To celebrate East Kent Mencap’s 75th anniversary it was a great pleasure to interview inspirational member of 33 years, Paul Wood, to learn about his experience of moving into independent living, and to find out what he wants to do most in 2023.
Paul first started using East Kent Mencap services when he was 17 years old. At this time the charity was called ‘Thanet Mencap’, the name changed to East Kent Mencap in 2007 when it merged with Canterbury Mencap.
“I knew I wanted to be part of East Kent Mencap”
How did you first hear about East Kent Mencap?
It was through a school friend’s mum. I asked her what they did and she said they did all sorts of fun activities and I would make lots of friends. I knew then that I wanted to be part of East Kent Mencap. At first, I attended the Hub (Day Service) in Cliftonville, which was originally on Victoria Road in Margate (now it’s at 132 Northdown Road, Cliftonville). We used to do Woodwork Sessions and I was part of the Maintenance Group, doing jobs around the Hub with Support Worker, Rob.
What was your first experience with East Kent Mencap housing?
I went on a Children in Need holiday at Muriel’s House for a week in the 80s; it was great fun, and many of my school friends went too. I was offered a place at Muriel’s House and moved in when I was 17 years old. I lived there during the week, going home at weekends.
I remember the day I moved in, it was a Friday and I packed up all my belongings. It was strange being away from home, I learnt to cook, clean, iron, and get the evening meal ready. Every Monday we went to the Gateway Club for discos and on Tuesdays, we had ‘House Days’ with 1:1 support to do the jobs around the house, like cleaning and getting the dinner ready for when the others came home.
Can you describe your journey from Muriel’s House to independent living?
From Muriel’s House, I moved into Victoria House in 1993, it was pretty much the same with 24-hour care. We went to the shops, prepared meals, and watched TV. I continued to go home to my family at weekends, which was nice; everyone who had a family went home at weekends, and we came back on Sunday nights.
I moved into William House in 1995, which is above the Margate Hub, and lived in a 24-hour care flat. My bedroom was at the back, there was a lounge, hall, dining room, kitchen, bathroom, laundry room, and a toilet, upstairs there were four bedrooms plus a staff room and a bathroom.
From William House there is a door to Charlotte House, both these houses are named after the parents who were involved in setting up the (East Kent Mencap) service. I moved to Charlotte House in 1998. It has been altered a lot since I was there, it now has a new kitchen. I painted my room a sand gold colour with Support Worker, Rob. At Charlotte House, we had support to help us prepare meals and things. Every night we took turns cooking and had House Days here too; we all helped each other.
Work to build Backler House started in 2008. I watched it being built, as it is next to William House and Charlotte House and I could see them digging up the garden. I was the very first person to move into Backler House in 2009. It was an exciting time for me.
What is the best thing about independent living?
I really enjoy it. I love having my own flat, I really do. It’s my own space and I can do what I want. The best bit is going out in the evenings and having my own social life, and not having to get up early! At weekends I tend to get up at 10am.
I am known as ‘Mr Quiet’, as I don’t make much noise, and I don’t want to wake up the others. In the past, some people (in the building) have been noisy late at night, but the staff had a word and it is quiet now.
I only go to one session at the Hubs now, on Thursdays at Ramsgate, I do the Drama Session, which I love. We are working on a top-secret show, that’s all I can say at the moment.
Do you think East Kent Mencap has changed?
Definitely, it is better now. In the early days, I was treated as if I was a kid, but now we are all treated as adults.
The pandemic was a very difficult time. What was it like for you in lockdown?
Shocking! You couldn’t see anyone, your family or anything, it was tough. I accessed the East Kent Mencap online sessions, I really enjoyed them. We still had our two-hour drama sessions online, and the staff were incredible. I have my own tablet with TEAMS so I could join the sessions, I still use it and join the East Kent Mencap virtual discos.
And how about after lockdown?
(Paul raises his hands in the air) I was excited to get out and about. I was so happy, it was great to meet up with friends and people.
East Kent Mencap is 75 years old this year. How important is that to you?
(Paul whistles!) It is very impressive, I would tell them to ‘Go for it’! I really enjoy East Kent Mencap, the staff, my good friends, and my flat.
Paul as a young boy
Finally, Paul, tell us about your passion for music?
I left school at 16. School was ok and I liked music, my teacher was Mr Hodge; he had no hands or legs, and played the piano with his elbows. I play the keyboard and like rock music. My cousin is a guitarist in the band ‘Black Rose’, it is the only music I listen to; there is no other music!
We had great fun at the Music Sessions with Support Worker, Mitch, at the Margate Hub. Mitch and I wrote music together too, he has been with East Kent Mencap for 16 years and is now in the Admin team. I also love to DJ and volunteer at East Kent Mencap discos.
“We had great fun at Mitch’s music sessions”
For me, this year I can’t wait for Monday Gateway nightclub to reopen, but for now, I am very happy doing what I do.
If you have a story to share about your experience with East Kent Mencap, please do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.