‘Walk a mile in my shoes’: Bridget Harper of Coventry Women’s Voices speaks at our Coventry Launch

bridget harper 1On 12th January 2017 we held our second launch event for the PSA Commission on Care Report. We were delighted to host Bridget Harper from Coventry Women’s Voices and Coventry Older Voices as one of the speakers at this event. Here we reproduce Bridget’s comments from the event.

I am really pleased and honoured to be involved with the launch of this Report. Initially I feel the need to share a glimpse of my personal background. I am a sort of ‘Lady in the Van’ character. I am quite fanatical about public transport I will talk to almost anyone anywhere. I love to hear peoples’ stories. Even the shortest bus journey can lift my spirits.

I was born in Essex in 1940 and nurtured by my mother (aged 38) alongside running the family retail business while my father was in the Navy on War service, and my grandmother (aged 66) who joined us temporarily till the end of the War.

In 1954 Father had a series of strokes and eventually died in 1959. My mother (aged 52) again resumed the role of running the business but also now caring for my Grandmother, in her early 80s and suffering with dementia. By the time my Mother reached her late 70s she also showed signs of dementia and moved into residential care.

I have a long term health problem with a corneal dystrophy. Luckily I have benefitted from corneal transplants in 1975, 2000 and again in August 2016. I was able to continue my full-time professional role in Coventry City Council Education service, until 1994 caring for two teenage daughters and my husband who also had long term health issues. He died somewhat unexpectedly in 2011 following a diagnosis of  mesothelioma, both aggressive and  terminal.

About 10 years ago I joined Coventry Womens Voices – a group concerned with gender inequalities in terms of human rights in the day to day lived experiences of women. Their Research into health, social care, transport, employment, income and poverty identified how certain women who were more at risk than others, one group being older women. In engaging with women I have come to understand that we do things differently. Conversations and sharing stories take place round the non-hierarchical kitchen table. It is the place where bread is made and also shared.

In spite of never considering myself to be ‘old’, the last ten years have found me becoming increasingly involved with improving the quality of life, health and well being of older people. There is an imperative to challenge the systems, structures and decision makers that impact on this process.

In 2014 I was invited to join the campaigning of other like-minded people on the Management Group of Coventry Older Voices (COV). With the support of a Networking Officer from Age UK. COV now has over 350 members and is a major contributor to the Age Friendly City Project in Coventry. This is a World Health Organisation programme focusing on the 8 domains of transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, community support and health services, outdoor spaces and buildings.

I have become acutely aware of the many complex issues facing all who are involved with the care of older people. Who are the primary stakeholders? Surely it is the elderly themselves, often  almost invisible and silenced, submerged beneath the layers of bureaucracy in the corridors of power.

I welcome the recommendations of the PSA Commission on Care Report and particularly in relation to establishing a National Care Service. It is, however, difficult to comprehend how this might ever become a reality in the current economic climate. Clearly the erosion of funding to Local Authorities by Central Government is a major problem.

What hope then is there for the future? I firmly believe that the only way forward is to harness all the resources with in communities the statutory, voluntary and third sector providers alongside all who live in the towns, cities and neighbourhoods themselves. Of much greater significance is the process of ‘how’, the journey that needs to be embarked upon.

It is about listening, working together, collaborating with others, building trust and being honest. However, I would suggest it is intrinsically more than that. This journey demands sensitivity and may at times require the relinquishing of power, and supporting others so that they can grow in confidence and enrich the process as a valued and equal traveller. We must have the courage to step out of our comfort zone across the margins and boundaries of the familiar and allow ourselves to be de-stabilised.

I think this proverb from the Cherokee tribe of North America is enlightening and holds true for the aspirations of ‘Towards a New Deal for Care and Carers.’

‘Walk a mile in my shoes, see what I see, feel what I feel. Then maybe you’ll understand why I do what I do. Till then don’t judge me.’

 

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