our own Scoota-Safe Day, then on to Lymm Transport Show, Stockton Heath Carnival, Walton Gardens Farmers Market and several other local events. The amended approach proved very successful. That said when I woke up on Saturday 7th July; I had a feeling of emptiness and sadness, as I know the DAD launch event is one of the highlights for everyone involved.
On Sunday 8th, whilst Brun, John and other members of the team attended the Farmers Market at Walton Gardens to promote DAD, I joined Pam, Dave, Janis, Gavin and Mark at Makro to purchase the food, drinks and other provisions we would need for the week ahead. I still cannot believe that every one of the 800 bottles of water and hundreds of cans and bottles of pop was consumed by members of the team.
Late afternoon we went to Walton Gardens to undertake the provisional marking out of the site in preparation for the arrival of the marquee company early on Monday morning. Even though we had a provisional plan, the uneven ground and restrictive parking resulted in us spending several hours considering where the Arts marquee could be best located. Finally, we all agreed on the location that would offer access for the mobile toilets and temporary bar, and access to a rear car park area. Before we left the event site Gavin and Dave erected signage for the large vehicle route that is essential for many of the heavy goods vehicles used for the deliveries we would be receiving during the week ahead. We left the park at around 9.30pm.
Monday 9th saw the DAD Week team setting up the site office and storage unit in two 30ft metal container style units. We had five vans transporting tons of equipment we would need for the week ahead, as well as hundreds of signs used around the event site and surrounding highways. Our DAD Week site team consisting of Gavin, Dave, John, Bill, Pam, Janis, Mark, Bob, Fred, Graham, Ben, Phil, Karl, Shaun, Liam, John, Thomas and a team from Thorn Cross Prison set about preparing the event site. We were ably assisted by Gavin and his team from Walton Hall and Gardens. At the same time, Tom and his team from Henman Marquees started work on erecting our huge tented village. The scorching sunny weather and baked hard-grassed areas provided ideal conditions to use the pallet trucks across the park. This resulted in the main Art marquee being erected and floored in record time. In such hot weather, it was great to have use of John’s quad bike, a must for shifting heavy equipment around the site.
Once the Arts marquee was erected, Martin and his team from Acts Sound and Lighting got to work on fitting out the staging, sound and lighting systems required for the week of events that we had planned in the marquee. Back at WDP, Caroline, Brun, Kate, Laura, Veronica, Jamie, Pat, together with our work experience students and volunteers were busy with the countless admin duties that are involved in delivering DAD events. After a successful first day, we finally handed over to CDX Security at 10.30pm, an early night for the DAD Week team. We called in at Checkpoint Charlie, AKA Walton Arms, for a quick refresher.
On Tuesday 10th the building of the event site and admin back in the office were in full flow, Tommy joined us at the park to erect the sponsor’s banners, flags and bunting in the Arts marquee, and Helen and her team from Carrington’s, the new caterers at Walton Hall, set up their temporary bar. Bob and Bill were busy erecting signage along the path into the park, and just about any other fencing they could find. Whilst we took delivery of the mobile toilets, thousands of tables and chairs, generators and fencing. At 10am, I joined Derek, Tom and John up at the hall for the annual Disability Awareness event with students from local secondary schools. It was a pleasure to share my journey, which included my accident, together with the physical and emotional trauma, as well as the development of WDP and DAD. Tom and John also shared their personal journeys, whilst Derek took the students through an interesting history lesson on Walton Hall and Gardens, plus several disability quizzes. It was great to meet the students again before they returned to their schools. It was nice to see them full of excitement, as they were keen to look at the hand-controls in my adapted car. Interestingly, one of the students wrote in their feedback, that their highlight was being able to sit in Dave’s adopted car ... well; my Mondeo is considered, part of the Thompson family.
At around 5pm the Arts marquee was finally ready for the evenings “Frogtastic in the Park”, definitely, one of the DAD week teams favourite events. The hot dry weather played its part in attracting a record attendance of nearly 300 partygoers who enjoyed an evening of live entertainment featuring fantastic tribute artists ‘David Bowie & Liam Gallagher’ plus special guests including DJ’s from the famous Frogtastic Club Night, held monthly at Manchester’s Frog and Bucket Comedy Club. It was a pleasure to see everyone having an amazing time; I chatted to a group who had travelled from north Manchester, as they piled off their coach they had florescent face paint, wellie boots and clothing befitting of a major pop concert. One reveller shouted, we are here to rave. And oh boy, they certainly did. After a quick tidy up, we finally left the site at 11.30pm.
Wednesday 11th, was a very busy day, but it was also a crucial day as the England football team had made it through to the World Cup semi-finals. One-half of me was excited as I am patriotic, but the other half, as DAD Co-ordinator, was anxious that a win would no doubt affect attendance figures for Sunday’s event, not to mention, we would no doubt struggle with volunteer stewards, as well as WDP and DTC staff and exhibitors wanting to leave early. We had to consider setting up a large screen to show the game live. Our focus had to stay with the day’s events, with our friends from North West Boroughs NHS Foundation Trust up first with their annual Involvement event, a celebration of the thousands of voluntary hours given to supporting Trust business by hundreds of service users and carers. Congratulations to all of the award winners, especially David Walker who won the Harry Blackman Memorial Trophy for most outstanding contribution. It was nice to see so many dear friends, it brought back 20 years of very happy times whilst working with them during my time in the NHS. After lunch, it was all change for the Trust’s annual “Ignite Your Life” Mental Health and Well-being event, with a range of activities including Tai Chi, Yoga, Drumming, Poetry, Flower Arranging, Crafts, Cycling and information stands from local support groups and services.
Once the day’s events had finished, the team moved in to strip out, clean up and rebuild the Arts marquee ready for the evenings “Ella, Summertime Special”. However, I was forced to take an hour out for some paracetamols and a catnap in my car due to the effects of a kidney infection. During the evening, the hugely talented members of Ella performed a range of amazing individual, small and large group sets that left every one of the record crowd of over 200 people wanting more. It has to be said, that Ella are a very special organisation, one dear to my heart. Their team, led by Mal, Keily and Rachel, spend countless hours with each, and every member of the cast, in order to develop their skills that shine when they perform on stage. They certainly are an organisation that underline the phrase “ability first”.
At 8pm, as the England football team were fighting for a place in the World Cup final, we held our first of two Health and Safety meetings with DAD’s Army of volunteer stewards. I would not have complained if everyone had chosen to stay at home to watch the match, especially as they had the option to attend Saturday’s briefing, but we were hugely impressed to see over 30-committed members of the team waiting for us. I know that like me, a number of us had one ear on the match, and I have to admit, I was worried when England went one nil up early in the game, and I smiled when Croatia equalised, and cheered loudly when they scored the winner. I did feel a smidgen of guilt when my youngest granddaughter Chloe reminded me that the goal meant that England were out of the World Cup. Sorry Chloe!
After a quick tidy up, we left the park at 11.45pm, after another long but very successful day. One filled with various emotions, a huge rollercoaster. Thursday 12th, saw an early start as we finalised the positions of a number of vital areas of the DAD showground, including the main arena and sports zone. An unusual late morning start for the first event of the day saw a new edition to the DAD Week programme with our friends from Warrington Together, and their Health and Well-being Summit. The event brought together nearly 200 staff from health, social care, housing and the 3rd sector. I was proud to have been asked to share my perspective of joint commissioning, from my personal experience gained as a patient after my accident in 1989, plus nearly 30 years working in the 3rd sector and 20 years in senior management in the NHS. I underlined both mine and WDP’s support for greater joint commissioning, but I also shared my thoughts on the blockers and the levers required to make it happen. It was nice to see Steven Broomhead, Warrington Borough Council CEO and WDP Patron, share the stage with Warrington Wolves Head Coach, Steve Price. Their thoughts on leadership echoed my take on removing barriers, especially Steve Price’s “No dickhead” policy he brought to the Wolves, one that simply removes people who he sees as blocking progress. Interestingly, Steven Broomhead suggested he might look to introduce it at the Council, good luck Steve.
Another quick strip out, clean up and rebuild of the Arts marquee, saw it prepared for the evenings event, hosted by our friend, Faisal Rashid MP, for his Evening of Culture. His initial event was a huge success when he was Mayor of Warrington two years ago. A record attendance was assured after local businessman Paul Smith sponsored the event, making it a free evening, one full of diverse colour, sound and food. With live music, amazing dancers, musicians and tasty cuisine from local restaurant the Cinnamon Lounge. There was even a small amount left to feed the DAD Week team, who had so far relied heavily on a hearty breakfast sandwich from WDP’s Galleries Café and Pam’s onsite Café at the Park.
Whilst the Cultural event was in full flow, members of Team WDP were busy in marquees nine and ten with our annual “Children’s Party in the Park”. Together with our partners from Warrington Youth Club, Warrington Wolves Foundation and the Warrington Parents and Carers Group the team delivered another successful and very lively evening full of various activities including a quiet chill out zone, various sports, crafts, a disco and karaoke. There simply was something for everyone. Just as the Party in the Park was finishing, we saw the first rain for weeks, and it got continuously heavier as the Evening of Cultural event ended. We finally got away after midnight, but satisfied that we had delivered three more amazing events, and we had reached the milestone halfway point of DAD Week 2018. When we arrived on site Friday morning on the 13th, it was evident that the rain had been very heavy during the night. Two gazeebos had been badly damaged and the park looked like a shallow lake. The hard baked ground was not soaking up the rain, but hours later, the morning sunshine dried it up.
During the day, the event site really started to take shape, with a large number of exhibitor and catering vehicles and children’s fairground rides being delivered. I meet with Brun, Kate and Caroline to review which exhibitors had withdrawn from Sunday’s event, and look at which latecomers we could fit in. As usual with an event of its size, we lost a few exhibitors due to staffing shortages, especially small charities. However, the most disappointing news was the number of last minute withdrawals from the Sports Zone; due in part to some genuine staff sickness, but hearing some of the bizarre excuses did make me think that the World Cup final had more to do with it. These latest changes were on top of a problem we had to deal with the week before, after one of our partners who had planned to supply a number of inflatable sports activities was forced to pull out after national policy changes introduced following the death of a child on an inflatable at a community event. We all agreed to revisit the sports matters on Saturday. Friday evening was extremely busy for Team WDP, our chair of trustees John and his wife Barbara were joined by other trustees Pat, Eileen and Maureen, together with their partners and guests on one table, whilst fellow trustee Gary, was joined by his family and friends on another at the Park Royal Hotel 25th Anniversary Charity Ball. Huge thank you to general manager Annie and her team for choosing WDP and the Peace Centre as their chosen charities. The event raised a fantastic £1,000 for each charity.
At the same time, I joined other members of Team WDP at our annual Mega Quiz Night in the Arts marquee. Huge thanks to DTC board member Bill, and WDP trustees Jan and Mike for supporting the event, and a massive thank you to Patrick and his colleagues from Barclays Bank for once again, match funding the evening. Everyone enjoyed Roy and Liz’s new formatted fun filled quiz, which I completed with a music round that brought the crowd to their feet singing along to each song. After a very successful raffle, stand up bingo and whiskey toss, and a fantastic auction that saw some amazing lots including a shark dive, signed Warrington Wolves shirts and combination lots for men, women, children and families. The final tally was announced as an amazing £5,100. This was matched by Barclay’s very kind donation of £5,000. Overall, it was one of the very best days fundraising nights for Team WDP.
After everyone finally left for home, we got away at 12.15am, by then the heat from the hot and sunny weather, together with the very long hours, and the emotional rollercoaster was taking its toll on body, mind and soul. Several members of the team were totally knackered. It was plain to see that they were running on adrenalin, fuelled by the satisfaction that together we had delivered an amazing week of complimentary events that had brought fun and happiness to around 2,000 people. Saturday 12th, was time for the final set up day, and our final steward’s Health and Safety briefing. The main topic of discussion amongst the DAD Week team was how many steps they had registered on their Fitbits. Dave, Ben and Janis were leading the way, which is understandable when you consider the miles they had walked around the event site during the past week. However, Caroline amazed everyone when she mentioned how many steps she had registered, walking around the offices back at WDP. I cannot wait to see the estimated figure from the whole team.
Pete Ives and his team from local Lions clubs arrived early to mark out the hundreds of undercover and outside exhibitor spaces. With white-line markers filled, two teams set off with my detailed plans. Another team worked on the main arena, whilst Bob led a team putting up even more banners around the event site, whilst Dave and Graham set off to erect more road signs for our Park and Ride site and other directional signage and promotional banners, and Emma did her final tables and electrical point checks. During the day, around twenty exhibitors delivered and erected their exhibition stands, three very impressive stands caught my eye, new DAD sponsors, Expanse Learning had an amazing wrap around 9m stand. Whilst second year DAD sponsors BAS (NW) had, a very well planned display of adapted vehicles and new exhibitors Scottish Power, setup their very impressive pod style display vehicle.
Gavin and the team were busy throughout the day collecting vanloads of equipment for our stands for Disability Trading Company, Warrington Disability Partnership information and fundraising stalls, plus boxes full of thousands of DAD programmes, display materials and certificates for the VIP Reception, and over 60 wheelchairs and mobility scooters from Shopmobility for our DAD loans service. With all the changes in the Sports Zone, we agreed we needed to think differently, and it is at times like this when you see the strength of the committed team we have. After talking with Tom, we decided that a more basic “have a go” theme was needed to compliment the scuba pool and other activities. Janis, Pam and Emma left the park just after mid-day and spent hours travelling around Warrington, borrowing and purchasing sports equipment from local partners and businesses. Whilst shopping in Decathlon, a conversation with Deputy Store Manager Calum resulted in him offering to volunteer in the DAD Sports Zone the following day. At around 1pm it was time for a break, and with so many members of the team working hard, they made light work of over 60 Gregg’s pasties and countless mugs of tea and coffee. I commented that it was an interesting sight to see a pride of Lions feasting on the food, but it was lost in translation….
At 2pm, it was pleasing to see around 40 stewards at health and safety briefing. That said, we did have a few regular stewards missing, and I must admit, I gave a thought to England’s result, and thought, it could have been a lot worse if they had won. Then it was back to finishing the marking out and setup. The next few hours felt like days, the scorching sunshine was badly affecting the team, but by 9pm we finished the set up and we were all ready to settle down to enjoy a well-earned fish and chip supper. However, the rest was short lived when we heard a loud bang in the Arts marquee; I looked around and noticed that everyone was busy eating. When I wheeled into the marquee, I saw a young man running away and it was evident that he had attempted to steal a mobility scooter. This led to several members of the team running around the park looking for the budding thief. He was spotted leaving the car park before we could get to speak to him. By the time, we returned to the site huts, nobody was in the mood to finish their supper.
We spent the next couple of hours ensuring the marquees were closed and our vans full of expensive stock were strategically placed in order to reduce the chance of theft. Even with a team of security guards on site, we still felt anxious leaving, wondering what could happen during the hours to come. We finally arrived home at just before midnight. Sunday 15th, and just five hours later, the alarm clock sounded time to get up for DAD 2018, our 27th annual event. Pam, Emma, Jamie and I arrived at the park at just after 6am; I was amazed to hear that Gavin, Ben and Lee had been there for nearly an hour. During the next 90 minutes DAD’s Army arrived, and after signing in they took up their positions that had been carefully allocated by Caroline, who had been up until the early hours.
The early morning sunshine had encouraged many of the exhibitors to arrive earlier than usual, and by 8am, we were dealing with around 200 vehicles, but everyone was calm, in fact I mentioned to Gavin, about how calm it felt. During the setup, there were the usual problems where exhibitor stands were larger than the space they had booked, but again, I was taken aback by how calm everyone acted, especially as the heat and pressures grew. One by one, the vehicles were unloaded and moved to the car parking areas. Huge thanks to Andrew and his colleagues from Warrington Rotary Club who this year came prepared with hand trucks to assist the exhibitors to transport their goods to their stands. I visited the entrance bridge at around 9.15am and was shocked to hear that most of the exhibitors were already onsite, and there was already a long queue of visitor’s vehicles including minibuses heading to the carpark. At 10am, I joined Peter Powell Lymm’s Town Crier who was on hand to announce the opening of DAD 2018 in his traditional town crier style. As Peter’s bell tolled, members of the Splinters Band led a procession of visitors to the event site. Just as they left the fairground organ started, together it provided an excellent start to the day ahead. I stayed at the bridge to do a couple of interviews with Mat our videographer and Gary from Warrington Worldwide, and still the crowds filed past us.
During the next couple of hours, the numbers of visitors continued to grow, and it got more difficult to get through the marquees, much earlier than previous events. Our exhibitors and caterers welcomed the early crowds. Being mindful of how busy it getting, I returned to the front entrance and found the queuing traffic was backing up to the bottom of Walton Lea Road, right back to the A56 past the Walton Arms Pub. A quick check with the Park and Ride service confirmed that they were also very busy; I also saw groups of people walking in from the Stockton Heath/Grappenhall. Given that we had invested in a second free bus for the bus interchange service and an additional minibus for the free Park and Ride service, it was clear to see, this was going to be a very very busy day. For the first time ever, we reviewed options to park vehicles within the park, thankfully just before 1pm the queues started to ease.
At 1pm, I joined our trustees, sponsors and guests at the Hall for the DAD VIP Reception, excellently organised by Caroline and her helpers. After our chairman John’s welcome, I thanked our sponsors and supporters, and gave an overview of the past week by way of a presentation of photographs taken by Laura. Mal Hampson, Co-ordinator at Ella Together, gave the first of the speeches, she explained why their organisation exists, and highlighted their success during the past 10 years. Next up, it was over to the first of our principal sponsors; Maha Hamer, trustee from St Mark Universal Copts Care gave a thought provoking speech about the charities work in Egypt and here at home, with their ongoing support for the Phoenix Project, a partnership with WDP, which delivers mobility and independent living equipment around the world. Tracey and Alison representing the second of our principal sponsors, St George Health Care Group, gave the final speech. Tracey Paxton, Hospital Manager at St Cyril’s Rehabilitation Unit gave an overview of the Groups services, whilst Alison shared her personal experience of being a patient at St Cyril’s. Her emotionally charged and heartfelt speech left everyone in no doubt that “person centred care” which focusses on the needs of the individual verses “illness specific care” which looks to treat a patient’s condition, is what should really matter. This topic is very close to my heart, and one that I underline in my lectures and training to health and social care staff. The Mayor of Warrington, Councillor Karen Mundry assisted us with presenting the certificates of appreciation to our sponsors and key supporters. During her closing speech, the Mayor referred to DAD as being Warrington’s largest community event and the largest event of its kind in the world. She kindly praised DAD’s Army of volunteers. Unfortunately, whilst we were at the reception, I missed the late arrival of David, Ian and Hayley from MKM Building Supplies when they rode into the park as they finished their epic 120 mile, Hull to Warrington charity bike ride in aid of WDP. After leaving the reception, I spent the next few hours travelling around the event site speaking with countless exhibitors and visitors, and it was clear to see everyone was having a great time. Most pleasing was hearing that our new sponsors, Expanse Learning and Catalyst Choices were very pleased with their investments. They both confirmed that they were happy to support DAD again next year.
CEO at Expanse, Tony Brown said the event had surpassed his expectations, stating, he thought it was amazing. It was good to catch up with Steve Kennedy MD at NRS Healthcare, Steve confirmed that his team had been busy; I even got him to serve me with one of their promotional ice creams….. Mike and Adam from the Warrington Guardian caught the moment on camera! It was also good to catch up with Bill Bradley from BAS (NW), we had a long discussion about how much work goes into the build up to DAD and the week’s events, a point he personally experienced after joining us as a member of the DAD Week team. It was selfie time, when I caught up with the team from the Automotive Group, the accessible vehicle suppliers had travelled all the way from Newcastle. It was pleasing to receive confirmation from Emma that although there had been nearly 30 first aid incidents, none was serious and St John Ambulance crew had managed to deal with all of them on site.
I was saddened to hear that I had missed the impromptu moment in the main arena, when we had a marriage proposal, but my favourite memory from this year’s DAD was watching seven-year-old Sunny who has severe cerebral palsy “have a go” in the scuba diving pool. Our friends at Cheshire Scuba Academy were initially worried after Sunny shrieked as his dad lowered him into the water, but there were smiles a plenty when his mum confirmed the Sunny was expressing his delight. The moment was a timely reminder of why DAD is important; it provides opportunities for disabled people, of all ages to look at what we “can do”. Just watching the reaction on Sunny’s mum and dads faces, said it all. Another magical moment from this year’s DAD was joining over 800 people in the Arts marquee to watch Ella. I bumped into Warrington Wolves star Super Bennie Westwood; he expressed his feelings of being humbled by the performers. Another busy area was the Main Arena, especially when the Katumba samba band was in full flow. My delight was tempered by the frustration of visiting marquee 7 at around 4pm, only to find many of the statutory service providers had already packed up and left. I felt disappointed for the many visitors who were still around the event site, especially as they might have benefited from the information and advice available from the missing exhibitors. As I left the marquee, one exhibitor shouted me over, and stated she was disgusted that many of those who left early said they were going to watch the World Cup final. I am pleased that not everyone was as selfish.
It is fair to say, that the numbers did fall around 3.30pm as some visitors made their way home, no doubt to watch the World Cup or Wimbledon finals. At just before 5pm, I had the pleasure to present our independently judged, Best Exhibitor Awards:
During the next few hours, DAD’s Army and Walton Hall and Gardens Rangers team worked tirelessly to strip down and clean up the event site, in preparation for Mondays final clean up. After removing hundreds of bags and boxes of rubbish, over 1,000 tables and chairs, fencing panels, pins and plastic fencing, hundreds of signs and display materials. In the knowledge that we would have a greatly depleted team for Monday’s final clear up we decided to pack up and move around eight vanloads of equipment back to WDP. When the final van arrived back on site a little later than normal at 8pm, I signalled for DAD’s Army to move up to Walton Hall for the eagerly awaited Stewards Debrief, where some hot food and a cool drink were waiting, and we could get the chance to say thank you.
What was left of the team went outside for the annual DAD’s Army photo at around 9.15pm, sadly, by then we had lost over half of the team. After further work, we handed over to security for the final time at around 10.30pm, over 16 hours after we had arrived on site. Monday 16th, I arrived back on site at 9am, once again Gavin and a much smaller team had been busy for over an hour. The tables and chairs were almost loaded; the Arts marquee was already dismantled and ready for loading. During the next few hours, the event site was stripped bare, with the collection of the mobile toilet units, four of the five giant generators, dozens of fire extinguishers, 75 radios, ground matting and much more were removed, and all of the remaining exhibitor display vehicles and equipment. By midday, all of the marquees had been dismantled, and in record time, by 2.15pm, Tom and his team from Henman Marquees drove off the event site for the final time this year. Our team were kept busy transporting the rest of the equipment back to WDP where another team was busy sorting through vanload after vanload of equipment that needed to be returned to our DTC and WDP services in Warrington and Liverpool. One of the vital, but often unseen jobs we do at the park, is to pick up hundreds of plastic cable ties from across the whole event site that were used for the signs and banners.
At around 6.30pm, the last fencing panel was loaded, and after we received news that the metal site office and storage units wouldn’t be collected until Tuesday morning, we agreed to call it a day. At exactly the same time, the heavens opened with the heaviest rainstorm I have seen in years. At 11am on Tuesday 16th, the last remaining generator and the site office and storage units were collected, and we could declare the park, finally cleared. Although there was still plenty to do at the Centre, finding homes for everything that had been returned from the event site. By late afternoon, I had spoken with several local newspapers and Wire FM, where I confirmed that DAD2018 was probably one, if not, the best DAD we have delivered. At times, we appeared “swan fashion”, gliding smoothly on the surface, and paddling like mad below the surface dealing with the various matters. I paid special thanks to our teams up at the park and back in the office. Especially Gavin who led from the front as Head Steward, and Dave Williams, who used seven days of his annual leave from his job at Warrington Borough Council to volunteer for the whole week, and Caroline who was integral to everything relating to administration. Huge thanks to Bill Bradley from BAS (NW), not just for his financial support, but for also joining the DAD Week team. Great effort from Pam who kept the team fed and watered from Pam’s Cafe, Janis who took on a new role as DAD Week events co-ordinator, which made the job a lot easier. Thanks also to Brun, Laura, John, Mark, Bob, Fred, Ben, Phil and Graham, who went and continued to go above and beyond day after day, often in the searing summer heat. As the dust settled on our 27th annual Disability Awareness Day, it was great to read a summary of the mainly positive feedback from visitors and exhibitors. It was also nice to look through the hundreds of photos and videos.
During the post event evaluation, it was confirmed that this year’s social media activity reached new heights, trending in second place locally on Twitter, only beaten by the World Cup. Our hashtag #DAD2018 was used in 603 Tweets with an estimated reach of over 574,000 and over 1.4 million impressions. On Facebook, 38,000 saw the event, 950 people responded, nearly twice as many as last year, and an internationally known YouTube personality mentioned Disability Awareness Day, this had the potential to reach out to a further 150,000 people. Huge thanks to Laura for her efforts during the months before DAD, and for her onsite media coverage on the day, where she was ably assisted by Ellie and Grace.
The evaluation showed that during a busy four days during DAD Week, we organised or supported nine amazing events that attracted nearly 2,000 people. Adding to around 23,000 people who attended DAD2018, the total was an incredible 25,000, not bad against competition from the World Cup and Wimbledon finals. The biggest news from DAD2018 was that the money raised by charities and community groups has taken the total raised during the past 27 events to an incredible £1million, yes, £1million pounds. Not bad considering fundraising is not the main purpose of DAD. It is worth considering, how many tens of thousands of disabled people and their families have benefited from the information, advice and guidance they have received from our exhibitors, and the inspiration they have gained from visiting our Sports Zone and Arts marquee. DAD is truly an institution, one that promotes a “can do” culture. One that is shared by other user led organisations around the world, including Closing the Gap in Cameroon, the Message Institute in India, 1 Step 2 Step working in Thailand and other organisations here in the UK and beyond.
None of what we have achieved would be possible without the combined efforts of hundreds of people and organisations. None more so than the physical effort given by our management team, DAD Week teams (on the park and in the office), DAD’s Army of volunteers, Walton Hall and Gardens staff and rangers, members of Lions, Rotary, Sea Cadets and Thorn Cross Prison. Thanks to our sponsors and supporters, our exhibitors, our advertisers and most importantly, our visitors. What about the future, well some members of our team are already looking ahead to the next milestone, DAD2021, our 30th anniversary. I on the other hand need to stay a little more grounded. With the continuing difficult economic climate; my first priority has to be to secure funding for next year’s event. Along the lines of the famous Kevin Costner film, the Field of Dreams, I believe that if we build it, they will come. Until the time comes when we cannot financially afford to run DAD or when the public and/or exhibitors tell us otherwise, we will be back for another event.
Thanks again to everyone who played a part in DAD2018.
Thanks for sharing the dream.
Dave Thompson MBE DL