“Enabling not disabling”
If you ever feel as though your faith in humanity is lost all you need do is meet the upbeat chair of Salford Disability Forum, Josie Browne. At 72 and a lifelong sufferer of polio – an infection that can cause muscle weakness and an inability to move – straight-talking Josie has a colourful volunteering history and often selflessly dedicates up to twelve hours of her day to helping the disabled. Inspirational Josie has been chair of the organisation, which has charitable status as well as being a company limited by guarantee, since 2003 and is driven by pure passion: “I’m like a dog with a bone, I won’t let go, if I think I can achieve something I’ll plough on for it,” she jokes.
Salford Disability Forum is a “group within groups”, with various projects and branches sharing the aim of giving disabled people, including those with hidden disabilities, a voice in mainstream communities, and supporting disabled groups and individuals along with their families, regardless of their culture or religion. To this end, it is run by disabled people rather than on behalf of disabled people. It is involved with delivering equality and diversity training to other Greater Manchester groups, combating isolation and supporting a social enterprise at Prince Park Garden Centre in Irlam offering disabled people a chance to learn new skills and gain experiences with their peers.
“We like to enable not disable,” says Josie, who is adamant that there is always a positive and constructive contribution disabled people can make to society.
The Forum has also made a huge impact on the lives of individuals. “One person, who was a refugee asylum seeker, was absolutely destroyed when theirpartner left,” Josie recalls. “Their English wasn’t very good so theyasked us, because they had a lot of medical problems, if we could read their letters for them. As time went on it became clear that they had massive problems.” It transpired that the refugee was about to be deported despite having been in the UK for many years, but the Forum intervened, taking them to the solicitors and eventually supporting them in the process of securing citizen status.
Josie concedes that it has been very difficult to keep the Forum moving, with few people able to donate due to feeling the pinch of austerity.
“The lack of funds means we were unable to employ any paid staff. Without volunteers it would be impossible to keep going,” Josie says. She describes volunteers as being “worth their weight in gold,” because they have often lived through something and usually use these life experiences positively for the Forum.
But though I point out that there will always be conditions and accidents that cause disability,the matriarch of Salford Disability Forum wisely reminds me that “achievement to some can be the smallest thing but enhance someone else’s life,” whilst optimistically stating: “it may be 12 steps forward ten back, but the next time it may only be 8 steps back.”
Clearly both Josie and the Forum will continue to act as a support group for people with disabilities for many years to come, regardless of how desperate the need for volunteers and funding becomes.
If you would like to make a donation to the Salford Disability Forum or volunteer for them, whether it’s using practical skills at the Garden Centre, offering a supportive listening ear or event-planning, contact Salford Disability Forum on:
Or email: firstname.lastname@example.org