On Saturday the 30th of June 2014, a crack group of 60 (give or take) disabled folk attempted to protest against the closure of the Independent Living Fund by occupying some of the grounds around Westminster Abbey.
According to reports
this occupation was quashed by a ‘disproportionate response’ by the police who provided over 200 officers to kettle and cajole this terrifying group of fugitives from the grounds of the Abbey.
Again, according to the reports above, the Dean of Westminster refused to engage with the campaigners who presented staff at the Abbey with a letter that explained their intention to protest peacefully.
Since this is private land, the Dean – the head honcho – could have asked the police to withdraw at any stage.
Again, according to the reports above, he didn’t.
I thought that instead of blogging in the usual stylie, I’d write a message to the Dean of Westminster Abbey, The Very Reverend John Hall in an attempt to clear things up.
The Very Reverend John Hall the Dean of Westminster Abbey,
20 Deans Yard,
Dear Reverend Hall,
I’m writing to you following the recent hoo-har between the good people from DPAC and the folk at Westminster Abbey.
From what I’ve read, it would appear that approximately 60 people with disabilities attempted to occupy some of the land around your beautiful building in the hope of raising awareness of the impending closure of the independent living fund.
To quote from your website, your aim is…”To serve pilgrims and all other visitors and to maintain a tradition of hospitality”
However, instead of being met with hospitality, these protesters were met with around 200 police officers who kettled and removed them from the Abbey grounds.
I wouldn’t pretend to be a religious man. That said, I am a man of faith.
In April 2011 I began a pilgrimage. I left Edinburgh on foot with the aim to circumnavigate our beautiful island, travelling anti clockwise, with no money, driven by the belief that the people of the UK would give me hospitality and would be trusting and trustworthy to help me on my way.
I have a severe and enduring mental health problem that curtails my ramblings, a mental health problem that has been the butt of prejudice from professionals, carers, the media and sufferers alike.
Pretty poor odds, I’m sure you’d agree – but every day I have been proven right that people are wonderful.
I looked at your story and wondered what could cause such a response to a group of people who were pilgrims in their own way, just trying to get their message across.
I was a social worker for nearly 20 years in Scotland. In that role I learned to rely heavily on the Independent Living Fund. This is – soon to be was – an organisation who financially supplemented care packages for people with disabilities to enable them to be more in charge of their lives, allowing them access to independence, education, employment, fun and relationships and a non-institutional life.
Last year DPAC and others fought and overturned the government’s decision to close this valuable fund.
The government changed the law which has allowed them to close the fund, with the aim to transfer that budget to local authorities.
Nothing much wrong with that I hear you cry. Unfortunately local authorities have had their budgets hacked to the bone – and the money given from the closure of the ILF will not be ring fenced.
This means that the lives of thousands of people with disabilities will be deprived of this great service.
This is not a political issue. A cross party parliamentary committee agreed that this fund should not close – unfortunately their voices along with those of the service users, their carers and their families are left unheard.
Please take some time to listen John McDonnel speaking eloquently to the house
These aren’t scary people, and yet their plight was met with fear and suspicion.
What would Jesus have done?
I won’t bang on about what I think he would have or wouldn’t have done. I’ll leave that to the more knowledgeable theologians amongst you.
That said, I know he was fond of a parable to get his message across – so, please indulge me with this real life story of love.
I was trundling towards Crimond, a village on the east coast of Scotland, lugging my 60 pound rucksack in the sun.
A man drew up in his car next to me and said, ‘I’m going to give you a lift,’
I explained that I was walking around the edge of the UK to highlight the experience of people with a mental health problem – who often feel on the edge – with no money, just a faith that the people of the UK would be fabulous.
He told me he lived in Crimond, that it was a long way up that hill, and maybe he’d see me there.
I wandered into the village about 3 hours later to find him standing on the postage stamp of a village green with a smile on his face.
‘What will you do now?’ he asked
I explained that sometimes I stayed with folk who followed me on the internet, sometimes, if I’d had donations, I’d stay in a B&B, or, failing that, I’d stick my tent up…
He told me I couldn’t stay with him – but I could put my tent up in his garden and he’d make me something for tea.
I didn’t need to be told twice, erecting my tent in record time, I found myself tucking into fish fingers and chips, chatting to this complete stranger like we were old friends.
All too soon it was time for bed, and I dozed off listening to the owl that lived at the end if his garden.
I was awoken by a gentle knock on the side of my tent, this man, Kenny, had made me tea and toast for breakfast before he went off to work.
Hit and run kindness.
It was while I was bathing in the generosity of people that I realised I wasn’t in Kenny’s garden.
I was in a communal drying area. I also noticed that I was nowhere near his door – but I’d pitched my tent about 5 feet away from the entrance to his neighbours house.
While I was thinking about making good my getaway as quickly as possible, his neighbour, a woman in her mid ’60’s opened her door.
Slightly panicked, wondering what on earth she must be thinking, I began to babble, explaining that Kenny had allowed me to camp there and I hadn’t realised how close I was to her house, amongst other things.
She politely asked me what I was talking about – which caused me to babble more.
She held her hand up and said, ‘I’m not interested in any of that. I’ve run you a bath, I was wondering if you wanted any bubbles in it…?’
‘Bubbles would be fine,’ I whispered.
I asked her what made her run a bath for a complete stranger who looks more than a little like a bouncer who had set up camp in her garden.
She told me that she’d camped before – and the thing she missed the most was a bath. She thought, quite rightfully, that I’d be no different.
I chatted with her for a couple of hours, finding out that she’d been the carer for a friend if hers who’d died recently.
We talked about how sad and hard that must have been for her.
She told me she was finished with caring for folk – she was going to get herself a job in her local supermarket filling shelves.
I had to laugh. I reminded her that she’d just run a bath for a complete stranger – kindness and compassion coursed through her veins.
We hugged – to be honest I was reluctant to let this lovely woman go – I felt we were both so much richer for our meeting.
Which brings me back to you. I thought that being the Dean of Westminster Abbey, a lifelong man of the cloth, would make you into some kind if kindness ninja.
A man whose actions would be borne out of love and faith – not mistrust and fear.
This was a great opportunity for you and the people of DPAC to connect and share stories.
‘All that is necessary for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing.’
Edmund Burke (1729-1797)
Please seize this opportunity.
Walk a mile in my shoes