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  • April 1983, I attended a conference organised by the Department of Social Administration at Lancaster University.

    I had researched the genesis of the Aberfan disaster, reading:
    Bignell V (1977). The Aberfan Disater. P 37- 66 in catastrophic failures edited by Bignell, Peter and Tym. Open University Press 1977. 

    And Laurie Lee: The village that lost its children. P 86 – 102 in ‘I can’t stay long’ Penguin Books 1975.

    That disaster occurred October 1966. Its origins were subject of a paper written in 1927. First warnings were evident from 1939 when 180,000 tons of waste from a colliery tip five miles from Aberfan slid down a hillside to block a road and canal and the River Taff.

    I was concerned to draw lessons from Aberfan and similar disasters, which were predictable, predicted and could have been prevented, and the head-in-the-sand attitude to the increased needs arising from dementia and related conditions of the time.

    ‘When I worked underground I filled many a truck for the tip. But not to knock down the school I didn’t ….’

    ‘The tragedy of Aberfan was one of inertia – of a danger which grew slowly for all to see, but which almost no one took steps to prevent ….’

    ‘Nobody was to blame ….. or all of us.’

    Now we have Grenfell Tower.

    The story is the same. Vast amounts of money have been spent. Vast fortunes have been made, but the safety and dignity of residents has been systematically neglected for very minor financial savings.

    Imagine the thoughts of men who have attached the flammable cladding which was to wrap around the building in a collar of flames. They were pleased to have a job to pay for the life of their family. They were not doing this to burn the residents of the tower block.

    The professional carers who flit from one 10 minute appointment to the next with no account taken of travel time, do not want to be dismissive of the people they are charged to care for.

    The social worker who declines support for someone whose need are great but do not reach the wickedly severe threshold need to trigger a service must surely feel sick at such a decision.

    The committees which routinely deny NHS continuing Care funds to individuals who clearly deserve it by any humane criteria, and required by legal precedents, do so only because they are rehearsed in their ‘judgements’ by government checklists which are at odds with humanity and the law.

    So, the organisations have their way. People suffer.

    This is not about dementia only. It is about everyone who is vulnerable, everyone who for one reason or other is perceived to be different.

    It is about doing things informed by mutual caring rather than individual greed.

    Is there the leadership for this?

    Do our educational priorities help with this?

    Can we say and mean it: ’Enough is enough.’

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    11th June 2017 | By David Jolley

    For many people this has been a reassuring week as we have seen the bravery of Jeremy Corbyn rewarded by votes of support for him as an individual and the policies he stands for. He has had to resist criticism and mockery from members of the Labour Party who are representatives in Parliament, but has been resolutely applauded by many ordinary people, especially young people.

    At base his polices are those of unselfishness and concern for the greater good.

    I was listening today to a man who talked of the power that goes with total commitment. He started with the story of the widow’s mite (Mark 12: 41-44, Luke 21: 1-4) – a poor woman giving what money she could to be used at the discretion of others for the benefit of people in need. Her total commitment and trust is held up as an example to be followed. The contrast is with the difficulty a rich man faces: Matthew 19:24.

    We are rich and protective of our own.

    It is so tempting to be carried by fashions of the day and the flattering words of advisors.

    My friend went on to point to Gladys Aylward as an example of a woman who had very little money, no claims to academic excellence and who was initially rejected when she asked to be allowed to work as a missionary in China: www.tlogical.net/bioaylward.htm.

    But she was convinced that she had a job to do. She saved her own money to pay for travel to China by the cheapest and most hazardous route – and she succeeded wonderfully.

    This is the week that we celebrate Methodist Homes for the Aged – MHA. Founded during the last months of the Second World War, it took vision and determination to persuade people to invest in a project to care for older people, when every penny was need to fight the enemy. Those pounds which were set aside have borne good fruit. MHA is a byword for excellent care at home, in sheltered accommodation and in residential homes www.mha.org.uk/. This is important for the 30,000 families directly benefitting from MHA care, but also through demonstrating that standards can be set and achieved for the welfare and happiness of residents – setting an example and encouraging others to do the same.

    On a much smaller scale we look forward to our meeting of Dementia Conversations this week. There will be much to talk about and it is good just to be together for a while. We are hardly so brave and fierce at Jeremy Corbyn or Gladys Aylward. We are not so totally focussed and committed as the widow who gave her all. Maybe this is weakness in me. The aim is to remain part of everyone’s ordinary life and not to become zealots or extremists, blind to the needs and arguments of others. We see the dangers which can follow from these. We see the hazards of devotion to a corporate image by choice or on demand. I hope we can continue to be ourselves, with strengths and weaknesses, with smiles as well as sadness. It does not mean we should not be brave. Standing against what we are supposed to believe, when our eyes and ears tell us it is not true, requires a degree of steel, clear thinking and trust in others of like mind.

    What I’d take from Mr Corbyn, Gladys Aylward and their like – is that to speak one’s view of truth is right. It will have its own reward.

    We do want to see conversations spreading.

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    6th June 2017 | By David Jolley 

    This weekend we celebrated the Centenary of John Leigh Park. The 14 acres were previously the estate of Oldfield Hall which has a history going back several hundred years. But by 1917 the hall had become neglected and had been demolished for safety. Earlier the Earl of Stamford had sold a tranche of the land along the Oldfield Road border to Mark Clark who built a ribbon of splendid semidetached villas, one of which is now our home. The remainder of the land he sold to John Leigh.

    John Leigh’s father, also John Leigh, had established a family business in cotton and cotton waste and had become very wealthy, moving the family from north Manchester to the more affluent Sale. That was where our benefactor John grew up. Although he was clever he did not stay on in education but joined the business and boosted its earnings. He moved the short distance to Altrincham as a young man and began a career of good works, making generous gifts from the family fortune.

    The times were dominated by the First World War. John made over the former family home in Sale for a rehabilitation unit for returning soldiers. He followed this by the purchase of Townfield House near St George’s church. This was converted to a rehabilitation unit for injured officers. The Oldfield Hall estate came close to the site of Townfield House and might offer benefits of exercise for the officers.

    That potential was certainly there, but John gave the land to be used for townsfolk of Altrincham of any standing and in perpetuity, naming the park after his father.

    The centenary has given us encouragement to research the history. A new brief history of the park has been written and can be purchased from Friends of John Leigh Park. http://roundhoundcouk.ipage.com/whats-on.html

    Even more information on the history is available on the website itself. We have collected stories from individuals who have known the park, often for very many years. We will continue this exercise and perhaps write another short book devoted just to these. The mix of formal history and oral history is fascinating.

    Our celebrations this weekend used the Big Lunch format which we have joined since 2014. https://www.edenprojectcommunities.com/thebiglunchhomepage

    Threaded into this were elements of the first real celebration of the gift to the town, soon after the war in 1919. There was a march from the middle of town. We did this with the generous support from the police. There were to be Mounted Police but they had to withdraw because of demands on person power since the Manchester bombing two weeks ago. Sea Cadets also withdrew because of a family event affecting their leaders. But we marched with a brass band, the Air Cadets and Scouts, guided by volunteer marshals of differing shapes and sizes, resplendent in Hi Vis.

    They came through the streets, across the A56 and down to the park where they waited their time to allow the warm-up dancers to complete their Charleston before the ‘troops’ homed in on the stage to be received by the VIPs. Graham Brady MP was joined by two of Sir John Leigh’s grandchildren. Graham knows the park well but for Peregrine and Corinna, this was a first sight of the legacy their grandfather gave to us. They were charming and clearly greatly moved to walk this piece of the earth. We had reflective, inspiring and caring speeches and a Black Mulberry Tree was planted. The Streford Brass Band struck up and gave us tunes and style which would have been entirely at home in 1917, 1919 and for many of the hundred years that have passed since those dreadful but wonderful days.

    The weather held. Families gathered around their picnics. There were several hundred in the crowd, listening, talking, trying their hand at games, crafts, competitions or just gazing at the E type Jaguar, Triumph Mayfair and Lotus. Leonard Cheshire were with us to share their centenary celebration of their founder’s birth and to bring liveliness and acts of kindness from their Can-Do project. https://www.leonardcheshire.org/support-and-information/life-and-work-skills-development/can-do

    Wood turners demonstrated their skills and passion. A Health Walk talked followers through some of the trees which give the park its character. These included the 400-year oak which we believe was planted as a gesture of defiance against Cromwell by the owners of the hall at that time. They subsequently fled to Ireland for their lives. We saw how exercise with buggies keeps young mums in good shape. Many came mainly for the crazy games with water and much screaming and running about. Or the calmer but gripping craft of hat making through the ages.

    We had the winner of The John Leigh Park Centenary Bowling Challenge cup. Arthur told us he first bowled here 1948. We had winners of 5 a side football for young and younger teams.

    And all the time there were conversations, ice-cream if you wished, and a good old fashioned feeling of belonging and trusting. Music drifted over all. More brass, the Besozzi trio, and a mix of local Jam musicians and singers which gave anyone who would the chance to sing. We all knew most of the words. 

    The finale came from 55 voices of the Altrincham Choral Society singing with power and tenderness, Songs from the Trenches. Not a dry eye.

    Official activities wound down 3.30. One family was still with us at 9.

    Thanks to the Eden Project for an idea. Thanks to Sir John Leigh for the park.

    Thanks for the continuing threads which hold us.

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    29th May 2017 | By David Jolley

    There is so much in the daily news. I generally read the headlines and maybe the letters page, then read on in those articles which seem likely to be useful, interesting or amusing. Mostly I depend on nudges from Sue, who reads everything much more diligently.

    ‘Colin Godber is in the letters’. This is May 26th and Colin has things to say about Polly Toynbee, Mrs May and the strange business of a U turn. As I understand it Mrs May and her colleagues had suggested that money for good works should be raised by requiring that older people who are needing and receiving care should be charged for that care beyond the calls on their finances that are already in place. This was to be a feature of the Conservative Party’s ‘pitch’ for the coming election.

    I guessed that Mrs May had been advised that this would be a popular policy which would appeal to those who identify older people to be ‘Public Enemy Number One’. It used to be the case that pensioners were reliably amongst the poorest in society, but careful management has seen their average income equal or exceed the average worker’s wage. So not only are we a ‘burden’ to society, we are also sitting pretty on money we do not need. Sitting for sure. Sitting Ducks for a grab raid.

    The shallow injustice of such a policy was quickly recognised and so the idea has been scrapped, at least for now. This is the U turn.

    Colin is not happy about this. He declares himself a long-term advocate of such a policy. ‘The social care bill for our collectively wealthy older generation should be paid for by us (Colin is of retirement age) and not by our less privileged juniors’.

    I find this very difficult to follow. Where is the precedent for requiring one subset of the population, identified only by age, to be dealt with as if different from the rest of humankind?

    I am closer to the note from Councillor Munby in the same set of letters. ‘Should rich people pay more for their social care? No. Rich people should pay more in taxes.’

    Indeed, rich people do pay more in taxes than do those who are less well off. The argument has to be that we must collect sufficient in taxes to meet the predictable needs shared within our society. Surely the collection of taxes is not to differ between individuals because of their age, gender, ethnicity or any other personal characteristic.

    Colin diverts within his treaty to hold up for scrutiny ‘the iniquitous contrast between the help this country guarantees for the cancer victim compared with other devastating illnesses like dementia.’ Putting aside a dislike of ‘victim ‘or ‘sufferer’ as descriptors of individuals living and dying with a particular condition, I am not aware that people with cancer are dealt so very differently by government.

    There is a skew in the financing of charities and voluntary agencies toward cancer and children’s illnesses for care and for research www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2012/apr/24/top-1000-charities-donations-britain

    I am pretty sure this is an international phenomenon. This is a reflection of values shared by many, wanting to do something extra about illness and death coming to individuals ‘before their time’. Much of the benefit toward general health and longevity come from less spectacular interventions to improve public health and social circumstances. Fairer share of wealth and income is associated with better health and survival across the board. These quietly effective actions do not have the emotive pull of death and pain from cancer or loss of children which open purses for charities. But they should be championed by thoughtful people and by responsible national and local government. I am sure that is what Colin Godber is saying.

    We really do not need government guided by short term fashion and popularity seeking.

    In these exchanges dementia is quite properly identified as the single pathology which underpins the vulnerability and need for care of many older people. But it works in association with a range of other pathologies, both medical and social. There is perhaps within all this a first awareness and declaration that the nation does not feel comfortable to exploit vulnerable older people, whatever the source of their vulnerability.

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