Creating and leading a tribe
So, in the coming week, CP Teens UK officially moves into its new office at Chesterfield FC. And no, I cannot believe I have typed that! I thought maybe it'd be appropriate to blog about the roots of CP Teens UK this week. Why? How? What? How did this strong tribe of young people with Cerebral Palsy come together? I know that probably makes it sound as if we're some kind of wild group with painted stripes down our faces, but you know what I mean!
It was 2013, and I was the ONLY teenager on the planet with Cerebral Palsy ... or at least that's what I thought! I was the only person to walk down the school corridors looking like a drunk on a night out (maybe it was vodka in my water bottle to get me through my A Levels?! No one would have been able to tell the difference especially as alcohol seems to actually have the opposite effect on me and improve my walking!). I was perfectly okay with this/having Cerebral Palsy, until others weren't. But, it's thanks to them that CP Teens UK exists, so cheers guys *xoxoxoxox*!
I finished my A Levels. Thank the blooming lord. Time to celebrate with friends. Oh wait, where are my 'friends'? Never to be seen again. They've even took leading careers as magicians performing disappearing acts, or this is the biggest game of hide & seek to ever take place - perhaps they'll get a Guinness World Record?! To be fair, I probably should have took the hint at the beginning of Year 12 when we returned for Sixth Form - it was as if they'd spent the summer of 2011 with Satan or something! All the way through Sixth Form, I just spent less and less time with them despite my best efforts with it all coming to an abrupt end after the last exam. Unfortunately, there was no 'EastEnders dramatic ending' with anyone stomping off - sorry to be boring! I wasn't included in the Prom arrangements (trivial now, but very important at the time!) and my texts and phone calls were just ignored and I could hardly go out looking for them, which of course they were well aware of.
A few weeks later, I decided I had to move on. These were my childhood friends, so it was really hard to make that decision - we had wonderful friendships for many, many years until we hit 16 and their inner monsters came out. I mean, don't get me wrong, we all have our inner monsters - mine comes out to play early in the mornings! But, Cerebral Palsy seemed to bring their inner monsters out - I mean god forbid they would ever have to chop my food up in a restaurant or walk a little slower, how horrific for them!
Decision made - bye guys, you've got what you want, but hopefully I'll be happier in the long run. I'll just get something like a part-time job and/or volunteer work and start to rebuild, right? Wrong. I was fresh out of the sheltered environment of school and I was the most under confident person ever, which I also largely blame on my 'friends' - if they hadn't have highlighted the fact that they didn't want to be seen with me, I probably wouldn't have had such low levels of confidence.
As a disabled young person, there were literally no suitable opportunities out there for me. Well, bugger. My 'friends' have galloped off into the sunset and the only thing on my daily agenda is Holly & Phil (but, I do love them!) followed by Loose Women. We have always said there is a real market for a school/Post 16 establishment that teaches to the curriculum/GCSE's/A Levels for physically disabled children with all the relevant 'exit routes', e.g. University. I could have gone to our local special school, but this wouldn't have been academically appropriate for me as special schools do not teach the curriculum/GCSE's/A Levels. It probably wouldn't have been socially appropriate for me either as the majority of students in special schools have severe learning disabilities and difficulties. In the case of me, as with many people with Cerebral Palsy, I am a 'normal' person in a body that doesn't do what it says on the tin! Mum was constantly trying to get hold of Connexsions (careers, opportunities etc. advice & support) without much success. When she eventually got through, they had no idea either.
I was lost. Socially isolated and nothing out there for me to do and get involved with, either paid or unpaid. At this point, I was 'still the only person on the planet with Cerebral Palsy' ... or, wait. Was I though? I had been to 1 Athletics training session at this point after being really inspired by the London Paralympics the previous September. When I turned up, I expected it to be a disability specific athletics session, but it wasn't. However, the memories from London 2012 were strong - I remembered how much I felt a part of something even from my TV screen as someone who had never done sport. Maybe there are people like me out there? Maybe they're feeling the same way? Maybe I could find them? Maybe I could help them? Maybe we could help one another?
I remembered a conversation that my Mum and I had had one day coming home from school on a day where my 'friends' had particularly let out their inner monsters. She had suggested a Facebook type setup for teenagers with disabilities. I pondered in bed. And, then, the name 'CP Teens UK' just came to me like someone had just placed it there - I still don't know to this day where on earth it came from! It just came, and I instantly liked it.
The following afternoon (because I don't do mornings whenever possible!) I hit social media with a 'CP Teens UK' account and the rest as they say is history!
There were hundreds (you!) of young people out there with Cerebral Palsy who were feeling exactly like I was and felt socially isolated and alone. Fast forward to July 2017 and CP Teens UK has it's own premises with the grand opening on Saturday evening. Like what even is this?! I was walking out of RaceRunning, which is also a part of CP Teens UK, last week and one of the Mums was saying she couldn't believe how it has come around and grown - she said it was "absolutely fabulous", isn't 'fabulous' a fabulous word?!
We've had Balls, 'Wobbles', parties, BBQ's, trips .... all bound together by the best of friends. I've laughed so hard, had the best times and I've never felt so supported. It actually makes me so, so glad my 'friends' did what they did as CP Teens UK wouldn't exist. So much more is to come. More friends, more laughter and more happy times.
Here is to the opening of the new CP Teens UK office!