Jackie Pountney was elected as Chair of CASBA at our last AGM. We wanted to find out more about her, as she leads the board of Trustees through a period of change.
What made you decide to become a Trustee at CASBA?
I have known CASBA for quite a few years through the charity that I used to work for. When I retired I decided that I wanted to volunteer with an organisation that supported people with learning disabilities, but I hadn’t got round to doing anything about it. Then by chance I bumped into one of the staff members, who said that CASBA was looking for Trustees. I came along to meet with the Chief Executive and that was that!
Is there anything that’s surprised you from what you’ve learnt since being involved with CASBA?
Yes, I’ve been surprised at how adaptable people are! The first Trustee meeting I went to was on the day of the first lockdown, and I don’t think anyone knew then how CASBA would be able to carry on doing its work. But in just a few weeks the Ambassadors, Staff and Trustees had learned to use Zoom and Whatsapp to keep in touch, and to hold meetings. So although people couldn’t meet face to face there was still a real sense of community and people looking out for each other.
How are you feeling about being Chair of CASBA over the next year?
It’s a real privilege to be Chair of an organisation that does such good work, and that has such an excellent reputation. Its also a huge responsibility, because CASBA is going through quite a lot of change at the moment. So far myself and fellow Trustees have been involved in recruiting a new Chief Executive, and three new Trustees. I think we have recruited skilled people who will be able to help us take CASBA forward. I’m also excited about the new projects that CASBA will be running in 2022, which I’m sure will make a real difference to the lives of people with learning disabilities. I’m also looking forward to working with everyone to make sure that the Ambassadors and other CASBA service users have even more of a say in what CASBA does and how it is run
What would your message be to anyone else thinking of volunteering for CASBA?
I would say go for it! There are a number of ways in which you can volunteer so have a look and see if there is something that suits you, your skills and the amount of time you can offer. As well as being able to use your skills for CASBA, you will get to meet some lovely people, and will learn new things yourself along the way.
Over the past year, it has been very difficult for CASBA to raise money in the usual ways due to the COVID restrictions. However, last Saturday I managed to play my part by doing some much needed fundraising for the organisation in an unexpected and new way for me.
My day job as Heritage Project Coordinator is to record people's stories and then tell these stories to the wider world to help more people to learn about different aspects of Learning Disability heritage in Birmingham. My first project was about Moneyhull Hospital and the transition to living in the community out of which CASBA was born. My current project is telling the story of how special schools have changed over the past fifty years since it became a legal right for everyone to get an education.
Outside of work, I like to write songs that tell interesting stories, too. At the start of the year, a friend approached me about doing a zoom gig with another musician. The gig would be free to "attend", but on a pay as you please basis, with my payments in the form of donations to CASBA. The access code to watch it was available on request from the organiser.
I liked the idea, so set about rehearsing some acoustic versions of my songs. On the day, I sat in my living room in front of the computer. I had an audience of one (my wife) in the same room, but more than twenty people from across the UK and even one from the USA watching through the magic of the internet.
Happily, people enjoyed my songs and felt motivated to donate money to CASBA, so we raised about £100. I would love to do it again and would encourage anyone else to use your talents, or organisational skills to do something similar. It could be a quiz, or a game, but if it's something people would normally pay to go and do on a night out, why not use it as a way to fundraise for a brilliant cause like CASBA!
Thanks to artist Ben Jones, who did the sketch of me playing during the gig (see above) and to Grant Sharkey, the other musician who played. Big thanks also to Shaz Rahman, who organised and compered the gig.
On 4th April, we held a celebration of the life of our former Executive Manager, Ruth Stebbens.
It was an emotional day, when our staff, volunteers and everyone whose life was touched by Ruth's work were able to come together and remember her amazing achievements. Candles were lit for Ruth at the end of the church service before we came back to the Pastoral centre and the beautifully decorated hall. No photos were taken on the day, as it was a very personal time for remembering Ruth.
We had planned to plant a rhododendron (see photo above) in her memory on the day, but the weather was awful and as funny as Ruth would have found it to see us all getting drenched while we tried to plant it out, we decided to postpone the planting until a sunnier day.
Everyone was encouraged to take home sweet pea plants to grow in her memory and there was also art and poetry in tribute to Ruth. There was also a collection and Ruth's family have expressed their thanks for the generosity of colleagues, Trustees, friends and everyone else who donated.
Our trainers are still busy, with the first specially adapted Freedom Project course for women with Learning Disabilities completed and the second "I'm Worth It" course underway. We are accepting new referrals onto future courses to be run later in the year, so please contact us if you know someone who would benefit. Details of the courses can be found here.
On Saturday 16 March, Roger Hackley, received a 2019 Community Champion award at Villa Park on behalf of his late partner Ruth Stebbens, our former Executive Manager.
He said that it was a great honour to receive it on Ruth's behalf and he felt proud of her, but that she should have been there to get the award herself.
The award is run by the Aston Villa Foundation as part of the Supporting Our Own initiative, which is the club’s commitment to its local community and Ruth's recognition was well deserved.
Ruth was dedicated to improving the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the South Birmingham area. The respect she was held in could be clearly seen, with over a hundred people attending her funeral last month.
For those who weren't able to attend the funeral, CASBA will also be holding a celebration of Ruth’s life at St Laurence Pastoral Centre next week. If you knew Ruth and would like to attend, call 0121 4750777.
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.