My Journey...

My name is Shirley and I am 53 years old and I have a learning disability. I have a mother, who is single and a brother who also has a learning disability. I am very close to my mum and my brother.

There have been many abusive events in my life. When I was very young, under school age, I was taken into care as my mother was made homeless. I think this lasted about a year but there are other times I was also in care which I didn’t like.

When I was about 5 or 6 playing in the park with a friend some strangers came over and burnt my face and arms with cigarettes. I had to go to A & E. The police didn’t get involved.

It was when I was a young teenager I was walking home when 6 youths aged between 16 and 17 attacked me. I was pushed over, kicked in the ribs and then they cut my arm. Three girls came to help me and picked me up. They called the police, but they weren’t interested as they didn’t come to see me for three days. No action was taken.

I have been financially abused in my life but some of it I don’t want to talk about. But I can tell you there were two times with women who conned me out of money. One sold me a sofa for £50 that was ready for scrap and the other woman conned me out of £600 over a period of time. I gave them money as I was frightened of them.

I have also been verbally abused many times. One such time was when I was at the dentist practice. I was sitting in the chair and he said to me ‘open your mouth, you fat bitch’. A nurse did complain about my treatment, but I don’t know what happened. I have had a lot of verbal abuse from bus drivers, saying things like ‘get off the bus, you fat cow I want to get to Camborne’. Complaints have been made to the bus company but again the outcome is unknown. Me and my boyfriend attend a pub quiz and the previous landlord and landlady were horrible to me saying such things as ‘isn’t it time you lost weight’; ‘your haircut is awful’; ‘shouldn’t you be in bed now’ and when I asked for a cup of tea after my meal I was told ‘more fucking tea’. They also gave me a meal, where the gammon was coloured green, and I was very sick.

I had a cat dumped on me saying that this other family didn’t want it anymore, so they just opened my front door and threw the cat in. I had no means of looking after the cat. I took it back.

It was around 2006 my life began to change for the better as I was recruited for a Cornwall council project called Time for Change. This is where I met Debbie, a nurse and Christine, an occupational therapist. I was one of twenty-four people with learning disabilities who were recruited throughout Cornwall and were trained to become trainers so that we could go into the community and tell people how we wanted to be treated.

Once we had trained we spoke to staff from the NHS and Adult Social Care, the police, fire brigade, ambulance crews, GPs, children, and many private and volunteer organisations. We were supported by either Debbie or Christine when we told our stories of our lives and how we had been abused and then how we wanted to be treated and how we wanted to be an equal member of a wider society. For our work, we won a national award, Skills for Care accolade for best service user involvement in 2008 beating over 200 entrants throughout the UK.

Time for Change got me a Circle of Friends for when I need help. It was through them that I got my own one-bedroomed flat. I had a care package to start with, but this was stopped by adult social care. I found it difficult to do my personal care and housework, but Christine and a social worker got me another care package and they suggested I went to a day centre one day a week which I love. I now have personal care 5 days a week and a cleaner once a week.

Another time when my Circle of Friends helped me was when my Personal Independent Payments were refused. I was given just 2 points on the assessment. The assessor wouldn’t listen to my answers and some of the questions I didn’t understand. When you read her report it was as if she had made it up as she went. My Circle appealed the decision, but this was refused despite Christine and Debbie’s assessment of my abilities and a GPs letter supporting their assessment. I had to wait 42 weeks for my case to be heard in court and money was very short during that time. I lived on £10 a week but friends and my mum helped me, but this made her hard up. At court, my mum, me, Christine and Debbie went. The DWP’s decision was overturned and I was awarded 26 points. How can this be so different from the assessor’s assessment of me.

I have a boyfriend Ken and we have been together for about 10 years. We met at school but met again through Time for Change. As we are in love we had a blessing on the commitment of our relationship.

I now try to help other people who have been abused or have problems. I once went to a day centre where I held a ‘surgery’ for people to discuss any problems they had, and me and my secretary, Christine, tried to sort their problems out.

Fairly recently I have helped a chap, who also has a learning disability, who was beaten up by some youths when he went out to buy a bar of chocolate. This chap was in hospital for several days and I was asked to visit him when he was home. We chatted and we walked to the shops together with an arranged police presence following a little way behind us giving us both confidence.

I find it difficult to understand why people think they can hurt people like me. We are all humans you know.