Legacy, power and the in-between bits

On Friday a Craft Activism day was held as part of the Oxford Brookes Think Human festival. The #JusticeforLB quilt was on display for the first time in 18 months and Janet Read, one of the quilting team of four, was a presenter. Other presenters included Karen Nickell talking about textile art during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and Roxanne Ellis, who founded the Women’s Quilt celebrating the lives of 598 women killed by men between 2009-15.

The event was held at the Avado Gallery in Oxford.

It was blooming moving and powerful listening to Janet tell the story behind the making of the quilt.

Concerns about whether it may turn out to be a #JusticeforLB tea towel if not enough patches were sent. The bundle of patches from the Messy Church group arriving with still wet glue. Letters sent with stories and concerns around whether patches might not be ‘good enough’. The stretching of the patch size template… The small detail that Janet, Margaret Taylor and Janis Firminger had never made a quilt before.

Janet said when they first laid the patches out on the floor, they realised they had been given a gift. And cried.

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Janet’s sister Jean Draper, a textile artist, was drafted in to help and the just under 300 patches from people aged 3-80 were transformed into a quilt of beauty, spontaneity and power.

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During Janet’s talk I began to think about the in-between bits of the quilt. The individual patches have kind of eclipsed the quilting work. The joining together of different shaped patches into a spectacular whole and the artistic endeavour this involved.

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Karen Nickell earlier talked about how invisible much textile art is, stored away in suitcases or attics. Undervalued within the art world (or dismissed as ‘soft furnishings’). The enormity of this quilt, like other objects of protest stitching, was breathtaking. Joanne Begiato rounded the event off reflecting on the ‘time traveller’ dimension of these objects which have a power beyond those who make them.

Bang on.

A Doughty Street gig

A couple of weeks ago I was involved in a Doughty Street evening event about strategic litigation. I didn’t know what this was but Kids for Law have helpfully produced three short films explaining it; using the law as a tool for social justice. I was asked to speak about the legacy of #JusticeforLB.

‘Ooh er’, I thought. ‘Legacy?’

The (attempted non) publication of the Leder review weeks earlier came to mind. How committed journalists worked to make a ‘buried’ report newsworthy. How editors were willing to take a punt on the unseen report. The passion and dedication demonstrated on that dark day.

This is an example of the legacy of the extraordinary efforts of families and allies to make the premature deaths of their daughters, sons, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, parents known and cared about. These issues have become more prominent, connections have been made, networks developed and countless people have stepped up to collaborate and be counted.

Another example is the truly wondrous pop up #CaminoLB walks that took place across the UK when we were walking the #JusticeforLB bus to Santiago. I can’t describe how moving it was to facetime brilliantly cheerful groups of people, many of whom had never met before, from the Camino. London, Cheshire, Kent, Devon, Birmingham…

Legacy is an important strand of social action I learned during the evening. Or steps made can wither away. I suppose, like the quilt, it’s now about looking beyond the headline patches. We can’t bottle the magic of #JusticeforLB but we can certainly start to think a bit more about the in-between bits. How it worked and why.

Danny Tozer

Danny’s inquest began this week. Three weeks ago we set off on the  #CaminoLB. His parents Rosie (second left) and Tim (second right) joined us for the first few days. (Rosie’s account of what happened before and after Danny’s death can be read here.) Much talk and reflection about the inquest as we carried the red teapot in Danny’s memory.

We hoped, we seriously (naively) hoped and kind of convinced ourselves that Mencap would do the right thing. Given the transparency generated by George Julian’s live tweeting and Mencap’s self proclaimed status as ‘the voice of learning disability’ we thought they’d pitch up and park the dirty tricks bag that too commonly appears at inquests.

They didn’t.

A few initial thoughts here (in no particular order).

A clusterfuck of fuckwad proportions.

Natural cause of death

Danny died of natural causes. Apparently. According to the Coroner’s office. There would be no post-mortem, inquest, scrutiny.

People assume unexpected deaths always involve inquests. Not always. Learning disability is a kind of ‘get out of jail’ natural cause of death card.

This is Rosie and Tim’s fight to gain accountability and answers about the death of their beyond loved son.

Erasure of house mates

Staff trauma was raised by the Mencap barrister ‘without wanting to detract from the family’s trauma’. The distress of the four other housemates present that morning was erased. One witness talked of going to put ‘bags on wheelchairs’ while the ambulance was called. A grotesque and graphic illustration of the non-personhood of people who should be the focus.

Blaming the parents

Mencap couldn’t help themselves. There has been no acknowledgement of Danny’s death this week. No kindness, empathy or apparent reflection. The Mencap barrister brutally cross-examined Tim and Rosie on the first day. Did they complain? Did they complain enough? Why didn’t they make their concerns more apparent? Why and why not? 

Hints of ‘difficult parents’ dripped into evidence. 

They answered each question carefully and with dignity.  At one point Rosie said she’d brought a scrapbook of Danny’s life that she hoped the coroner and others would look at. The contrast of this simple act of love and humanity with the barrister’s questioning was almost unbearable. 

‘Private time’

Much discussion and questions related to ‘private time’. Mencap contributions by staff witnesses and/or their barrister focused obsessively on Danny’s morning wank. This relentless and dehumanising focus seemed to be aimed at absolving Mencap of responsibility for Danny’s death. He was not to be disturbed or interrupted during ‘private time‘. 

The sensor mat

The sensor mat. The epilepsy bed sensor mat translated into ‘no need for observation’. Niggles about the sensor mat tumbled out almost by accident during confused and often incoherent evidence.

The mat worked.

The alarm went off during ‘private time’. It disturbed the whole house. It was definitely working.  It was tweaked and replaced a few months before Danny died. A reference to mat ‘settings’ hastily retracted. The mat had a coloured light – blue, red or green – depending on who was giving evidence. It definitely worked. It was checked every night. 

Except it didn’t work. Whispers emerged suggesting it was turned off during ‘private time’.

Staff members tried to simulate seizures in Danny’s bed. Grotesque, unfathomable action. Unrecorded. Anecdotal.

The mat worked. It didn’t. Nobody really cared at the time of Danny’s death. It was natural causes. No one from the front line staff to local, middle or senior management gave a flying fuck. Danny died of natural causes.

Epilepsy awareness

There was a strong sense (similar to LB’s inquest) that Danny didn’t have ‘proper’ epilepsy. Just a fake, learning disabled type version. A bizarre and incomprehensible position sustained after both Danny, LB (and others) died. I don’t have words for this. Just tears.

Family barrister, Ben McCormack, consistently and carefully raised epilepsy awareness among staff witnesses. He returned to the point that staff knew they should time Danny’s seizures and call an ambulance after five minutes. The observation levels described fell far short of this. His efforts fell on stony and unmoving ground both among front line and more senior staff. An almost pride in epilepsy unawareness played out in court

The hours

Descriptions of the number of staff, ‘residents’ and the sums underpinning ‘sleeping’, ‘waking ‘hours and 1:1 hours was like looking at my crochet chair of tangled wool, half crocheted squares, knots, mistakes and more. Without the colour.

Reported allocations (one house mate had 24 hours 1:1 cover while the rest seemed to have a range of 1:1 and general hours) seeped and steeped into an amorphous mass of incoherence. A nasty mix of double counting and ‘sharing hours’.

The Tozers took Danny home when they felt there weren’t enough staff on duty. A shortage treated with short thrift by one staff member. Danny’s activities highlighted as problematic. The ‘voice of learning disability’ seriously rocked the impoverished life model of supported non-living this week. 

Staff attitudes

Staff provided a pretty much consistent and desolate picture of disinterest, dismissal and casualness. “I can’t remember” a much repeated response. More senior staff members used an almost more baffling “I believe…” for questions they should have known the answers to.

There was no apparent preparation, no reading reports, checking notes, minutes, care or reflection. It was as if Mencap staff were beaten and stripped of any humanity. A bleak, cold and callous picture of disregard. 

I hope Rosie, Tim and family are ok tonight. Their determination to get justice for Danny has already thrown up a shedload of questions, concerns and horrors that should be grasped and shaken by those who should until we no longer accept the shite that permeates ‘learning disability’ care.

I’m just not sure who ‘those who should’ are any more.

 

Housecoats, aprons and mucky labour

Captivated by the women of Galicia along the last section of #CaminoLB.

“Can I take your photo?” I asked pointing at my camera. A few said no. Others stood tall. Looking me in the eye with quiet confidence. There was no artifice or prevarication.

Incredible, beautiful faces.

Lines. Life carvings. Contours of determination, humour, dignity. Resilience. Well earned, authentic resilience.

Glimpses of triumph and more. So many stories.

Housecoats, aprons and mucky labour.

Back to work tomorrow.  It’s been a long five years.