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60 Stories - Jean and Liz

Image of jean and lizOctober 20-26 has been nomination National Parent’s Week. To mark it, we caught up with Jean Hain and Liz Wade, whose labour of love for their daughters helped to shape support for people who have disabilities in the Livingston area.
Jean Hain and Liz Wade have dedicated a combined 70 years to ENABLE Scotland.
Driven by their mutual desire to provide adequate services for their two young daughters, both mums became involved with the Livingston branch in the 1970s, when they ran the town’s first club from a small community council house.
As mothers of children who have a learning disability, their determination to secure a better future for their girls and others like them means that they have spent the last four decades striving to improve and develop their local club. It began with only 25 children, developing into a multi-facility complex now accommodating more than 130 members. 
Jean was the first to come on board when her daughter, Sheena, was aged 10. After a brief spell living in England, Jean returned to Scotland to discover that due to on-going refurbishment work, Sheena was unable to return to Gogarburn.
Desperate to ensure that Sheena would be stimulated and enjoy a good quality of life, Jean decided to take her to the club at Larchbank and soon became chair of the branch and immersed in its day to day organisation. 
“There were literally no facilities for children with disabilities in Livingston then. I knew how important a place like that was to the kids and their families. It was a fantastic little club but I could see that it was hard going and how much work hard to be done. There were only two volunteers when I arrived so I just rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in.
“We had a pool table, art room, toy room and downstairs playroom. It sounds like a lot but we really had very little and we had no official funding. Everything that we had, we provided ourselves, including food. We couldn’t offer the children as much as we’d have liked, but they were happy just to be there, seeing each other and having fun.”
As time went on, Jean and the other volunteers at Larchbank began to find it increasingly difficult to provide the basic essentials the children needed. With the adult to child ratio becoming a struggle to manage and the future of the club hanging in the balance, she decided to take action. 
“We really needed extra help, we just couldn’t do it by ourselves anymore, so I circulated a rather frank letter to all the children’s parents saying: ‘Look, if you don’t get involved, we’re going to close this club’. Only two parents responded and Liz was one of them. She must have got a fright when she read it because she was down like a shot!”
Liz’s daughter Elizabeth was attending the club and upon receiving the letter, she decided she could spare some time to help, but much like Jean before her, she quickly became fully devoted to protecting the service. 
“Elizabeth was four at the time and she absolutely loved her club so I was quite concerned to hear that they were having problems. I went down to a meeting and I just got sucked right in. I’ve never been away from the place since!”
The slight growth in the Larchbank team went some way towards decreasing the staffing issues and Jean and Liz became united in working towards their common goal of obtaining better facilities for the increasing amount of children.
They made their first grant application to Edinburgh council and Jean recalls that although she was initially concerned it would not be approved, her worries were unfounded.
“It was someone’s birthday on the day that we were assessed so the place was chaos and the kids were running about daft. I took the gent inside and showed him round, helping him past the piles of jumble we had stacked in the hallway to sell for funds. 
“When he was finished he said he would give us £200, but if he had come in and the kids had been doing nothing, we wouldn’t have been given anything. He granted us it because he could see for himself that they were having a brilliant time. I was over the moon that someone had finally noticed what it meant to them.”
The council officer’s visit inspired Jean to become more pro-active and she quickly set about raising awareness of the work of the club. Through a series of advertisements and articles appealing for help, she soon caught the attention of the social work department and the team were offered larger premises. 
The club’s new home was undoubtedly more spacious, but it was located on the top floor of a vast building and Liz remembers the back-breaking effort it took to make it work.
“There was no wheelchair access in the new place which was a major issue. But beggars can’t be choosers and we needed the space so we literally carried the members up the stairs ourselves, one by one.
“There was no health and safety red tape in those days. We never gave a second thought to having the right training or equipment, we just figured out what needed to be done and we did it.”
Now experts at ‘making the most of it’, the ladies carried on doing their best with what they had. By this time, they had managed to secure their first mini bus which gave them the means to bring in more new members, but with ever growing numbers and still inadequate facilities, Jean was swiftly on the case when she heard that a suitable local building had become vacant.
“The building we are now in was empty at the time. It’s A-listed so I knew it couldn’t be knocked down and the council hadn’t decided what to do with it. It was ground-floor and perfect for us, so I went for it.
“I started to attend the meetings and one of the councillors said to me ‘Jean, I don’t know what you’re doing here because you’re not going to get it’. I thought ‘Is that a fact? Just you watch me!’” 
Known for her spirited and determined approach, Jean badgered the council, took out notices in numerous publications, promoted the club in an STV charity awareness advertisement and even had the local newspaper run a front page story on the issue. 
Before long, the council succumbed to her relentless campaigning and the Livingston club was allocated the building. As well as having finally secured their first appropriately equipped premises, Jean also believes that this coincided with the branch being taken more seriously.
“We really hammered the message through that we were a viable service which deserved support and it just goes to show what happens when you don’t give up. They gave us the building rent free and began to allocate us grants more regularly. We could finally begin to build the club we always wanted.”
Eighteen years down the line, the Livingston club opens its doors five days a week to members who vary in age from the very young to the elderly, with disabilities ranging from mild to severe. Whatever their needs - the dedicated staff ensure there is something for everyone.
With Jean now retired and only participating in her capacity as Honorary President, Liz has taken over the reigns as chair. She attends the club every day and openly admits to an overwhelming sense of pride at what has been achieved. 
“It’s been hard work but every second of it has been worth it. They have a wonderful life here. We have lots of fantastic facilities and activities, so no one is ever short of something to do.
“We really listen to what they want and we make it happen. Nothing is too much trouble if it makes them happy. We spent six years fundraising to take 32 kids to Euro Disney and last year we took 110 of our members to the pantomime. It was unbelievably hard work but to see those smiles is so rewarding.”
There is no doubt that the Livingston club has come a long way over the last 40 years and the efforts of Jean and Liz have not gone unnoticed. 
Both ladies have received a Voluntary Action Scotland ‘Volunteer of the Year’ award and were also given an invitation to the Royal Garden Party in 2010. While Liz appreciates the recognition of their work, she is clear that the real satisfaction of their achievements comes from seeing the impact it has made to the lives of members.
“We have seen so many of our members, including our own daughters, become much more confident and independent as a result of their interaction with the club. 
“Many have made friends, developed social lives and even taken jobs. To be a part of helping these fantastic people live a more normal life and fulfil their potential is something very special. We worked hard to achieve that and our aim for the future is to maintain it.”

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