A lifetime of working with disabled and vulnerable people has been put into a fascinating new book.
Enabling the Disabled is Heather Graham’s personal story and not only does it chart her own history, it illustrates the changes in the field over the decades.
Heather, 76, of Orchard Avenue, Worthing, was born in Dublin and has always had a caring nature.
At the age of seven, her aunt told her she would make a lovely nurse and that sparked a flame in her, so when the opportunity came up ten years later, in 1958, she jumped at the chance.
“I found you could go into ophthalmic nursing at 17, rather than wait until you were 18,” she explained.
“And you didn’t need O-levels, which I didn’t get.”
Having spent two years at a specialist hospital, Heather moved on to a general hospital in Wolverhampton.
She was married to Methodist minister the Rev Douglas Graham in 1961 and, having to move with his job, they have since lived in eight towns, from Lancashire to the south coast.
The moves have meant Heather has had the opportunity to work in various roles, with both children and adults. As well as a nurse, she has been a special needs teacher, care assistant and home manager.
“I have gained a lot of knowledge about the subject from the people I have got to know down the years,” Heather said.
“The book started as a memoir for family and friends but I decided that it would be interesting for those working in the field and the families of those affected by the conditions discussed to have a first-hand account of someone working on the frontline.
“What I can contribute is the long perspective of 50 years and a diversity of experience.”
When she was first married, Heather worked at Victoria Hospital in Blackpool for a short time but then found she was pregnant.
She did not work while her three sons, Nigel, Allistair and Paul, were small but after the youngest started school 50 years ago, she was asked to apply for a job at a school in Doncaster for physically-handicapped children.
“I used to go into his school and listen to the children reading, then one day the headmistress said there was a job going at a special school not far away if I would like to apply,” Heather explained.
When they moved to High Wycombe, Heather started as a classroom assistant at a school for children with learning disabilities and worked with a dual-handicapped group.
From there, she began working with a group of older teenagers and learned to drive a minibus with an hydraulic lift, as they did a lot of travelling.
Next was Maidstone, where Heather worked in a day centre, helping people with learning disabilities learn household tasks like washing, ironing and basic cooking.
During her first spell in the Worthing area, Heather worked at the now demolished St Giles Home in Lancing and with mentally handicapped adults at Ball Tree Croft in Sompting.
The next move was to Dartford in 1992, where Heather spent seven years as manager at a Catholic Children’s Society home, where she helped set up a day centre.
After retirement in 2003, Heather and Douglas moved back to Worthing and she started volunteering at Rowans Day Centre in Tarring. She has since done some paid relief work there, followed by two years’ employment at The Laurels, but has now retired again and is just volunteering at the Rowans.
The book took four to five years to write, with support from her sons, who encouraged her to tell her story and said it was so good, it was worth publishing.
Enabling the Disabled is priced £4.99 and can be ordered online or in store through Waterstones.
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