Disability Awareness Day
Sunday 14th July 2024
From a vision to reality, the secret is simply ‘team work’. Anyone can dream, but how many dreams come true, and how many realities exceed your dreams? Dave Thompson explains how DAD started as a foggy dream and became a vibrant reality.
One morning in February 1992 I lay thinking about the question Nick White (Head Ranger at Walton Hall Gardens) had asked the day before, namely, what could we do with a couple of thousand pounds he had left in his budget. Nick said that he would like to use it for a disability scheme, but I'm sure he was thinking about an information brochure on accessible paths. My colleagues and I from the Warrington Information Group for the Disabled were thinking about something a little bit different.
Being frustrated by the professionally focused Independent Living Exhibitions and the exclusive atmosphere that surrounded Disability Sports festivals our small team of service users (Eric James, Allan Shaw, Annette Clemo, Ethlyn Whitaker and myself Dave Thompson) wanted an event that had as its main focus "Information", promoting what was available to enable disabled people to live more independently. We wanted an event that highlighted support groups, services, equipment, holidays, benefits, concessions, and much more. The event also had to offer disabled people a chance to try out sports activities, catering for all levels of interest and ability, including competitors, and those with recreational and social interests.
From our very small office in the Social Services run Dallam Day Centre we put together the foundations of what has become the World’s largest voluntary led, pan disability event which has encouraged and empowered other like-minded people to establish similar events in places as far away as Cornwall, Rotherham, Wigan, Rhyl, Knowsley, Crewe, Gibraltar, Demark, Sweden, India and Cameroon. During 2006 we received an international enquiry from the USA and in 2007 we established a working relationship as far afield as Osaka in Japan which led to Scott Barron and the International Arts Collaborative exhibiting at DAD 2008. During 2008 and 2009 we had ongoing communications with Hilden in Germany and Nachod in the Czech Republic. In 2010 we received enquiries from South Africa and Australia, and in 2011 we received enquiries from New Zealand and three days after our event we received confirmation that the MESSAGE Institute in India had successfully ran their first Disability Awareness Day and in 2013 the Closing the Gap organisation ran their first event in Cameroon.
Our continuing success has only been possible through sheer hard work, determination and a willingness to work in partnership with hundreds of organisations and individuals who have shared in the vision. What’s more interesting is that we were told:
It will never work
Walton Hall and Gardens owned by Warrington Borough Council has been the home for 30 of our 31 events (DAD 2020 was held online). I would like to acknowledge the continuing support we receive from the management and staff at Walton Hall and Gardens, and the fantastic support from our sponsors, and exhibitors, but the most praise must go to the management and support team, aptly named ‘Dads Army’, who together continues to make our vision become a reality.
DAD has become an annual event, and for everyone concerned it has become part of our lives and that of our families and friends. During this journey I have witnessed the development of small family-run charities and an ever increasing willingness of statutory service providers to be more proactive in promoting their services, and I can see and feel a greater acceptance for people to use equipment that can aid and enhance their independence.
I feel that society is becoming more aware of the needs of disabled people, but most importantly disabled people are becoming more accepted for what we can do and not what we can't do. I know that we have a long way to go, but events like DAD can help to break down the barriers, dispel the myths and misconceptions, especially the stigma of using aides and equipment, and the fear of being seen with people who might look or act differently. DAD is a great leveller, it provides the platform to promote information and provide opportunities to see, or have a go at new ideas.
As a by-product DAD has been the vehicle to raise over £1,000,000 to support the work of local and regional organisations. DAD has been featured on TV (BBC and ITV), and covered by radio and newspapers at home and abroad. Being involved in the event has provided everyone with a sense of pride that we have been a part of making a difference, especially when in 2006 we were presented the Queens Award for Voluntary Services. Most of all it has provided something for every one of our 600,000 visitors who have attended DAD events during the past thirty years.
In 2011 we welcomed Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Wessex and in 1998, 2001, 2006 and 2013 we were joined by the Minister for Disabled People. Cheshire's Lord Lieutenant David Briggs MBE represented the Royal Family at our 25th Anniversary event in 2016. Other special guests include Thailand’s Minister for Health and Social Care, RAF Red Arrows, RAF WW2 Dakota and over a dozen European delegates.
Well as you can see, our dream has certainly become a reality, in fact; DAD has and continues to exceed our wildest expectations. We will continue to run DAD events as long as the need is there and as long as we can financially afford to deliver a safe and effective event. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in DAD over the years, and finally I would like to thank you for taking an interest in reading about our journey so far.
Dave Thompson MBE DL