In memory of Oliver McGowan and Michael Ludlam

This year we received two special nominations for the Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List. We were particularly taken aback by the nominees, not because they have died but because their legacy is so strong.

In memory of Oliver McGowan and Michael Ludlam

Now I’ll be candid, their nominations put us in a very difficult position and one we hadn’t anticipated.

The Leaders’ List has two very specific purposes:

  1. To celebrate and share the achievements and positive stories from people with learning disabilities and/or autism.
  2. To increase media representation of people with learning disabilities and/or autism by promoting our Leaders as spokespeople.

While we don’t feel it’s right to open the Leaders’ List to people who have died, we want to honour the memory of these two wonderful nominees who gave us reason to stop and think.

Creating a fitting tribute

So, after speaking with the people who nominated them, we agreed to write this blog in their memory and name two of the 2019 Leaders’ List categories after them.

It is truly an honour to be able to remember these two men in this way, and it’s inspired us to memorialise four other people with learning disabilities and/or autism in future Leaders’ List categories.

Now it’s time to share Michael and Oliver’s stories…

A tribute to Oliver

Oliver’s story, which you can read on his website, of the trained NHS staff disregarding his family and mis-prescribing drugs that led to his death, has influenced the Government to announce nationwide mandatory training for NHS staff, known as ‘The Oliver McGowan Mandatory Training In Autism and Learning Disability Awareness’.

Now, I was aware of Oliver’s story before I read his nomination. Through our #MyGPandMe campaign we are part of the call for mandatory learning disability training for GPs. A call that Oliver has been championing in his death.

I had seen the tweets from his mum, Paula, and I had followed the news coverage.

The circumstances around Oliver’s death have influenced national policy.

But it wasn’t until I read her nomination and words that were so heartfelt that I stopped to really think about Oliver’s life beyond his posthumous campaigning.

I knew Oliver as an emblem of this campaign but I, rather shamefully, knew nothing of his life before that.

I didn’t know he attained several GCSE and BTEC examinations, and went on to attend National Star College in Cheltenham.

I didn’t know that he was an outstanding sportsman whose ambition was to compete in the Special Olympics. Or that he is registered on Power 10 as 3rd best in the country for the 200 Metre Track.

I didn’t know Oliver played for England Cerebral Palsy Football Clubs.

His mum’s story tells us how his coaches and teachers all spoke about how inspirational he was and how they admired his can do attitude, especially when he was compromised.

And after speaking to Paula, I wanted to make sure we could remember Oliver for his passion in life, to offer a positive tribute among the negativity surrounding his story.

For those reasons, and together with Oliver’s mum, I am delighted to announce that the Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2019 showcases inspirational Leaders in ‘The 2019 Oliver McGowan Award for Sports, arts and entertainment’

Let Oliver’s legacy be that more stars have their chance to shine.

Michael’s remarkable life

Michael led a truly remarkable life and has made a significant contribution to improving the world for people with learning disabilities and/or autism.

Michael was born at a time when institutions were commonplace and the expectation of what he could achieve was severely limited.

Michael didn’t develop speech and his cerebral palsy meant he had limited use of his limbs and wasn’t able to stand.

But he was a very skilled communicator and faced obstacles with positivity and enthusiasm.

Michael went on to be a strong advocate for the rights of people with learning disabilities.

Through determination, willpower and his involvement with St Anne’s Community Services and the University of Huddersfield, he was at the forefront of involvement and partnership working.

He acted as an expert by experience, was involved in recruitment and selection for both organisations, made a film to share his experience of having a PEG fitted when his swallow deteriorated and actively supported many student nurses both in practice and via his role at the university – even sweet talking one into giving him peg-fed champagne…

Michael lived a highly valued and significant life before he passed away in March 2019.

Although he is no longer physically with us, his achievements live on and have made a genuine difference.

It is a true honour to announce that the Learning Disability and Autism Leaders’ List 2019 showcases inspirational Leaders in ‘The 2019 Michael Ludlam Award for Advocacy, policy and the media’.

Thank you Michael, here’s another opportunity for you to inspire others.

This blog was written by Dimensions Campaigns Manager, Sarah Clarke.