A political champion who could bring about change for the most vulnerable in society would be a Christmas wish come true, says Shaun Findlay, managing director of Les Amis
THE past two years, I am sure, has seen many people over the globe reflecting on who they are and why they do what they do.
Personally, I have reflected on my life even more than usual.
To put this into context, I was born in a military hospital in England in December 1970, as both my parents (mother being Scottish, father being Irish) were serving in the forces at the time.
Unfortunately, my natural father was dishonourably discharged shortly after my birth.
This led to moving back to my mother’s home town in Falkirk, where most of my early formative years were shrouded in domestic violence, until my mother eventually divorced her abuser (my father) when I was four years old.
Fast forward to 1986 after living in a typical council estate in Scotland which went by the name of the Bog Road Estate (yep, the name says it all), my mother was now with an amazing man and our lives were so much better for it. Irrespective of this I applied and had been accepted into the Army as a boy soldier and left home at the age of 16 to escape the world I had grown to dislike.
The following 14 years in the forces saw me become an ambulance crew member to cover the ambulance strike in 1989, followed by a United Nations tour of Cyprus in 1990.
My time there was not filled with endless fun on the beach getting a tan, or in nightclubs enjoying my youth but delivering humanitarian aid to the ‘Pan Handle’, to refugees in their own country. Suddenly the council estate I grew up in didn’t seem that bad.
For the remainder of the 90s I spent a lot of time away from my wife and son, including while being deployed to the former Yugoslavia. This is where I learnt the most prominent life lesson of all. I had been on a convoy for two days and was now stuck in Sarajevo, which was in the thick of war. I was merely a spectator and saw the human race at its worst. After this tour I swore when I left the Army, my life would focus on the betterment of society by supporting vulnerable people.
My journey, until I left the forces in 2000, had been along a very bumpy road and I had seen the world through many different lenses. However, when I landed in Jersey in 2005 I knew this would be the place I called home. The work and engagement I had with young offenders in the UK had given my moral compass direction, and this, coupled with my lived experience, led me to my next role at Brig-y-Don children’s home, which I enjoyed immensely.
I began working for Les Amis in early 2008 and was almost instantly blown away by the bravery, determination and resilience people with learning disability have.
This was in stark contrast to the socalled neuro-typical among us, who worry and feel that we have to conform to social rules, mostly material and in trend, usually played out on platforms such as TikTok.
I regularly ask myself, have we lost sight of the gifts we have been given and take for granted, or are we more focused on the Emperor’s New Clothes? People with learning disabilities want what we want – a home, a job, a relationship, to be loved, which is not much to ask for in this day and age. Or is it? During lockdown I experienced the absolute resilience of people or the lack of,
with headlines such as Sam Smith having a meltdown because he could not go out, versus a person with a learning disability not being considered for a ventilator when they became seriously ill with the virus. Sadly, the former is more commonly known and empathised with than the latter.
Can you remember when you last clapped on a Thursday evening for the health care workers? If we are true to ourselves, without fear of being judged, when did any of us? I do know, however, the people we serve at Les Amis are the true heroes and always will be, which I applaud daily.
While our world has moved on considerably, theirs is stuck in so many ways. Sadly this is not being recognised as the ‘white noise’ of acceptance has become dominant, drowning out the limited voice people with learning disabilities have.
I also find that Jersey does not recognise its true strength through its ability to be flexible and fast-moving and in fact could be world-leading in so many ways.
Instead, we focus on the ‘what ifs’ and tend to look to the UK for guidance and model our future on it. This does frustrate me as Islanders know what they need and, to be brutally honest, it is not to adopt failing policies thrown out by local authorities in the UK.
We are not in the UK – we are in Jersey.
We should be doing what Islanders need, and our politicians need to ‘carpe diem’ with both hands. Be brave and stand up and be counted.
As we move into the next cycle of elections and possibly a new government, what will make you go out and vote? My drive to vote is to see the birth of party politics in Jersey as this is desperately needed. It will see longevity of policy delivery and the true execution of manifestos, as opposed to the four-year cycle of bringing new individuals to the political table and starting the roundabout all over again.
The only thing I have seen it truly achieve is the growth of voters’ apathy.
I totally understand when we vote this and they do that. If I could make a wish come true in the political arena it would be to introduce a minister for disability and inclusion. This would introduce a desperately needed political champion which Islanders could rely on to make change for those most vulnerable in society. Let’s hope this wish comes true for Christmas!
Why do I feel a disability and inclusion minister is needed? Only this week we have seen further criticism of the educa-
tional infrastructure which does not have inclusion and diversity at the heart of it today. So I think we all know we are not doing enough to address this but I have experienced the will and want to change, which feels very exciting and helps build optimism for the future.
We may have missed opportunities in the past but if we dust off all those reports which have been produced over the years and start to deliver on their recommendations, it might just work. I am a great believer in not reinventing the wheel, just putting new tyres on it so we can travel the road we are currently on safely.
The priority for Les Amis is to open Maison Les Amis, which will cost the charity circa £10 million. This may sound expensive, but to be honest what price would you put on the health care of your loved ones? This landmark development acknowledges that people with learning disabilities are entitled to appropriate health care, including specialist elderly care. It has taken a long time to get here, but I think this will highlight Jersey as a forward-thinking, progressive society. In the UK, a law to ensure that people with Down’s Syndrome get lifelong care is going through Parliament and it is set to become law next year. In Jersey, we will be the first to offer services at a higher level than can be currently provided for people with Down’s Syndrome and other learning disabilities, and we should be very proud of that.
Also, we must remember it is expected that the number of people with dementia will double in the next 20 years in Jersey.
This poses particular challenges for the adequate provision of care for people with learning disabilities and specific needs as they are five times more likely to develop a dementia-type condition than the general population.
Maison Les Amis will offer care to those with special needs throughout their lives and is something that Jersey desperately needs as the ageing population begins to put pressure on existing services. But to do this, Les Amis will need external financial support to achieve our goal. We will continue with our fundraising efforts and will be actively seeking further grants or sponsorship support. To date, we have had some amazing financial support to help us achieve our dream from the Roy Overland Charitable Trust, the Sir James Knott Trust and the Le Seelleur Charitable Trust Fund, for which I cannot thank them enough.
This is a true opportunity for Islanders to support those who need a voice and need to be heard so we can achieve the correct care and support they deserve and which some of us may we take for granted.
On a closing note, what I have learnt over the years, is it is not where you come from, it is what you do that counts, so this Christmas when you think of a good cause to support I hope you think of Les Amis.
About Les Amis
•Founded in 1975 as Maison Variety to help people with learning disabilities move from institutional to community care, Les Amis is now one of Jersey’s largest charitable organisations. Les Amis has a team of over 200 employees dedicated to ensuring delivery of the very best quality of care and support to the people who need it, from the residents, their families and the wider community in Jersey. For more information visit lesamis.org.je.
‘‘ Jersey does not recognise its true strength through its ability to be flexible and fast-moving and in fact could be world-leading in so many ways... This does frustrate me as Islanders know what they need and, to be brutally honest, it is not to adopt failing policies thrown out by local authorities in the UK
Les Amis Limited Registered Charity No. 232 | LA Incorporated No.231 | Association of Jersey Charities Number: AJC 113