What did Us in a Bus look like 30 years ago this month? The only person who can answer that is Marianne Hecker – so we asked her.
The idea of a mobile service, operating between 4 long-stay hospitals for people with learning disabilities and addressing un-met needs for leisure and engagement, came from Jacqui Bremner and Tim Cooper, two forward-looking Development Officers from The Spastics Society (yes, this was before it changed to Scope!). One of their best decisions was to give Marianne the job of Project Co-ordinator, pulling all the strands of their ideas into something real and effective. So, who was she, what was her experience, what was her vision – and what was it like in January 1990?
Us in a Bus:Why did you apply for the job with Us in a Bus?
Marianne: I had previously been a teacher/acting head in schools for students with a wide range of complex disabilities, including profound learning disabilities, autism and physical difficulties. I enjoyed my time in these schools and found the work invigorating but gradually I became anxious about the future for these children and young people, especially the Profound and Multiple Learning Disability (PMLD) group. In school they benefited from a high staff to student ratio: this would no longer be so once they left educational provision – and the option for some of these young people would be moving to a long-stay hospital. I remembered a book I had read in 1971, ’The Empty Hours’ by Maureen Oswin, detailing the limitations of such institutions. When I saw the advertisement for the Us in a Bus coordinator the two experiences merged.
Us in a Bus: What did you want for the people you met in those first weeks?
Marianne: Right from the beginning, two concepts underpinned the relationships that I tried to establish with the people with whom Us in a Bus were involved on a weekly basis (the people we were providing a service for as well as the staff teams who cared for them) dignity and respect. Pleasure was also what we were aiming for and these three concepts are still there I think: dignity, respect and shared pleasure for everyone involved in the sessions. Joy and contentment help to take away stress, don’t they?
Us in a Bus: So what did you need to do to pull the threads of the idea of Us in a Bus together into a service?
Marianne: To start with, I simply had a list of names – someone from each of the four hospitals involved. I met them and they arranged for me to get to know each hospital a little. Finding my way around was a challenge in itself. They introduced me to the wards where people with the greatest need for social opportunities lived. I met them and the people who worked on those wards to explain what I was aiming to do, and a timetable evolved. Once the structure was in place, it was easier to feel that this was ‘do-able’. But what a lot of names to remember!
Us in a Bus: What was the biggest challenge at the start?
Marianne: Well, it was just ‘Me in a Metro’ – there was no ‘Us’ and certainly no ‘Bus’. I think you might be surprised at what I found most difficult when I first started this job! It was buying the US in a BUS vehicle – which turned out to be a van to hold all the equipment that we might need. Buying any vehicle apart from a BSA Bantam was totally out of my experience and comfort zone but it had to be done and it was! What a relief – nothing would be as scary as that again!
But the central challenge of my work then – and, I suspect, Us in a Bus’s now – was how best to encourage and enable people to connect, if only briefly, with us and with one another.
Us in a Bus: What kept you going?
Marianne: There was a Support Group of suitably experienced professionals who met with me every 3 months. Sometimes though, their caution had to be gently challenged – Us in a Bus needed to take some steps into the unknown. It helped when I appointed Janet as my deputy in May 1990, so we could explore those steps together. One of the most important steps was attending a workshop at Harperbury Hospital where Dave Hewett and Melanie Nind spoke of their experiences with working with people similar to the people with whom we were trying to engage. That experience, along with seeing a TV documentary about Phoebe Caldwell and her work, gave us many ideas about a particular way of working; it has a name ‘Intensive Interaction’ and has been the underpinning of our sessions ever since.
Looking back, as I am doing now, I realise that the development of US in a BUS has been organic in that it has been driven by perceived need. We didn’t set out to grow for the sake of it but as hospitals closed and the people with whom we had worked were dispersed widely, many more staff became aware of us and some were fascinated by the way we were interacting with people (some of whom they found it difficult to connect with). Out of this a need for training became evident and so, as a result, Janet took on a training role, and now offers workshops across the UK and beyond. Added to this, the very practical Coaching and Mentoring service that Us in a Bus continues to develop ensures that Intensive Interaction and the benefits that this way of working delivers, spreads like ripples from a stone thrown in the river that connects us all. There will be further developments I’m sure – I wonder what they will be?