Linda Richards: If we don’t support our own, who can we expect to support the Deaf community?

Posted on October 1, 2013



“Money, money, money…. It’s a rich man’s world.” Or so the lyrics of the Abba song go.

Some say it’s essentially about wanting (more) money and how it would help with the pursuit of a ‘selfish’ life while others say it is a sarcastic comment on how money doesn’t always bring happiness!

But there is reward in the giving of money. The Abba song refers to all things that could be done if we “had a little money….” So, if we had a little money, what would we give it to?

When the poet and activist Dorothy Miles died over twenty years ago, she left us a lasting and culturally invaluable legacy with her work in BSL, writings, plays and poems. She also bequeathed two substantial four-figure sums of money to CACDP (as it was then called) and the BDA.

At the time, I was the Chief Examinations Officer for CACDP and one evening with a group of examiners, we talked about Dot’s generosity. I asked if anyone had chosen to leave money to a Deaf charity in their Will. No-one had. This then led to a discussion about if we don’t support our own, who do we support or who can we expect to support us, the Deaf Community?

The late Jock Young, Chair of the BDA, his wife Lilian (Lawson) and I enjoyed a chat about what we would do if we won the Lottery which had been newly launched. Jock was clear that after ensuring his family were provided for, he would set up a trust fund and invite Deaf Clubs, organisations and groups to apply for funds but there were two conditions; namely, that they did not already employ a professional fundraiser and that their income did not exceed a certain level.

In this way, Jock felt such groups who did not have the benefit of substantial sums of money or fundraisers could be helped and sustained for the benefit of the local Deaf Community.

For me… I had two Deaf charities in my Will. Neither are included anymore. One I removed because I learned they did not support my mother when she asked for their advice about my going to a hearing secondary school as suggested by my primary school/PHU at the time. “We don’t deal with Deaf children who go to hearing schools” she was told. It also grew into an organisation with a different agenda and one I didn’t recognise anymore. Perhaps I was mindful of what Jock had said. The other organisation, sadly, no longer exists.

Over the years, I’ve given money, raised money and applied for grants for various groups and Clubs and seen the power of what such funds can do for a local group. As part of the team undertaking some of the fundraising for Gerry Hughes for his solo round the world voyage, I was privy to those who donated via the ‘Go, Go, Go Gerry’ website.

The generosity of some 180 individuals from all around the world some of whom had never met Gerry but who were inspired by him is something I’ll always remember, especially those who donated not once, not twice but three times. They did so because they believed in him and expected nothing in return. Truly, they are ‘rich’ people for their kindness and support.

So, who or what will be beneficiaries when it’s time for me to pop my clogs? I’m still looking. I’m still thinking. I know which ones I will not support. I won’t support certain groups or organisations or charities because of the leadership, others associated with them or their lack of focus.

I’m also thinking why wait till I pop my clogs? Should support not be given now? Deaf Clubs are dying from lack of support. Look at what happened to Bristol Deaf Centre last month. And, as said, the second charity I wanted to support in my Will is no longer around because it has closed down. Should I wait until I pop my clogs or do I think about doing something now? How do I decide?

The bulk of my working life has been in the Deaf world. I’ve been involved with numerous organisations and committees from local to international level. I’ve been an employee of three national Deaf charities and a regional Deaf charity. I’ve worked with others in different capacities. I’ve seen the good and bad of these.

I’ve seen money wasted, false claims made and dubious applications on behalf of “Deaf people living in a world of silence”. I’ve also seen some great work, ideas and projects – largely by a few committed individuals.

In a couple of months, the UK will have another ‘Children in Need’ project. It will undoubtedly raise millions of pounds. Yes, children are a worthy cause. They often have no voice. Deafness is not ‘attractive’ in that it doesn’t tug at the heart strings nor is it presented well (or accurately) in marketing terms.

Unfortunately, it is not our ‘voices’ that are presented or heard. We need to create our own voice, state what matters to us and invest in it. Take stock, look at what is important to you in the Deaf world, is it safe? Can you support it more? Give money, a nice prize for a fundraising raffle or your time?

And what about me? I’ll continue to support some individuals, one particular Deaf Centre, some projects with my time and will be looking at what I can do in the future. Some things are more important to me now – partly due to direct experiences, partly due to the fact that some of those affected have no voice and because they are important to me.

Mental health, dementia and the sustainability of a ‘second home’ aka the Deaf Club are things I’m interested in – not because I wasn’t before but because I have been directly affected by them more recently and have seen what happens when there isn’t the money, personnel or airtime given to these. They go to the bottom of the heap.

Take a look around you and see what and who you can support. If not, it may cease to exist. That would be the tragedy – to have done nothing when we could.

Look at Bristol, Carlisle, Aberdeen, and many other Deaf Clubs. Take a look at the number of Deaf schools which have closed. What about those remaining residential schools with Deaf kids who only ever seem to see the same care staff in the evenings and at weekends? You’d have to satisfy all the CRB/Disclosure checks necessary but your time with these kids would be an investment in their future.

What about the Deaf residents in mental health units? A challenging task but so rewarding. And then there are our elders, those older and isolated Deaf people who crave communication and comfort, as shown in the recent award-winning documentary commissioned by BSLBT and produced by Mutt and Jeff Pictures called ‘Who Cares?‘ You may be like them one day. Why not ‘adopt’ an elder of our Deaf Community? You’ll feel richer for the experience.

And I’ll be reviewing my Will – though not with an organisation which gave incorrect information and didn’t reply to my email when I pointed this out. Sometimes efforts to support Deaf organisations don’t come off. Sigh!

Linda Richards is Deaf, pays council tax in Surrey but is rarely there as she leads a somewhat nomadic life travelling across the UK. Probably best known for her television, training, interpreting and translation work. A trustee of the BSLBT and also of St John’s Deaf Community Centre, London. Known to make a mean banana cake for her friends.

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