Disability Undressed: ‘From church crypt, to orphanage, to over-65s' day centre, I’ve never had what some might call a conventional home. It’s not held me back.’
2 March 2017
84-year-old Ted Cooper, a former Witney mayor, is asked whether he grew up in the Oxfordshire town David Cameron, the former prime minister, calls home.
‘I’ve never really had a home town,’ he says, revealing traces of a Yorkshire accent.
‘I’ve been shovelled about ever since I were a bairn [child].
‘West Oxfordshire’s where I’ve lived the longest but I was born in Liverpool and was moved to a waifs and strays home in Wakefield when I were five.
‘Before that I’d been living under a church. I’d been living in a crypt where my sister looked after the family.’
Crypts are stone chambers, typically used to store coffins or religious relics.
‘It was because my father was in the merchant navy, on the west Africa run, and so he hardly came home at all.
‘And my mother… well, she disappeared. I don’t really know what happened to her.
‘I was picked up by the local authorities and taken to [an orphanage in] Wakefield.’
Sparkle in his eye
Ted was transported to West Yorkshire with his brothers, but his sisters were housed locally on Merseyside.
It can’t have been easy but Ted says he has no other life to compare it to and seems to carry no bitterness.
He has a sparkle in his eye when he recounts the one memory he holds of his father coming back to Liverpool docks from Africa.
‘I remember he brought back a bunch of bananas and a monkey. A real monkey!’
Every individual has a story
It’s rare to meet someone who started life sharing a crypt with a monkey, but it’s a reminder, if one were needed, that every individual has a story.
This is as true in a Leonard Cheshire service as it is in any other home, any other community.
Ted has been visiting the West Oxfordshire service two days a week since his wife died last year.
The local council fund this and he says visiting two days a week feels just right.
‘The staff help me with some nervous habits I’ve had since my strokes, help me with my medication, and I enjoy it.’
Focusing on solutions
Many of the visitors to the service agree such a package feels ‘just right’.
Others would like to be able to visit more, for the camaraderie and activities, but local council resources are stretched nationwide.
Perhaps because he’s had to be resourceful since early childhood, Ted’s approach to life has always involved focusing on solutions to problems, rather than the challenges themselves.
‘I worked for 20 years in various quality control roles, supervising the production of watches first, and later car heaters.’
Ted’s ‘engineering’ mentality — his capacity to find order and regularity where others do not — then served him well in local politics. He was elected town mayor.
The popular campaigner retains a keen interest in protecting the rights of potentially vulnerable groups.
‘I’ve been attending public meetings while all the cuts have been happening.
‘It’s often just been me and the mother of a disabled girl who have attended.
‘At the moment the council are looking at changing the way transport to the day service is funded, so I’ve been going to those meetings.’
Sense of duty
Ted says he would be able to make his own way to the service, rather than using the subsided bus, if necessary.
However he believes his friends may struggle to fund their own transport if it were to come out of their care budgets.
Those with complex conditions may have difficulty arranging the bookings too, he adds.
Abandoned as a child, Ted fights with dignity and a sense of duty in the hope that his friends are not cut adrift.
Disability Undressed is a series of stories featuring the people who use our services. To keep up to date with all our latest news, campaigns and events, sign up to our newsletters.