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60 Stories - Anne Trail

Photo of Anne TrailAnne Trail 
 
October is Make a Difference Month. To mark it, ENABLE Scotland is celebrating the enormous contribution made to the organisation by a remarkable woman. 
 
Anne Trail remembers the achievements of her late father, Jim Henderson MBE.
 
Enable Scotland, formerly known as the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped, has been supporting adults, young people and children with learning disabilities for 60 years.
 
Their relentless campaigning and ever-growing range of person-centred services have a firm focus on enabling people with learning disabilities to live, work and participate in their communities in the same way as any other person would. 
 
With around 4000 members and 46 branches nationwide, it’s hard to believe that what has now become one of Scotland’s largest voluntary organisations, spanned from one Airdrie man’s love for his young daughter, Pat. 
 
Jim Henderson was a quiet and modest man, yet his contribution to people who have learning disabilities was nonetheless ground-breaking and remarkable. 
 
In 1953, Jim enlisted the help of a tutor to help prepare his six-year-old daughter Pat for enrolment into the local school for children who have learning disabilities. Unfortunately, she failed the entry level test and with the prospect of an education slipping out of sight, Jim became deeply concerned for her quality of life. 
 
Pat’s sister, Anne, remembers her father’s pro-active determination to create a better future for Pat and others like her. 
 
“Pat had Down’s Syndrome and Dad had reached a point of realisation that there was nothing for her in the way of services. He was also concerned about the way that many parents were made to feel isolated or ashamed and he felt that outlook needed to change. 
 
“He knew that there was an organisation for learning disabled children in England, but nothing in Scotland, so he contacted the National Association in London and asked them for their assistance in forming a branch, but all they could do was give him a list of their very few Scottish members.” 
 
Jim decided to make initial contact with four sets of parents who were living close to him in the Glasgow area. They shared his vision of developing better services for their children and they swiftly decided to meet up to discuss their options. 
 
Several meetings later, they published a notice in the local newspaper appealing for people to attend a public meeting in Glasgow on the 9th of April 1954. Over 300 people turned up and the Scottish Association of Parents of Handicapped Children, as it was known at its inception, was formed. 
 
Anne recalls her father’s fervent attempts to develop the society and how it quickly expanded from its humble beginnings to a multi-branch organisation. 
 
“Dad and the other parents worked tirelessly, travelling around the country and researching the need for services in specific areas, promoting awareness, raising funds - anything they could to muster support. 
 
“They held their first meetings in a room at the back of the town hall in Airdrie and the first centre for the children to attend was held in one of the parent’s homes. Then, a primary school in Coatbridge became vacant and they quickly applied for the use of that as premises. It expanded from there.”
 
The growth which Anne describes was substantial. The society opened their first official branch in Blairgowrie in 1954 and within a decade, there were 40 branches and 4000 members across the country. 
 
During that time, the organisation also opened the Stewart Home at Cove in Dunbartonshire which became Scotland’s first respite accommodation. Anne remembers this monumental event well and its significance to Jim and fellow parents. 
 
“They were delighted to be gifted the building! Dad was over the moon because he strongly felt that many parents needed more of a break than the day centres could provide, especially those whose children were in need of nursing care. It was a huge step forward in the services.
 
“The home was a beautiful old castle with sprawling gardens and it needed a lot of work done before it was fit for purpose. The society had very little money at the time, so Dad and the others spent a couple of years giving up every spare moment they had to develop and restore as much of it as they possibly could by themselves.” 
 
The commendable efforts of the society went on to bring about many significant and positive changes in the lives of people with learning disabilities including; securing their right to an education, employment and community living.
 
Jim received a personal commendation for his pioneering work when he was awarded an MBE in 1974, which Anne says he met with his characteristic humility. 
 
“Dad really wasn’t a man who would have given any thought to his achievements. He just rolled up his sleeves and got involved because he felt it needed doing. Even upon receiving his MBE, he was mumbling that he could think of other people who deserved it more than he did.
 
“But I know that he was proud of how far the organisation had come and that he was overjoyed to have been able to shape a decent lifestyle for Pat.”
 
For 43 years, Jim devoted his life to ENABLE Scotland, providing an entirely voluntary service. He served as secretary, treasurer and chairman, all at different stages, but Anne says that in addition to his official roles, he was a willing ‘Jack of all trades’. 
 
“The society was a huge part of Dad’s life. So much so that his involvement in the ordering, collecting and distributing of their charity Christmas cards meant that our house became somewhat of a factory from October to January every year!
 
“We had an old indoor shed for storing sticks which he kitted out with shelves to stack the cards in and he’d lock himself away in there, arranging them and boxing them for hours on end. It used to drive my mum mad!”
 
Throughout his years of service, Jim also continued to attend the Airdrie club each Tuesday night, collecting members in his car to drive them there and returning them home afterwards. 
 
Right up until he sadly passed in 1996, his faithful efforts and commitment remained intact and Anne takes great comfort in knowing that her father not only fulfilled his goals, but also left an abiding legacy.
 
“Loving Pat as he did, Dad was bothered by stigma. He wanted people to take stock and realise that a child like her can be born into any home at any time, regardless of class or circumstance. He wanted to see people with learning disabilities treated like normal people because he knew that their fundamental needs were the same as everyone else’s and they deserved to be loved, respected and nurtured.
 
“The road to achieving that had to start somewhere and whether he would admit it or not, it started with him. When I think of the opportunities that Pat had, or look around me at the way things have changed for people with learning disabilities, it fills me with pride to know that my dad was a part of that.” 

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