Developing ICT skills and networks of support.
A while ago I was asked by Mencap if I could give them my home address as they had an invite to send out to me. I nonchalantly handed it over and, although curious and a little bit excited in anticipation, I didn’t really give it much more thought. It was quite a time before I heard anything and I almost forgot about it. When I found out last week it was a personal invitation to number 10 Downing Street from Samantha Cameron, my jaw nearly hit the floor.
The event was this Tuesday and I arrived at Downing Street with the lovely Natalie in tow from Project Jelly, we were giggly and silly and a little bit hysterical. We felt like two little ants in amongst the hustle and bustle.
We arrived at the security gate and spotted some red soled Louboutin’s in front of us - Jo Whiley was here then! As we got to the front of the queue, another SERIOUSLY heart-stopping moment, and it wasn’t pretty. Identification. Oh my god. I forgot to bring both my driving license and passport. I felt sick and thought I was going to cry. Thankfully, Natalie vouched for who I was and amazingly the security man was happy enough - I didn’t ‘fess up that I had only known her for ten minutes!
Through the gates – and there it was, number 10! NUMBER 10!!!!!!
The road felt a lot wider and bigger than I had imagined. It was actually a bit magical. I know that sounds cheesy, but it was a beautiful street, so typically English, but so surreal in its peacefulness, with no traffic or pedestrians. A street so familiar, yet unknown to me.
We entered the ‘house’. A room full of excited bustle, drinks and canapés. Where to start? And was she here yet? Was she here yet? Play it cool. I spotted Hayley from Downs Side Up and we chatted away and mingled with some of the other guests, bordering on crazy with excitement, talking 19 to the dozen. I definitely felt an element of dizziness and it wasn’t the elderflower cordial. A little while later, lovely Emma from Mencap whisked us off to a corner, promising to introduce us to the host who was close to arriving…
Talking to Samantha Cameron
Hayley and I decided to do another quick bathroom stop – as we walked out towards the loos, our host was walking towards us. Like rabbits in the headlights, we didn’t really know what to do. Stop, turn around? Say hello? No. Keep walking. It was fine. We played it cool. Until we realised we had walked head first into a shut lift and dead end. So cool. We waited silently, heads in the lift, trapped like PacMan ghosts wiggling our feet but going nowhere. Once our host had gone we quickly scurried back to take our places. That will be heart-stopping moment number 4 then.
As promised, we got our introductions and chatted to Samantha about our respective work. She was incredibly pleasant and interested to hear of our connection with Mencap and our work. And then she was gone. Onto the next deserving guest.
More mingling, munching and sipping and then it was time for the serious bit. A young man with a learning disability who works for Mencap did a faultless introduction and then Samantha Cameron welcomed us all to the reception.
For me, it was Kate Spicer who really moved me. To tears in fact. I know Kate as a regular food critic on Masterchef and lifestyle journalist for The Times. She has always struck me as one tough cookie and I would rather die than ever have to cook her a meal! I did not realise that she has a brother with a learning disability, or that she was the producer of the recently released and critically acclaimed film Mission to Lars. I was invited to the premier but sadly had to turn it down.
She talked very honestly about what life was like back in the 1970s growing up with a brother with Fragile X Syndrome. She gave a heartfelt account of how her parent’s marriage ended due to the pressures of their family life, how she was picked on at school because of her brother not fitting in and how her brother was bullied. She talked of how he was never seen as an equal by others and how he was seen as someone to mock. It resonated with me so much as it was in a similar vein to my TedX talk – seeing beyond the genes and seeing a person, not a syndrome. She talked of their family lives together, not that untypical of anyone else’s and even said she had seen bigger tantrums from industry divas than from her brother over the years. One thing that struck a massive chord was when she said that one of her cousins came up to her at the premier of her film and admitted that he wished he had taken the time to get to know Tom.
The bit that tipped me over the edge though was what she said about Tom’s education. He was, frankly, written off at school. Not only bullied by the other pupils, but told he would never get a job or amount to anything. This broke my heart. It made me eternally grateful that Seb is growing up in this century and not the last. I am not naïve enough to think that our path will be rosy all the way along but for the time being I know that his teachers and carers are doing everything in their power to treat him as an equal and flush out whatever are his strengths and nurture his potential. I feel passionately that inclusion is the key to breeding a new generation of acceptance.
There was talk too of THAT councillor. The horror of his words audible in the room as Kate quoted some of his unfortunate and offensive terminology. It presented the point that whilst we have made great progress we still have a long, long way to go.
Meeting The Edge
Tears mopped up and the serious stuff over, time for another little mingle. And that’s when I spotted him. Across the room. In his trademark woolly hat. Oh yes - The Edge from U2.
I had to speak to him! So, I got my introduction and also met his wonderfully inspiring cousin Ciara, who has a learning disability and works for Mencap. She excitedly told me how she had just got married and showed me her wedding ring. The Edge told of what a special day it had been, his pride (see what I did there?) gushingly obvious. I said to her, “That’s one pretty cool cousin to have,” and The Edge was quick to chip in that actually, “she’s one pretty cool cousin to have”. Lovely.
A quick chat with actress Jodie Whittaker, most famed for her recent role in Broadchurch. She was utterly charming, naturally witty and full of charisma. She had me in stitches (not least with her shock that SamCam has a dolphin tattoo on her ankle!). Her sister’s little boy has Down’s syndrome and is also treading the boards starring in Emmerdale. She asked of my connection to Mencap and I was proud as punch when she squealed with delight when I said Seb had modelled for M&S and told me her sister loved us and everything we had done!
Time to leave
And in a flash it was time to leave… but not before countless photos in front of the iconic black door. I am not going to lie, the policeman on duty LOVED every second of it! Half a dozen of over-excited, squealing women all fussing round him asking him to be in their photos. We said our goodbyes and all went our separate ways to our separate and very usual lives. All bound by a deep passion and burning desire to try and make the world a better place: motivated by our deep love for our children and our belief that they should all be treated as equals.
I feel so proud of every single person in that room at Number 10 and everything they do. And even prouder to have been invited along with the other parents, professionals, sponsors, ambassadors to share this incredibly special day that I will never, ever forget.