A long weekend of celebrating difference in the workplace

I have just found out that last week was Neurodiversity Week (13th to 19th March 2023). It was marked by a series of virtual events celebrating people with autism spectrum conditions, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) and Dyslexia. My source of information came from the Tameside Reporter, a journal which yours truly is familiar with as a sporadic reader, a contributor, and on two occasions, a job interview candidate.

Stars of stage and screen

Over the last week, yours truly was flying the flag for neurodiversity in a professional capacity. As the photo shows at the top of this article, your author is stood on the right hand in a pro-neurodiversity jersey. On his left hand side is his fellow colleague (and photographer) Kevin Phoenix.

Between myself and Kevin is Nigel, a fantastic bloke supported by Future Directions CIC, over at Stanley Grange near Samlesbury. Like myself and Kevin, he can claim to be a star of stage and screen. Last week, he and his fellow housemates at Stanley Grange appeared on Channel Four’s Tool Club, opening a brand new series. As its launch fell on Neurodiversity Week, this was Channel Four’s mission statement of Altogether Different being put into practice.

With Kevin, I marked Neurodiversity Week with the second Engagement Session of Spring 2023. For the people supported by FD at Stanley Grange, East Lancashire and Lancashire Specialist Services, it is about making sure they live great lives. That of being given a real say on social activities and their care. There is a fun element to it with tea, cakes, and a disco (with proper vinyl records, played by Keith, one of Future Directions’ personal assistants in Rochdale). Also two raffle draws: one draw for staff teams, and another draw for the people supported by Future Directions CIC.

Once again, the biscuits, cakes, and doughnuts came from Morrisons instead of Costco, which I was most pleased about. These paled into insignificance compared with some serious work in the bus users’ martial art of No-wait-kando on the way back home. The above was dwarfed several times over by the arrival of a wonderful friend of mine from Preston in Emily.

In over three years of working with Future Directions, I have been very fortunate to work alongside people on the autism spectrum like myself. Not only with people supported by FD like my friend but also fellow colleagues. What makes it great besides staff support is the family atmosphere that I loved at Ewing School (I have also said this to a fellow ex-Ewing School pupil and she agrees wholeheartedly).

Overload on the Buses

Blakey: Butler, you are three minutes late on the 346s. We’ve got to get to the bus station for quarter past and do a 237…

Jack: ‘Ey, Butler (looking at a copy of Classic Bus magazine), look at the grilles on that… they don’t ’em like that any more… Them Bristols… (Butler is on his smartphone)

Butler: (staring into space towards the canal).

Jack: Butler, BUTLER…! Not yer normal self today, Butler…

Butler: (To Jack) Please leave me in peace. (Blakey notices Butler in the cab of his Enviro400 double decker)

Blakey: Butler, you are now five minutes late… just get that bus out… (Butler stares into space for a few moments before setting the electronic indicator to read 346 with Ashton on the top line with Dukinfield and Newton scrolling below)

Sometimes the journey to work can be overloading, though thankfully unlike our parody of Ronald Chesney and Ronald Wolfe’s long-running early 1970s comedy series On The Buses. The ultimate nightmare commute from my past experiences on public transport may comprise of the following ingredients:

  • Too much crowding, exacerbated by missing earlier journeys or passengers who would have otherwise caught later journeys;
  • Short formations or smaller vehicles;
  • Congestion, made all the worse by temporary traffic lights.

Thankfully, trying to a make a complex commute is easier thanks to real time information. I only wish this level of information was around in 1996 when I milked any opportunity to get a weird and wonderful bus on my 16 – 19 Bus Pass. If I travelled back in time, I would take one of my cameras to take pictures of GMT standard double deckers, Mybus’ bedraggled ex-Nottingham City Transport Leyland Atlanteans or Pennine’s (putting it politely) uniquely bodied Mercedes minibuses.

Instead of rabbiting on about the merits of Kodak Gold over Ilford HP5 for my pictures, there was a difference with my 1996 trips compared with nowadays. Most of my complex trips warrant being there for a certain time. What would have been a simple journey on some routes back then may require three buses. In many cases, frequencies were higher than nowadays, which makes real time information a great necessity on bus routes with fewer than four buses an hour.

With more traffic on the roads in 2023 compared with 1996 (no such thing as Deliveroo or Uber back then), it is hardly surprising to see why my journeys seem more overloading. The headphones are just as important an accessory for me as my pass. In some cases, the bus gives me longer to ‘stare into space’ at the road ahead or think happy thoughts about great friends and great times at FD.

Overload in the workplace

After being on a high from last Thursday, I had high hopes for an equally successful Fun Time Friday show. The venue we found was St. Mary’s Parish Church Hall, a well appointed venue on the southern side of Reddish in touching distance with Heaton Norris. Which, if your author had to get the bus, is a cinch from Stockport, Piccadilly Gardens and Debdale Park or slightly finicky from Denton. We also found that it is near a legendary chippy which I have yet to try (and could have done after the hall’s regular Monday discos).

Despite its connectivity (which itself would be miles better with hourly Stockport to Stalybridge trains), good kitchen and a superb turnout, it was Overload City for yours truly. Firstly there was the fluorescent lighting; then the lack of insulation to dampen background noise (carpets, curtains – one-nil to Stanley Grange Community Hall). Thirdly, the sudden change of venue from potential other candidates; and fourthly, the later departure from Marle House, made matters worse.

On stage, yours truly wasn’t quite himself. My concentration levels weren’t as good as they were at any other Fun Time Friday venues like Stanley Grange or Moor Lane. I was back to seeing my friend yesterday, when she was flustered over finding her mobile phone which I thought was Pure Stugle. Only this time, I was my own kindred spirit, and it felt like the times in work, at home, or school when I had been mad about losing a given item. Only to find it right in front of me or sat in my blazer pocket.

One of the challenges about Fun Time Friday is working at different venues, sometimes unfamiliar places. Different room sizes, acoustics, lighting, space to manipulate and move furniture about to accommodate the stage. Also the rapport with personal assistants, making sure they join in with the people they support on behalf of Future Directions.

For me, St Mary’s proved to be the most challenging venue to date on my Fun Time Friday shows. If I rated the place on manoeuvrability of furniture and its warm welcome alone, UEFA Champions League material. The background noise and lighting in relation to sensory issues? National League Premier Division stuff. After leaving the stage, I was glad to take a break. Despite being upset, there was praise for my performance from the personal assistants of the people that FD support in the Stockport area.

Even with the sensory challenges, I still want to see what their neurodiversity friendly disco nights are like.

True you ride the finest horse, I have ever seen…

After an overloading Fun Time Friday show, there was one song more than anything that got my senses on an even keel: Christy Moore’s cover version of Ride On. As soon I was in Kevin’s car, this was the first song I wanted to play.

I now associate Ride On with another fellow colleague supported by FD, Dr. Daniel Docherty. He is a remarkable person who has overcome many challenges and fought many corners for people on the autism spectrum. So much so that his intense research earned him a Doctorate with the University of Salford. In the last year, he was most pleased to count singing as one of his talents and sung the Christy Moore song at a North Manchester recording studios.

On Monday, I was glad to be back with him to film a video for World Autism Month (1st to 30th April 2023) at Dan’s house. With FD’s videographer of choice, the excellent Stuart of Welton Media fame, myself, Daniel, fellow colleague Jenny Neville, and – in a separate afternoon shoot – Anthony, we started work on a short film about life with autism. The session went very well with myself and Daniel given space to say our respective pieces.

For me, the session ended with a recital of one of my poems, Celebrating Differences. I wrote the piece in January 2003. Twenty years on, sent a copy to my friend who was touched by it, and found herself (figuratively) on the same page as myself. Before returning to Marle House, there was a final shot of myself ‘waiting’ for a 114 to Manchester with the former Wilson’s Brewery offices in full view.

Keep being you… always remember how very special you are

Over the last week, Neurodiversity Week gave us a chance to remember how special we are. We were born equal but there are many different traits which make this planet a darn sight more liveable than a world where everybody thinks the same. One where we act the same, watch the same Netflix movie or download the same tunes.

Next week sees World Autism Acceptance Week (27th March to 2nd April 2023). The National Autistic Society’s virtual challenge for this year is the Spectrum Colour Challenge. This is in addition to World Autism Day (2nd April 2023) – which, appropriately for this radio anorak who writes stuff about brass bands – is the 49th anniversary of Piccadilly Radio’s first day of broadcasting. The big one, of course is World Autism Month, which is the subject of the filming session.

For the other 335 or 336 days in the year as well as in April, it is important to remember how special you are. Once the video is completed, we shall share it on East of the M60 in some way, shape or form.

S.V., 20th March 2023.

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