2016 Community Organisation Award for Disability

Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA) was set up in the late 1990s by a small group of 6 disabled people who were frustrated with disabled people’s voices being excluded when crucial decisions about services and communities were taken. The absence of disabled people individually, within communities, democratic structures or leadership roles, fuelled the resolve and commitment of the group, assisted by seed-corn funds from Glasgow City Council, to secure their first Big Lottery grant in 2006. This led to 2 paid staff and 50 members. Now, with 3,500 individual disabled members, and 11 staff, GDA is a robust, established disabled people’s organisation (DPO) with a mission to develop the confidence, connections and contributions of disabled people and a vision to ensure their full and equal participation in their own lives, families, workplaces, communities and wider society.

We caught up with Glasgow Disability Alliance after they won The Community Organisation Award for Disability at The National Diversity Awards 2016. Here’s what they had to say…

How did you feel about the other shortlisted nominees within your category?

We were privileged to win the community award for disability. So many wonderful organisations were nominated and are doing amazing work around Scotland and the UK to tackle inequality, exclusion and injustice. The organisations in our category were amazing. We were very humbled by being able to win amongst those organisations. What a range there were- one supporting people with mental health problems, obviously The Liverpool Signing Choir who were absolutely amazing on the night. We also had the Autism Network who were a fellow Scottish organisation and they were just fantastic. When you saw them all on the night and when you read about them it was just completely staggering to be able to win in that category, to even be shortlisted was such an amazing achievement. So many organisations doing tremendously life changing work.

img_0127After winning the award, where is Glasgow Disability Alliance going to go from here, with regards to diversity?

Onwards and Upwards! We’ve always paid great attention to diversity and embraced the fact that disabled people are more than just one thing so disabled people are black people, are also LGBT, can be women and men, cover the full age range and are all diverse. We want to create a culture where everybody is included and accepted for their own unique identity. And more importantly, where diversity is celebrated. Lots of positive work has been done and we want to build on this. We want disabled people to be confident, connected and able to make their contributions – not only within GDA but also in their wider lives and society. We want to build on the work already done because whilst diversity may be celebrated within Glasgow Disability Alliance it needs to be like that everywhere. We’re trying to tackle structural inequalities, exclusion and discrimination and break down the barriers that disabled people face. Disabled people are more likely to live in poverty and don’t fare well in education and employment and in all sorts of ways. So we want to build on the work that we do and collaborate with as many people and organisations as we can to change hearts and minds as well as policies and services to make things better for disabled people.

How is the work you are doing within all strands of diversity making a difference?

I feel that it is making a difference in two ways. The first way is, it impacts on the life outcomes of disabled people themselves and they frequently talk about how being involved with GDA has made a difference to their life. It is not about how brilliant GDA is or the staff are but more importantly, it’s that GDA is about disabled people helping other disabled people. It’s about peer support . It’s about connections. It’s about people being in charge of their own lives. The Board and Team do a tremendous job- the Board strategically leads and the team create all the opportunities, programmes and events and make it happen, they are enablers most definitely and put all the access in place. But it’s the contact with other disabled people that is empowering and builds confidence. There are small things that are seemingly modest like disabled people will do things that they maybe wouldn’t of thought to do before because they feel safe and they know they are going to get the access they need, they will get the transport, they will get the assistance and this all builds up their confidence. The changes are huge for example, people going on to do degrees at university or starting up a community group or going to the Scottish Parliament to give evidence. Even for some disabled people – they’ll get a job and this is such a milestone and changes their life on a huge scale. But the smaller achievements that we see in terms of social connections in the sense that isolation is completely reduced, their aspirations are raised, they have goals and a sense of belief that they can achieve more- because they know they’ll be supported- these are as amazing and life changing. They believe they matter and they see that they can make a difference. So this is the first level of change and it’s the people themselves- with support. And the contributions they can then make, big and small.

The other change or difference made is at the level of services and policies, such as bringing the lived experience of disabled people together with policy makers. We help public agencies to better understand the needs and rights of disabled people. One of our groups- called The Purple Poncho Players were doing their performance to an organisation called Glasgow Life and as a result Glasgow Life are now changing the way they do things and they are going to bring disabled people in to do ‘mystery shopper’ of their services. We will go into their services, for example they run the Libraries, the sports centres, cultural services and much more in Glasgow including things like the Commonwealth Games and other major cultural and economic events. So our members will be trained and supported to test out those venues and then feedback what kind of experience they had and if the venue was accessible etc. This is just one example of helping services to better plan and meet the needs of disabled people. This also happens with Glasgow City Council, the Scottish Government and other partners willing to work with us. Everyday we see huge changes happening.

Why do you think it is important to highlight Diversity, Equality and Inclusion?

It is important to highlight diversity, equality and inclusion because these are not things that we can take for granted. We’ve seen a global economic collapse, UK government policies which marginalise and disadvantage disabled people such as welfare reform, hate crime increasing and disabled people’s lives being blighted by poverty and discrimination. Disabled people and people who have protected characteristics cannot assume equal treatment and equal rights to be included right from school all through college, university and in the workplace because of discrimination and so it is important to highlight the positive achievements that people in all of our communities can make to their families, communities, workplaces and wider society- with support. Highlighting diversity, equality and inclusion builds understanding, educates people and reduces fear. Discrimination frequently comes from a place of fear and ignorance- people genuinely not knowing.

When they see the realities of people’s lives and experiences and what they can achieve and contribute that changes. If you build a consciousness around the fact that people are people no matter what their background or circumstances and that diversity can make a richer more vibrant and exciting world that we can all take part in, it has such a positive effect. This shows that life can be amazing if we include everyone.

Who or what is the inspiration behind the amazing work that Glasgow Disability Alliance does?

Disabled people themselves and the injustices and inequalities they face are our inspiration. What we then see people achieving with the littlest amount of support is tremendous and inspiring. We believe that with support and with connections disabled people’s lives can be absolutely amazing and their contributions can be even better. One person who inspired GDA’s Convenor, Angela Mullen along with myself was founder member Maureen McPeak. When we were presented with the award we received it in her honour because she very sadly passed away the week before. Maureen was a founder member and driver for both GDA and Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living – both led by disabled people and still going strong. She was a disabled woman herself and she had such drive, passion and determination to promote equality and human rights for disabled people. She was also a strong supporter of other disabled women and was a real inspiration to me. She helped many thousands of disabled people over her lifetime and was one very understated but spectacular disabled person and to see the difference that one person can make is just astonishing. She was very loved and was a true inspiration to everyone who knew her.

What has the reaction from fellow employees and supporters been since winning the award?

GDA’s Board and staff have been overwhelmed with positive, very supportive feedback. We feel that it has raised awareness of not only Glasgow Disability Alliance but also other issues, we have had a lot of great feedback from partner agencies as well which is good as from our perspective we are an organisation with a very small amount of core funding and we face an exit strategy every couple of years. That is just the nature of the way that we are funded unfortunately but we make the most of it while we are here and have no intention of going away. Not while there is still work to be done. We’ve promoted and share the award on social media and partners in Glasgow as well as with members who are very proud to be recognised since ultimately, the award is theirs.

What were your thoughts on the awards? Did you enjoy the night?

Oh my goodness it was a spectacular event! It was truly breath taking just to see the candle light and the special lighting it was just sensational, so magical. It was like the Oscars. I have been to award ceremonies before and people go up and collect their award but not many events have acceptance speeches. However I feel that this really added a personal touch and it was so inspirational listening to everybody’s story. When you know that the people in your category are so amazing you feel that you’ve done well just to be shortlisted and so it just didn’t occur to us that we could win. Five minutes before our award category, I started writing some notes on a piece of paper because I thought oh goodness what if we actually win this I’m going to need to say something because I’m the chief executive and everybody would look to me! It was a very spectacular moment and we will cherish it. Can I just add, Thank you for all of the work that you are all doing and that the judges did. GDA runs events for disabled people with hundreds of people attending and it is hard work so I understand how much work must have gone into the planning and the event itself on the night. It was brilliant and we were so grateful not only to come- but to win!

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