It was an enormous privilege for me to be able to attend the first ever ‘Contact a Family’ awards in Speaker’s House in Parliament to show my support for Philippa and Geoff Gretton from Hartlepool, who won the Parent Carer award.
Contact a Family was founded in the 1970s by the families of disabled children who recognised that even if their child’s conditions were different they shared the common experience of being a family with a disabled child.
Clearly a lot has changed since the 1970s, but sadly some things haven’t changed nearly enough.
The challenges families and carers of disabled children face today – battling pre-conceived notions about disabilities, particularly mental health, struggling with inadequate services, trying to stay in work, or even just trying to get a good night’s sleep, very much remain things that they need support with
Today, Contact a Family work to improve the lives of families with disabled children by working directly with parents and carers and focusing on their priorities.
Philippa and Geoff were nominated by their daughter Sam because of their work in caring for her brother Ryan.
Ryan is 22 and has cerebral palsy and autism. Since 2010 he has been constantly in and out of hospital due to health problems, but Philippa and Geoff have consistently given their all to making sure he can live the kind of life he wants to live.
I want to quote the words Sam used when she nominated her parents for the award, where she said: “My mum always stays with Ryan, however long his hospital stays are – the longest being 10 months!
“My dad works full-time so he is backwards and forwards to hospital from work. Dad is lucky if he gets more than four hours sleep a night as Ryan is awake shouting as he’s in pain or needs his legs adjusting.
“They both rarely get any time to themselves and deserve some recognition for the stress and hard times they’ve had to go through - not only as Ryan’s parents but as his carers as well.
“He used to visit a family for a break, and those times where so precious to mum and dad, as they were for the family he visited.
“Both mum and dad aren’t in the best of health, yet all they are concerned about is Ryan and making sure he can go to all the shows, concerts and clubs he likes and that he is able to see his friends as much as possible.
“They are the most kind-hearted, funny and caring individuals I know, and I am both proud and lucky to have them as my mum and dad.”
I don’t think there was a dry eye in the room when Geoff and Philippa won the Parent Carer award, recognising the amazing things parent carers do to ensure their disabled children can take part in everyday life.
I know that their entire family: Ryan, daughter Sam and son Matthew, with his partner Natalie and their sons, were justifiably proud that they have been acknowledged in this way.
It is difficult to put a value on the contribution made by parents like Ryan, Sam and Matthew’s.
For a town facing many social and economic difficulties, they are indispensable for many individuals who would otherwise feel excluded, alone and without hope.
That’s why I want to extend my congratulations to them and to all the other parents and carers who work tirelessly to give their loved ones the quality of life they deserve.