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Working Hard To Provide A Voice For Disabled People And Their Carers

Published on: 26 May, 2015
Updated on: 26 May, 2015

In a quiet corner of Burpham there is a group of people led by an amazing chief executive doing great things for disabled people across Surrey. DANI MAIMOME finds out about the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People.

According to the Disability Facts and Figures*, there are more than 11 million people in the UK with a limiting long-term illness, impairment or disability the most common of which affect mobility, lifting or carrying.  It’s no surprise that the rate of disability rises with age. Approximately 6% are children with 16% of working age adults affected and 45% of adults over the age of state pension.

The Surrey Coalition of Disabled People, formerly known as the Surrey Users Network, was set up in October 2006 and is led by chief executive Carol Pearson, an energetic woman who loves to make things happen and who is herself severely sight impaired.

The Surrey Coalition of Disabled People Team, at their Astolat offices in Burpham. Alison White Events Coordinator, Sylwia Squires PA to Carol Pearson, Sue Peryy, Admin and Finance, Carol Pearson, Chief Executive (seated Centre)

The Surrey Coalition of Disabled People team at their Astolat offices in Burpham.
From left: Events co-ordinator Alison White, PA to Carol Pearson Sylvia Squires, admin and finance assistant Sue Perry, and seated in the centre chief executive Carol Pearson.

Carol knows first hand what effect developing a disability can have on you. She says: “I worked in the NHS for 30 years and held a high position there, but over a period of time my eyesight began to deteriorate until I could no longer drive or read. I felt I had no option but to give up my job and having to do so really knocked my self confidence. I have been very fortunate to be in this role with the Surrey Coalition since it started and witness the positive changes we have helped to bring about.”

The Surrey Coalition works in close partnership with Action for Carers Surrey and the Disability Alliance Network Surrey (formerly Empowerment Boards), working together with the aim of providing a voice for disabled people and their carers across the county encouraging them to campaign for better services.

It provides them with the opportunity to get involved with influencing policies, strategies and services that impact their lives and those of other disabled people making the service better and more accessible for them all throughout Surrey. Around 20% of the population has a disability or some form of impairment preventing them from leading what many would term a ‘normal life.’

Many people often assume that the term disabled equates to being a wheelchair user not realising perhaps that it’s much broader than that. A disability can include; sight or hearing loss, cognitive impairment such as a brain injury, learning disabilities and mental health issues. If you are in some way unable to lead a normal life due to some sort of health issue then you might be considered disabled and therefore entitled to access various support services.

The coalition works with adults of any age with any form of impairment including those that have acquired a disability as a result of ageing. It will also challenge others to ensure that services developed reflect the Social Model of Disability.

Surrey County Council (SCC) funds the coalition so that it can be the central point of engagement with the many different people in the public and voluntary sector organisations throughout the county, which as you can imagine is huge.

The board of directors of the Surrey Coalition of Disabled people.

The board of directors of the Surrey Coalition of Disabled People.

With 11 boroughs / districts in Surrey, the coalition is linked to about 100 voluntary organisations, plus the county council, acute hospitals, police, and so on.

Carol adds: “There are so many it’s sometimes hard to keep track of them all. The services we engage with are all very responsive which makes such a difference and gets a vital message across where previously, prior to the coalition, there would have been little opportunity to do so.

“For example, we knew that the welfare reforms that were brought in three years ago would cause huge problems with the discretionary disability allowance. We were able to demonstrate to SCC what the problems would be; they took it on board and set up a benefits advice service called Get Wise.

“It’s been running for two years now and has been hugely successful. Get Wise has brought in a great deal of money for individuals who were not previously getting the benefits they were entitled to. The knock on effect is it helps the Surrey economy as these people have more money to live on and with the support they get are less dependent on other services.”

More than 100 volunteers are involved with the coalition, providing their views as well as representing and acting as a voice for others.

They also provide peer support to others who may have similar issues, supporting them and guiding them through the system or simply providing emotional support which, can greatly help to boost self confidence.

In the last five years the coalition has been involved with setting up a number of Citizen Hubs. These are information points in various towns in Surrey run by disabled people and their carers for disabled people.

They provide important information about what the coalition is doing and how to access the services that are available.

The first hub to open was on Epsom High Street and there are now also hubs in Staines, Camberley, Dorking, Addlestone, Walton-on-Thames, Redhill, Godalming and Woking, with an ongoing search for an appropriate location in Guildford.

Carol continues: “It’s important for people to feel socially included. Even if they can’t work there are a lot of opportunities for them to contribute and feel valued by society and volunteering in a place run by disabled people is hugely boosting to one’s confidence. Some people also like to get more involved with what we do.

“There have been plenty of positive outcomes for us over the last few years, but the health service has been more difficult as there have been so many changes taking place it makes it more difficult to predict how the future will unfold. We are always trying to influence people to get the resources and provide the services that we need.”

Carol is clearly a woman with a passion and her team reflect that too. They all work very hard and there are often 30 to 40 events a month to manage, bringing various organisations together to discuss a variety of topics on the agenda that can be anything from transport issues to the Surrey Independent Living Fair which takes place at Epsom Downs Racecourse on Thursday, June 25.

Carols sums up her role at the coalition: “It is amazing working here. It’s very rewarding working with people who have had huge issues to overcome and watch them move forward with their lives like everyone else does.

“It’s wonderful to see how they have blossomed and become much more confident people, with quite a number of them going on to get jobs as a result of being involved with what we do here.

“It’s really important for them to feel that they have more control of their lives and are helping to design the services that they themselves need to access, to feel that those are the way they would have wanted them to be or as close to that as possible and by doing that make a difference to others as well. What can I say? I love my job.”

To find out more go to

Som,e of the coalition's directors on a group visit to Box Hill.

Some of the coalition’s directors on a group visit to Box Hill.

*Information supplied by the Department for Work and Pensions in January 2014.

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