People in and around Bedfordshire are being asked to dig deep this New Year and raise £50,000 to help local disabled people get out into their local community.
The charity Leonard Cheshire Disability, which runs Agate House care home in Amptill, has launched an urgent appeal to buy a specially adapted minibus. The appeal was launched today by Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England, when he visited Agate House.
The new minibus would replace one that is 20 years old, and would make a huge difference to the lives of the severely disabled people who live there, providing a lifeline to the local community. Although the home already has use of two other minibuses, medical appointments always have to take priority over social activities. This means that it is often difficult for residents to get out and enjoy the same things in life as everyone else, whether that is seeing loved ones, doing physical activity to help stay fit or learning a new skill.
Agate House is also looking for volunteers to ‘buddy up’ with people living at the home who have similar interests, such as resident Mike Gonse who is passionate about sport.
Mike was a PE teacher in the local secondary school for 47 years, but his life was shattered last year when a devastating stroke left him unable to walk and reliant on a wheelchair.
The 64-year-old father of three, who was an active member of his local community, used to run marathons and was passionate about playing sport. His life has now taken a dramatic turn, as he now has to rely on others to push him around in his heavy manual wheelchair. This is tough emotionally and physically for his family who find it impossible to push long distances.
Mike has a grandchild on the way in Australia and is terrified he may never meet them. And, if he does, he desperately wants their memories of him to be positive.
He says: ‘When I became disabled it was like a death in my family. I miss being there for my children. They recently moved into new homes and before my stroke I would have done some DIY for them — instead, I am relying on them to help me.
‘I am so excited about my grandchild and I want them to remember me as an active sportsman who enjoys getting out and being independent, not just a person in a wheelchair. Getting out and about is very important and a new minibus would really enable us to do this.’
Mike is passionate about sport, particularly rugby, and would relish the opportunity to travel further afield to local matches and meet other people who share his passion. He misses not just being able to play but the social side of seeing friends and colleagues.
He continues: ‘It would be amazing to buddy up with a volunteer who enjoys rugby and other sports. At the moment, I have no control over my life and have to be pushed everywhere by my family when they are available — it makes me feel immensely guilty and very isolated.’
Karen Stallwood, service manager at Agate House, adds: ‘We really need to replace our minibus, the current one is 20 years old and is no longer fit for purpose. A new specially adapted vehicle would mean that the residents at Agate House are able get out and do the things that are really important to them. It would give them back some of the freedom and independence that the rest of us take for granted.
‘In addition to the minibus, we are really looking for more volunteers. They are at the heart of everything we do and can transform someone’s life. If anyone has a passion for rugby and would like to support Mike to go to matches then please get in touch. We lots of other volunteering opportunities available too and hope people will consider it as part of their New Year’s resolutions.’
MEP Richard Howitt added: ‘The money raised will make a huge difference to the disabled people’s quality of life that I’ve met today. In Mike’s case, it would mean he could regain his passion for rugby and travel to matches across the county. It will help open doors to a better world, in which disabled people are less socially isolated and more engaged with their community.’
Anyone wishing to find out more about how they can support Agate House through the Opening Doors appeal, or give their time to volunteer, should contact Carol Solaiman, the volunteer coordinator, on 01525 403247