I was born slap bang in the middle of World War Two, the only child of a marine engineer father and midwife mother, in the Wirral. I attended an all-boys secondary school and Exeter University subsequently.
A lot of what I’ve done in my life since then has been informed by my long-held belief that we live in an unfair world and that the way to even things up is to raise awareness in communities and help individuals deal with their plights.
My first job was in Manchester on a juvenile delinquency prevention project. I then went to teach research techniques and community studies in universities in East Africa. The Idi Amin army coup in Uganda in 1971 gave me my first dose of inhumanity, with a member of my department being brutally killed and the Vice chancellor, my boss, tortured to death by the new dictator’s henchmen.
Asian people were being expelled and having their possessions and bank accounts confiscated. My then wife and I worked with the Sikh community, liaising with the UK Embassy, to help them leave the country safely. General Idi Amin imposed a curfew on the population and threatened to execute any expatriates caught helping those being expelled. Despite the risks, I was constantly out late helping the Sikh community and gathering information about atrocities to present to UK High Commission.
We live in an unfair world and we need to help individuals deal with their plights.
It was a time of great danger and we had to be very careful but, in my view, one had a duty to help others even if there was a high risk of being shot. However, I eventually went to teach at Dar es Salam University in Tanzania as my presence in Uganda was putting some of my students at risk. UK citizens like me were seen as potential spies, meaning any students seen talking to us were under suspicion, particularly if they hailed from Tanzania, whose relationship with Uganda was deteriorating.
Working in East Africa for six years taught me a lot about cultures and peoples different from my own. I returned to England in September 1975 and found it difficult to get a University teaching post as my experience of teaching African students was seen as inferior, with interviewers betraying some not too subtle hints of racism.
I began to look at the world and the forces influencing society in very broad terms rather than focussing on details.
I eventually (1976) got a job at the Camden-based Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW). While there, I rose from being a Union Shop Steward to the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), partly, I think, because of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree I achieved in 1991.
This degree, with its strategic approach to society, fundamentally changed my way of thinking. I began to look at the world and the forces influencing society in very broad terms rather than focussing on details. Equipped with this new approach and qualification, I taught on the Open University strategic management course in summer schools over the following decade.
Shortly after gaining employment at the CCETSW, I settled in Camden’s Gospel Oak and have been active in community work in the borough since 1979, working as the Chair of Governors of a primary school, Chair of Camden Independent Custody Visitors (for whom I carried out unannounced visits to police cells to ensure detainees’ right were safeguarded) and Chair of a community centre. I was also a member of the Independent Monitoring Boards at Pentonville and Wormwood Scrubs prisons.
When the Government of the day closed CCETSW, in 2002, my major role, as CEO, was to ensure its termination was smooth and to transfer the rump of the organisation to the Care Quality Commission (CQC).
My philosophy was that since the state had given me huge advantages, I had to contribute to wider society.
As to my personal life, my parents, who still lived in the Wirral, gradually became frail, compelling me to make frequent hurried drives to the Wirral to assist with their ever more frequent health crises.
My father died in 1989 and my mother in 1992, which was also the year my wife died of mesothelioma, an asbestos related disease for which there is no cure. It has a gestation period of 30 to 40 years and I constantly worried that I might have also caught it, especially as I had worked temporarily in a shipyard in the 1950s, shrouded in clouds of asbestos.
Fortunately, I escaped that fate and continued working in good health until I retired with an enhanced pension in 2002, six months short of my 60th birthday. Just two weeks before retiring, I married my long-standing girlfriend, Dinah, and we both set about committing ourselves to community work.
My philosophy was (and still is) that since the state had given me huge advantages, especially in terms of my education (I’d received a grant and paid no University fees), I had to utilise my extensive skills-set and experience to contribute to wider society and pay back what I myself had been given.
Consequently, I continued with my Chair roles right up to 2017, the year our now King presented me with an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire) in recognition of my community work.
Strangely, or perhaps not, my award and community contributions have always been ignored by Camden Council, although much of my community work has been in the borough.
This lack of acknowledgement may very well be the result of my public criticism the Council, over the years, for its policies and actions. My community work gave me inside knowledge of what the council was doing and I did not hold back from holding them to account.
For example, it imposed high rents on community centres, stopped the community centre of which I was chair from running our very successful street market and tried to dismiss the head of the school of which I was the chair of governors. The council officer concerned had no legal right to do this as heads are appointed, and dismissed, by governors.
I wrote frequent letters to the local press exposing the misguided decision-making of officers and Councillors. One Councillor even told me he would close the community centre down if I did not stop criticising him (the council wasn’t repairing potholes and I had a photo in the paper naming a pothole after him).
We began to experience first-hand discrimination because of our impairments, all of which are “invisible”.
In my view, officers and some councillors were increasingly using their posts to develop their careers while refusing to listen to local people.
Many had few skills, scant relevant experience and little understanding of the communities they supposedly worked for despite the considerable power bestowed upon them, power too often used to impose their “grand designs” on, especially, vulnerable people.
And then it was the turn of my wife and I to feel what it was like to be vulnerable, with both of us developing multiple impairments from 2017 onwards. I was diagnosed with a heart and eye condition. My heart condition has led to a series of emergency procedures including one which led me to spend eight days in intensive care. I find walking difficult and get tired easily. Meanwhile, my wife’s hearing deteriorated and she has vasculitis, an immune system problem.
We began to experience first-hand discrimination because of our impairments, all of which are “invisible”. I have been refused services on the grounds that “there is nothing wrong with you”. I have come across more and more people with impairments who have been treated shamefully; yet many are too scared to complain.
Throughout much of the Covid pandemic we were in a shielded household and received help from neighbours. My wife has just had a cochlea implant and her hearing is improving. I have to speak for her and she reads for me due to my eye-health challenges.
My primary aim now is to expose the ill-treatment of disabled people and press for the adoption of anti-disability discrimination policies and practices in all Council departments. It will be a long and hard road to travel for sure, but my personal motto is “La luta continua”, (the struggle continues) borrowed from the Portuguese East African Liberation Army.