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​Norman Dunning 

During his tenure as Chief Executive of ENABLE Scotland, Norman Dunning denies that he led the organisation through a series of dramatic changes.

“I didn’t lead ENABLE at all,” says Norman.  “I helped the leaders lead it.  That was always my role.  They had the ideas and vision and I helped them implement them.  I ensured the mechanics were in place and the buses ran on time.”

Taking up the post in April 1991, Norman was part of a massive change in the organisation’s structure and witnessed society’s changing attitudes towards disability.  

Change is a recurring theme when reflecting on Norman’s time at the helm.
He was seeking a new direction in his career when he applied for the role, but had little experience of working with people who have learning disabilities.

“What I knew came from my wife, who worked with people who had learning disabilities.  I didn’t see myself as any sort of leader in the field.  My job was to listen to the leaders and translate what they had to say into action.”

And his time at ENABLE Scotland was certainly action-packed.  During his 18 years as CEO, Norman oversaw the organisation’s growth from only 55 employees to around 1700 by the time of his retirement.

The Community Care Act of 1989 led to a shift in policy towards providing services and encouraged voluntary organisations to adopt a service provision role.  Norman’s background in managing services meant he was ideally placed to help facilitate this change.

One of the biggest ambitions for the organisation was to see the closure of long-stay hospitals.
ENABLE Homes - founded before Norman began working with the organisation - helped house people who had learning disabilities in the community.

Although initiatives such as Key Housing already existed, it was perceived at the time that people who had more profound learning disabilities could not be cared for in the community and needed to remain in long stay hospitals. ENABLE Homes set out to prove this assumption wrong. 

“The assumption had been that not all people with learning disabilities could be cared for in the community.  At the time ENABLE Homes was revolutionary because we showed that they could. 

That really pointed out to anyone who would listen that the hospitals for people who have learning disabilities were completely redundant.”  

It is ENABLE’s campaigning and policy work of which Norman is most proud.

How the authorities, society and even voluntary groups approach disability has changed 
drastically since Norman’s time as CEO.

“When I reflect on what we did and wrote at that time, we were incredibly patronising, without realising it.”

The so-called Aboyne Conferences helped to give people who had learning disabilities a voice.  It was instrumental in moving ENABLE Scotland towards becoming a people-led organisation.

The conferences helped to open the door to self advocacy.  In 1992, a woman named Kim, who worked with similar groups in Canada, spoke to Norman about how to engage more people who have learning disabilities in the organisation.

He aired his concerns that red tape would hinder the rate of structural change.

Empowered by Kim’s ‘just do it’ attitude, the Advisory Committee of ENABLE (ACE) was born.
Norman said: “Originally it was very much an in-house measure to improve ENABLE Scotland - but other people became really interested in it.  We received requests from the health service and the Scottish government to give talks.  They all wanted people from ACE to come and tell them what needed to be done.”

As the organisation changed, so too did its name. In 1993, The Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped became ENABLE Scotland.  People who had learning disabilities were grasping the opportunity to take control of their lives and determine their futures.  

A significant development during Norman’s career with ENABLE Scotland was the introduction of fundraising nationally.  

“When I joined ENABLE, fundraising was non-existent. I had great difficulty in introducing professional fundraising, due to a resistance to use people’s stories to raise funds. But fundraising was absolutely essential to achieve the independence we really needed.”

Now, ENABLE Scotland has a team dedicated to raising funds in a compassionate and sensitive way.  This helps the organisation retain its independence and continue growing from strength to strength. 

Norman retired in late 2009 but still keeps busy with voluntary work.  He is currently the chairperson of a local advocacy charity, the vice chairperson of the Mental Welfare Commission and is the current chairperson of a ministerial group on disability and child protection with the Scottish Government. He has also gone back to his roots as a social worker and now chairs a child protection committee.  

Norman’s time as CEO changed his outlook on life just as he helped to change the organisation by guiding it through social and political changes.

“I thought I valued diversity in people beforehand but I think working with ENABLE Scotland gave me a whole new perspective.  You see the value of everyone.  I think that is one of the great merits of working with people who have learning disabilities.”

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