Sense TouchBase South East stands at the top of a hill, tucked away from the busy high street in Barnet. For over ten years, I have been commuting to this now retired battery factory to support people who are deafblind or have complex disabilities, and although it has existed for a quarter of a century, every day feels new. The centre was initially funded by a gift in a Will from a generous Sense supporter. TouchBase South East has been a gift to so many families, including my own.
My brother George is a year younger than me. I think most people can tell that we are brothers straight away but George is slightly different to me. He has a number of health conditions that have caused learning disabilities, visual, hearing and physical impairments, and epilepsy. With all of this, George is understandably very hesitant when meeting new people and going to new places. He is more than happy sitting on the sofa with our mum watching ‘Only Fools and Horses’.
George was a really happy kid and we played together as brothers do but behind the scenes, there was a lot going on. He had started getting seizures in his first couple of years. The doctors had tried every course of action but there was nothing that seemed to work. By the time he was about 3 or 4, the collective decision had been made to give him brain surgery to stop the seizures.
This was considered the best course of action for George’s wellbeing but, this type of surgery was still quite new. George was among the first ten people in the world to undergo this procedure. Thankfully, it was a huge success and George and I continued to play around and have fun. Even though he had been through a lot, I didn’t know any different.
Growing up was back on track after that. It was only when I was about 6 or 7 that I noticed any differences between me and George. I’d grown up helping him and making sure he was happy; I thought this was just what older brothers were meant to do. George started going to college and while I wasn’t allowed to go with him, I could see the difference in him every morning and night.
The college was not a suitable place for him. He became increasingly withdrawn and anxious. This was a totally different side to the little brother I knew growing up. He became very unhappy and distrusting of new people and places. When he became upset, it was almost like he couldn’t recognise us anymore. Each day proved unpredictable until our parents decided to take him out of college. His time there had really affected him to the point we were unsure whether he would want to do anything new again.
After George’s operation, Sense Children’s service came into the hospital and provided support to my parents about how best to support George with his impairments and this somehow stayed at the back of our minds. We were reminded of a Sense service near us in Barnet after George left college so we decided to have a look. It seemed perfectly suited to his needs and my parents decided it was the best place for him. My whole family were sceptical after George’s previous experience but, after 6 months we were noticing changes; I saw this and wanted to help others the way the staff had helped George and so I joined the team.
Over the past ten years, we have grown together under the same roof. My parents and I have seen a side of George we thought was lost forever. He is happier and more willing to try new things. He still gets anxious from time to time but with a bit of emotional support from a fantastic staff team, he is fine. Now he experiences more moments of joy than I had ever seen before. Moments that have come from being more trusting of people and building connections and friendships in his peer group; something that I have always wanted for him.
As for me, the past ten years have been a period of constant growth, personally and professionally. I started as a Support Worker, working with one person at a time to make sure their days were as positive and productive as possible. Now, I manage the entire service which supports over 60 people. It’s a tough job but not one I would give up too easily.
To paraphrase the Ancient Greeks, wise people plant trees under whose shade they will never sit. TouchBase South East is a tall tree with deep roots. It brings joy and happiness to so many people every day and to have such an incredible place come from a Gift in a Will is the greatest gift my brother and I could have received.
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