Interview: Mary Reed, Make Someone Welcome (Part 2)

| Greg Watson

This is the second part of our interview with Mary Reed of the Wiltshire Centre for Independent Living about their Make Someone Welcome Campaign.

Make Someone Welcome aims to promote full social inclusion, by empowering disabled people to achieve their equal rights and expectations. You can find the first part of the interview here.

Who has been your biggest inspiration?

I suppose in terms of Asset-Based Community Development, I’m obsessed by Cormac Russell. I was lucky enough to see him as part of a ‘Leadership, Empowerment and Healthy Communities’ course and then we invited him to come and speak at our AGM. We really like what he talks about and we like the way he uses stories to illustrate his points because stories are far more powerful than any numbers. This kind of work doesn’t fit into evaluation structures and we struggle with social return on investment, but Cormac tells a good story that really illustrates it.
My other inspiration is both the people I work with in this office. I work with Matt and Abi, who are both disabled themselves and we co-facilitate training and that’s really inspiring.

And my son who has a learning disability. He has really informed how I work because he’s in mainstream school and I want him to grow up and not have pity pals. I want him to go down the pub in his own right and have his own friends and be seen as a valuable asset in his community regardless of his disability. I’d hate for him to have to pay for a friend and that’s often what ends up happening to disabled people, they have to pay for personal assistants to take them out and I just don’t want that for him, so I suppose he’s a really big inspiration as well.

What has been the biggest or best mistake you have made?
I suppose putting loads of effort into a lottery bid and getting knocked back – that just made us do it anyway. The biggest mistake we made was to think we needed external money and support, when actually all we needed to do was to get on with it. And, actually, what that’s taught us is: ‘get on with it, do what you can and completely keep in mind who you’re doing it for’. It’s not to look good or earn loads of money and that tone is set by our director. She always says she’ll know when we’ve succeeded when we’re all out of a job because disabled and older people are living really well and independently!

Did anything surprise you during the project?

It’s constantly surprising us because it’s still going on, it’s growing. In November we’re putting on a dance event and promoting it – so that’s going to be surprising for us all! We’re in this constant cycle of people coming to us. I’ve spoken to a colonel this week and we’ve signed up the local croquet club and flower-arranging club, so it’s constantly surprising us who’s interested in this work.

What piece of advice would you give to someone thinking of doing something similar?

Just get on with it. Don’t wait for permission. Use whatever resources you have around you, don’t wait for some mana to fall from heaven. Your communities are goldmines and you just have to be brave, take risks and do stuff despite the systems around you, not always with the systems.

What’s next?

We are going to have to find some way of growing this. We want to change Make Someone Welcome from a campaign to more of a project where we can make actual change happen quickly. We kind of liken our work to mould, so we’re growing it like mould: we’re not expecting overnight change. We’re not expecting to change people’s ideas, but we change one person’s ideas or one person’s perception and then that spreads. We don’t want to be in charge of everything, it’s not for us as an organisation to dictate how communities grow or how people use their communities.

Where can we find out more?

If you use the hashtag #makesomonewelcome you can find us and on @wiltcil, our Twitter. I’d be very happy to speak to anyone about what’s happening here by email. We try and make Facebook as active as possible. We also send out a monthly newsletter and we’re constantly trying to create that culture change in Wiltshire.

Tell us your favourite quote

Funnily enough, it’s a new favourite quote. I was reading the Guardian the other day and somebody was being asked their Q&A questions and was asked what her superpower would be and she said ‘to be able to show people that we’re linked and not ranked’ and I really liked that.

Photo by Joshua Ness

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