The last month has been incredibly hard for everyone at CASBA. Our beloved and much respected manager, Ruth Stebbens, died on 28th January and we have all been in a state of shock. In such a small team, her loss has been felt very strongly by all the staff, but also by our volunteers and the people we work with.
Last Monday we paid our final respects to Ruth at the funeral. It was invitation only, but the turnout was staggeringly large and demonstrates just how much Ruth meant to so many people. We will also be holding a celebration of Ruth's life at St Laurence Pastoral Centre for everyone who worked with her, but wasn't able to go to the funeral and we'll announce details of that in the coming weeks.
Ruth would have wanted us to get on with making CASBA a success and supporting the people that she was so devoted to throughout her working life, so we do also have some positive developments to report this month. Ruth had done a great job of our application for a second Heritage Project and we can now announce that this was successful. Education is Special has been made possible by money raised by National Lottery players. This exciting project will bring together current and former pupils at special schools to record their experiences of what it’s like to go to a special school, as well as interviewing teachers and parents. Following on from our ground-breaking project about Monyhull Hospital, the new two-year project will look at how special education has developed over the last 50 years in Birmingham
Thanks to support from the Police Victims Fund, we are able to put on a lot more training sessions this year. Carly Williams has been running the "I'm worth it" course with the help of volunteers, which finished last week. All the participants gave great feedback on the course and said they'd got a lot out of it. This week we are now beginning a new course; "The Freedom Programme" tailored for women with Learning Disabilities, which is being run by Jo Brandon and Carly Wiliams and will cover topics such as what are healthy and unhealthy relationships and how do they make us feel. If you'd like to refer someone onto one of these courses later in the year, when they will be running again, please get in touch.
2018 was a big year for CASBA, with our 30th anniversary celebrations taking place in the summer and then the unveiling of Birmingham's first Learning Disability Heritage project in the autumn. Now we're looking forward to 2019 in our new offices at St Laurence Pastoral Centre.
While looking back at what we've achieved, we must also look at the challenges that we face in 2019. CASBA will be more strident this year in speaking out on the injustices that are damaging our citizens' human rights. Our development group are going to take part in a letter writing campaign to highlight some of the worst examples that we have come across and push for more action to create positive change.
It was good to see that the roll out of Universal Credit is being delayed again, although 10,000 people will still have the transfer trialed on them. We know from bitter experience the failings of the system and the desperation it pushes people into. If Universal Credit had been rolled out in full this year, we are not sure that we'd have been able to cope with the workload, when it has taken up to 50 hours of our advocates' time to resolve a single case! For those without access to the internet or the skills to use it, obtaining Universal Credit has proved to be even more difficult than for most.
The changes to the slashing of Child Benefit after a legal challenge were also welcome. Welfare payments should not be open to being retrospectively removed, yet this is what the government was planning to do by denying those who already have more than two children the means to support them.
The cuts to services across the board are really biting hard now. This is affecting the human rights of people with Learning Disabilities so seriously that we are certain that more legal challenges will be necessary to protect the most vulnerable and ensure that they retain their rights to a decent quality of life. Whilst the Fairway Day Centre has won its battle to stay open in the short term, we are still very concerned that such provisions are still very much under threat. We know they are not suitable for everyone, but they are the only source of respite for some carers and the only place ensuring dignity for those requiring specialist facilities, so removing them when there is nothing to replace them is inconceivable.
We are delighted to be widening our offer to citizens this year in offering more training courses, as well as advocacy services. Thanks to funding from the Police Victims Fund, we are now offering a course on wellbeing, called "I'm Worth it" and another course on "Freedom" about domestic violence in addition to the "Protecting me, Being Free" course, which covers keeping yourself safe. Please get in touch if you would like to refer an adult with Learning Disabilities in South Birmingham to us, who you feel would benefit from these courses.
CASBA is as determined as ever to make a positive difference to the lives of people with Learning Disabilities after 30 years. If you'd like to help us, we are looking for new volunteers, Trustees and people to raise funds for us, so get in touch.