By Julia Hancock, Trustee
In January 1990, I was working at Orchard Hill, Carshalton in a newly developed Occupational Therapy centre. There were over 200 residents with various forms of Mental Handicap (as it was called in those days), living in bungalows with very little to do. Once or twice a week, each bungalow had their turn at the ‘Activity Centre’ (or Inactivity Centre as it was often known), where everyone went for a morning or afternoon. There were various activities such as art, music, games or sports which would often be demonstrated to the attendees regardless of their abilities, needs or interests. Few people were able to get involved. As an OT I was keen to give these people something that had some meaning for individuals, that was relevant, useful and hopefully fun.
When Marianne Hecker came into the office one day with details about an exciting project aiming to address the unmet needs for leisure and engagement, for people with complex needs, I was keen to get involved. Fortunately, Orchard Hill was chosen as one of the four long stay hospitals to take part in the project which gave birth to Us in a Bus.
One of my first memories of Us in a Bus in action was of Marianne and a newly appointed Janet Gurney both at work and singing “You are my Sunshine”, in a room full of people hurrying around. Amid all of the talking and phones ringing, one lady, curled up in a wheelchair was listening with a look of pleasure on her face. Marianne moved in closer to her and, for me, there were suddenly only two people in that busy room as they connected, looking at each other and smiling.
My involvement with Us in a Bus over the next ten years was as an eager onlooker, watching as the service developed, using Intensive Interaction to connect with people where others had failed, or not known how. I never missed the opportunity to join in a session, I went on one of Janet’s first training days and introduced Intensive Interaction into Woodlands, the OT Centre. During this time, I was responsible for securing funding for residents at Orchard Hill to receive the service from Us in a Bus. This was no easy task. Whether it be asking the League of Friends, the hospital management board, families or a charity; I had to explain the benefits of an interaction between 2 people which is often difficult to see, measure or even describe to those with no experience in this field. Those receiving the service could not help with a handy testimonial or by developing a physical skill – both things which I was asked to include in any bid. But the money was (usually) forthcoming, and slowly members of staff and families were more receptive to this new and exciting way of working and wanted to learn more.
Us in a Bus visited Orchard Hill every week. First it was Marianne in her metro and then the first van arrived, later proudly sporting the new blue logo. Marianne and Janet were to be seen at lunchtime grabbing a quick bite to eat in the car park by the hydrotherapy pool, and (before all the animals were rehoused), at Pet’s Corner. They would often pop in for a chat about the people they were seeing and the latest bit of equipment they were using. I remember the excitement of the first length of lycra used as a swing well before Manual Handling regulations put a stop to such fun, and the intrigue of ‘Rapper Snappers’!
In the 2000’s, the big long stay hospitals began to close, and the residents moved into new homes. For many of them, Us in a Bus followed. Slowly my role changed and in 2010, no longer having to secure funding, I was able to become a Trustee of Us in a Bus. I was fortunate to have met several of the Trustees and obviously knew the history of the charity, but had never been a Trustee before. My eyes were opened to all the work that goes on behind the running of a charity, the policies and procedures, staff recruitment, training, promotion of the service – not to mention fundraising. At this time Janet was CEO, her wealth of knowledge and expertise helped Us in a Bus through a period of growth, several changes of offices, establishing herself and Us in a Bus firmly in the world of Learning Disability and Intensive Interaction.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to observe sessions, often with the clients with whom I was working. One day stands out in my memory. I was in the communal area of a home mending a piece of equipment. Several of the residents were brought into the space; I could sense a feeling of anticipation, of excitement, although no one in the room was talking. The feeling grew. I heard the doorbell ring; several pairs of eyes were focussed on the door – then two ladies from Us in a Bus walked in! I had forgotten that it was Wednesday, but the residents hadn’t! A wonderful session followed.
I became Chair of Trustees just before further change within Us in a Bus. Janet stepped down as CEO to concentrate on training and Victoria Goody was appointed in her place with a slightly different role. We had moved from the Tudor House with its interesting history to North Block, a wooden “hut” on Redhill Aerodrome with its varied wildlife, and after a couple of years to our present location in the Redhill Aerodrome Business Centre. While all this was going on, the four teams, were out visiting 200 people each week and doing their own special magic. It is this regular commitment, understanding and maintenance of the values of Us in a Bus, that make it such a valuable and worthwhile service – a service of which I am proud to be a small part.
Happy 30thBirthday Us in a Bus!