Beating the DRUM for disabled

Watford Observer: er Michael Pickard, left, with Kate Munro, of TOTAL, back left, DRUM chairman Malcolm Cracknell, front right, and DRUM co-ordinator Sarah Sullivan. er Michael Pickard, left, with Kate Munro, of TOTAL, back left, DRUM chairman Malcolm Cracknell, front right, and DRUM co-ordinator Sarah Sullivan.

Before he joined DRUM (the Disability Recreation Unity Movement), Ken Woodstock had never picked up a paintbrush.

Two years later, however, Ken, 83, has collected an art award for his portrait of St Albans Abbey.

“I felt very humble,” he said. “I was so surprised. I just didn’t know what to say.”

Ken, who lost his right leg to MRSA, is one of 65 members of DRUM who participate in art classes, yoga sessions and enjoy trips to local attractions and shows, and said the charity makes life for him and others much easier.

He said: “I think DRUM is brilliant. If anybody suffers from disabilities, this is the place to come. The helpers here are out of this world. They are really brilliant people and I appreciate it.

“We’ve got a good crowd here – we don’t stand still very long. I have a fun life and life is easier to deal with. To me, the biggest thing is friends.

“If they ever take it away, there will be a lot of sad people – not just the people who come here but families as well.”

DRUM, which is based at Parkgate Youth and Community Centre in Southwold Road, Watford, was started in October 1994 by a small group of disabled volunteers, particularly over the past two years. It now supports dozens of members, around 80 carers and has a lengthy waiting list.

Hertfordshire County Council’s Adult Care Services provides the charity’s core funding, which pays for a handful of part-time staff. All other expenses are paid for through donations, grants and fundraising.

DRUM now has an additional £3,000 to spend after being crowned the winner of the TOTAL Community Champions 2008 Awards, which were run by TOTAL UK and the Watford Observer.

The competition, which looks for groups that go that extra mile to serve others within their community, received many entries but DRUM came out on top as the overall winner of the award among the judges, which included Watford MP Claire Ward, Watford FC goalkeeper and community ambassador Richard Lee and Kate Munro from Total UK.

When she heard DRUM had won the cash award, co-ordinator Sarah Sullivan, 39, revealed she became quite emotional.

She said: “It’s so nice to be recognised when you’re such a small group. Realistically to be supporting 150 people, that’s quite an achievement so it really is lovely to be recognised.

“None of our money, such as donations, go on anything but activities. It doesn’t get swallowed up.”

Sarah, who lives in Southwold Road, has been with DRUM for almost seven years and thanked senior staff Gail Greenhalgh, Simone Reynolds and Jo Valentine for their efforts, and said their next aim was to find larger premises to accommodate DRUM’s increasing demand for space.

She said: “The majority of members were not born with disabilities. The majority developed through accidents or illnesses such as MS. Most people who come in have suffered from depression. People come in and what they see is a lot of people in the same situation. The majority have children or grandchildren and they feel like life has stopped but it has not.

“The big difference is when you go to some day centres, they can scare the life out of you.”

Chairman Malcolm Cracknell, 60, from Claremont Crescent in Croxley Green, was one of the founding members of DRUM.

He said: “It was for self-help at first, a group run by disabled members. In the last couple of years it’s really taken off. Hopefully DRUM has helped a lot of people.”

DRUM’s oldest member is Thelma Reed, 88, who is also a carer for her son Richard, 54. She said: “If we didn’t come here where would we go? We would be stuck indoors all the day.”

The charity also offers valuable support to carers, who can be left exhausted and isolated by the responsibility of looking after a loved one.

Anne Holden, 54, travels from Wheathampstead to bring her daughter Emma, 32, to the group and said it gives carers a break while providing stimulation and friendship for its members.

Anne said: “It’s a reason for Emma to get out of bed. It’s the best facility for people with disabilities.”

Until four years ago, Emma was a ‘normal’ woman and had a job. After suffering a massive stroke, she was given three days to live but has fought her way back.

“She’s been coming here for three-and-a-half years and her confidence and co-ordination have improved,” Anne said.

“It gives her independence and a social life. It’s about freedom for them and freedom for us. They have all been to hell and have fought to get where they are.”

TOTAL corporate communications manager Kate Munro said: “We wanted to reward local community groups for all the good work they do and the TOTAL Community Champions 2008 Awards seemed like the perfect way to do this. We received many worthy entries but DRUM is definitely the deserving winner.”

Watford Councillor Rabi Martins added: “What this group has achieved for its members despite the constraints posed by the restricted space at Parkgate Youth and Community Centre is quite remarkable. I know many more users would love to take advantage of the companionship and stimulus that DRUM provides.

DRUM runs activities on Mondays, Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and from September, will open on Wednesdays at Hartspring Hall in Hartspring Lane, Bushey.

DRUM is open to people over 18 and members come from across Hertfordshire.

For more information call 01923 442114.

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