Jul 23, 2016
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These four simple words, capitalised and written in red felt tip on a blank postcard, and sent to the Postcards from the Edges address in May 2013, sum up what the project is all about. Although Postcards was created by the charity United Response to give disabled people a platform to speak out and tell the world about their lives, it ended up being about all of us, disabled or otherwise. The 800 postcards sent in remind us that we are all human, with shared hopes, fears and daily concerns which make us more similar than we are different.
That’s not to say that the project – which has taken the form of a website, a series of exhibitions and now a book - shies away from examining the specific situations disabled people face. Most of the postcards that poured in came
from people with disabilities, mental health needs, sensory impairments or other challenging conditions. Inevitably, many of them explore disability in some depth, by celebrating the tools people use to overcome barriers, such as wheelchairs, hearing aids or ipads, or expressing anger over stereotypes of disability, negative media portrayals or enforced isolation.
Nonetheless, even the most specific of the postcards touch on universal themes such as the joy of human connection or the trickiness of communication, ideas which we can all relate to. Many postcards don’t refer to disability at all, instead focusing on the sender’s hobbies, loved ones and views on life in general. The result is a fascinating glimpse into hundreds of different lives, a kaleidoscope of different experiences and voices.
Many of the postcards are full of humour and mischief, like Sue Kent’s poem about her desire to
wear high heels no matter the challenges or what other people think (see page 7). Others are more harrowing, such as Yvonne J Foster’s self portraits during moments of profound mental anguish (page 16). Others are beautiful, energetic, political, thoughtful, confrontational or hopeful. Indeed, when seen together, they are so varied that anyone who clings to stereotypes about disabled people will have to give them up.
That was always the intention behind Postcards, the most ambitious creative project in United Response’s 40 year history. Although it is an evolution from other projects United Response has initiated over the years, which also harnessed the creativity of disabled people or people with mental health needs, the idea of Postcards truly crystallised in 2012, the year of London’s Paralympic Games.
The Paralympics were a huge milestone for disability in this country, a moment where disabled
people were more visible – and in a positive way – than at any other time in UK history. However, United Response was aware throughout the summer of 2012 that not everyone can be sporting heroes and that when the Games were over there would still be millions of disabled people left practically invisible in this country. The charity decided to use its 40th anniversary year to create a space for such people to be seen and heard.
The blank postcard was chosen as a vehicle because it allowed participants to take part in the way that suited them best, so that anyone could get involved, no matter what physical or mental challenges they might face. If someone had difficulty with writing they could draw their postcard. If they couldn’t draw, they might be able to create a postcard directly on a website which was created for the purpose. United Response wanted there to be almost no barriers to taking part, at the same time as encouraging as much creativity
Introduction: Making Postcards
"Everybody's human, remember that."
1. Welcome To My World, Chris Wright
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as possible. Finally, a postcard is a blank space in which a person tells others about their unique experiences, which is exactly what this project was all about.
The website was built in late 2012 and the project was launched in February 2013. The hope was always that the project would grow by word of mouth, with disabled people telling their friends and family to take part. That’s why heavy handed marketing campaigns were shunned in favour of spreading the word through social media, particularly Twitter and blogs.
“There was an element of crossing our fingers and hoping,” remembers Su Sayer CBE, United Response’s chief executive and champion of the project. “We thought that people would leap at the opportunity to get creative and take part, but we couldn’t know for sure. We were asking a lot – not only for people to tell the world stories that were often painful and honest, but to be creative about it and then spend time sending the postcard in or creating it on the website.”
Indeed, for the first two months, things remained quiet. One thing which encouraged the team working on the project was the quality of the cards that did come in. An early submission which had a huge impact was Welcome To My World (card number 1, by Chris Wright). Chris is a 32 year old artist living in Stoke, who still deals with anxiety and depression so severe that he rarely goes out and never alone.
Chris’s postcard copied a section of his medical records at the age of 11, soon after he had attempted suicide three times. He told United Response that he had sent it in the hope that he could “get through to a few people that don’t understand and maybe help some people by talking about my experiences – I’ll take the ignorance on the chin if it helps others.” The postcard was fearless and beautiful, and its honesty was an early indicator of how people would connect with the project and pour their heart and creativity into it.
At around the same time, the
Disability Arts Online website wrote favourably about the project, which proved a watershed moment. Suddenly disabled people from up and down the country began to spread the word and postcards poured in from people with mental health needs, HIV, physical disabilities, brain tumours, autism and other people who simply felt inspired by the project. They arrived from Cornwall to Cumbria, Yarmouth to York, and even as far afield as Baltimore in the USA. They included photographs, poetry, collages, stories, confessions, paintings, computer art, children’s books and even knitted postcards.
By August more than 500 postcards had been created, enough to easily fill the Bankside Gallery, where the first Postcards exhibition was held. Thousands of people flocked to see the exhibition and its successors in Gateshead, Bristol and Liverpool. An extraordinary number of people felt compelled to add to the conversation by creating their own postcards, or by leaving comments on how the postcards opened their eyes to different lives
and experiences (see the conclusion to this book for more information on the exhibitions). Many also told us that they would love to see the postcards collected in a more permanent form, the main reason you are now holding this “book” today.
One of the biggest lessons people seemed to take away from the exhibitions, was that to think of disabled people as “other” than the rest of us may be foolish, as well as wrong. Disabled people are not always born that way: many of the postcard makers had been disabled by illnesses acquired during their lives, alongside people who have been disabled by the old age that awaits most of us.
Andy Wild is one example. Andy has a brain tumour, and associated epilepsy. Despite being on strong anticonvulsant drugs, he experiences daily seizures and explains that “after a seizure you get tired and the drugs you take to control the seizures also make you tired, so life can be very hazy, lived through a veil of tiredness.”
However, his postcard, My Energy And Joy (card number 2, by Andy Wild), chooses to focus on those “times when I become me again, when I nearly burst as I see the beauty around me – I am full of energy and joy.”
Andy reminds us that even if we don’t currently know anyone coping with disability we almost certainly will one day - and it could well be us. Or, as 21 year old Damon Jephcott writes in his card, which you can find on page 26: “Disability Can Happen To Anyone”.
Ultimately, Postcards from the Edges is not a series of dispatches from a “foreign country” of disability, although United Response hopes it does capture lives that are otherwise little understood. It is an exploration of a land that we all share, one which may just help us live together with a little more mutual understanding in the future.
2. My Energy And Joy, Andy Wild
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A note on the following postcards. While the postcards that were submitted to the project were intended as “stand alone” works, United Response did ask artists whether they wanted to say anything else about themselves, their lives or their reasons for participating. Some people brought strong political viewpoints to their postcards and told United Response more about these views – any such views reported here are those of the artists and not the charity.
United Response also asked people if they wanted to say anything further about any disability or condition they might have. Additional relevant information has been included, but only when given permission and where space permits.
There are just under 80 postcards present in the book, less than a tenth of the number submitted to the project. United Response endeavoured to choose a selection which best represented the range of postcards, in terms of who participated in the project, the subject matter and
the creative approach chosen. However, the full impact of the project can best be felt by looking at all of the postcards – which you can do at www.postcardsfromtheedges.org.uk. You can also add your voice to the conversation by making your own postcard.
3. Emma Thompson, “Forgotten Words” Oscar-winning actress Emma Thompson became one of the project’s early supporters, agreeing to create a postcard exploring openness and accessibility. Knowing that many people with learning disabilities struggle with reading, she decided to describe her own life without words. She writes: “I thought about what was most important to me and tried to draw it but not use any words! Words are sometimes counter-intuitive… (I think I have forgotten lots.)”
4. Patrick Burke, “Institutions” Patrick attended the opening of the Postcards exhibition in Liverpool and left us this powerful reminder of the injustices and
hardships people with learning disabilities experienced in institutions in the past. Patrick now works as a director for an advocacy group, but still remembers his former mistreatment.
5. Sue Kent, “High Heeled And Gloveless” Sue is the leading masseuse in the field of barefoot, no hands massage. She explains her vibrant, mischievous postcard and poem:
“As a woman my line of beauty is foreshortened, my arms are 8 inches long and I have 7 fingers. I love clothes but so often I cannot wear the clothes that are in the shops and so over the years I have turned to shoes as an expression of my sense of fashion. I often work in London and travel to my massage clinic by tube. As I grow older and the escalators go faster, I find my eyesight is challenging my ability to balance. People don’t notice my arms from behind and will knock me in their rush, and so the height of my shoes are reducing. This impending sensible shoe-wearing causes me immense stress and sadness, a vain and vacuous admission, and when I am stressed I write poems.”
6. Matthew Wren, “Hope” “Hope” is by Matthew, a trained artist who also has a great deal of personal experience of learning disability and autism. Before university he volunteered to work with a group of people with learning disabilities in their home, helping them to live full and active lives. However, this beautifully painted postcard was inspired by something more personal – the moment when his niece was diagnosed with autism.
“There’s a chaotic feel to the postcard, which is meant to reflect how much confusing information was thrown at my sister when my niece was diagnosed as having autism. All of the colours are primary colours because it was an emotional time – in some ways the colours are a little bit dark because it was a frightening time. But what came out of it all was hope, when we could see that if my niece got the right support she could live a happy and exciting life on her own terms. Now, some years later, she is such a vivid and bright personality.”
7. Brenda Charlton, “Independence”Brenda is the mother of a young man with physical and learning disabilities who is supported by United Response. With remarkable honesty and bravery, her postcard confronts one of the most painful issues facing parents of people with profound disabilities – the worry over who will be there for their child when they are gone. As Brenda says, “My postcard tells of the feelings I felt when I gave my precious much loved son his independence and a new life. A life we never dreamt he would choose or want – a life without us! How wrong we were!”
8. Anonymous, “Independent Living”This postcard was created by one of the participants at a postcards workshop held at the Boot Shop, an artistic community run by United Response and working in Easingwold, Yorkshire. This postcard reminds us that where we live is often a key part of our identity.
9. Vicky Knipe, “I’m An Actress” This postcard was also created at the Boot Shop workshop mentioned above. This direct postcard overturns lazy stereotypes of the types of work that people with learning disabilities can do.
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10. Anonymous, “I Grow My Own Vegetables”Another postcard created at the Boot Shop work-shop mentioned above. We all have different abili-ties and talents, and getting the chance to put them to use can be a crucial step towards building self esteem.
11. Pauline Heath, “The Wakening”Pauline lives in Gateshead and has cerebral palsy. She submitted this inventive postcard, combining poetry and paint, which was inspired by one of her many sleepless nights. Pauline explains: “Some nights I have so many thoughts running through my head which means I cannot sleep and I find myself tossing and turning all night. But most frustrating is the fact that this has a huge effect on me the next day, I will feel tired and unable to do much for the rest of the day. So one night I thought I would write a poem to express how I feel about this. I know other people also suffer this problem and hope-fully with this poem they can understand what I go through.”
12. Christopher Samuel, “POW”Christopher submitted this online at our Postcards from the Edges website. Christopher has Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, also commonly called heredi-tary sensory and motor neuropathy. This disease runs in families and causes problems with the sensory and motor nerves, the nerves that run from the arms and legs to the spinal cord and brain. Christopher himself explains, “I feel like a prisoner of war at times, held hostage by my progressive ill-ness CMT.”
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13. Christine Craven, “Family”Christine is 16 and is a pupil at Tweendykes, an acclaimed Special School located in Kingston Upon Hull. Her postcard is a reminder of how we all share similar goals, whether disabled or not, though some of us may face more challenges in reaching them.
14. Ashley Shaffer, “Hope”Ashley is a young deaf artist from Baltimore in the USA and was the first artist outside of the UK to take part in the project, marking the exciting moment when its reach became international. Ashley explains: “Art is my passion. I think that expressing yourself through art is like putting a seed in the ground to grow – beautiful and unstoppable. I also create art to show my support toward disabled people and to encourage people to look more at positive sides of their lives. I hope they look at this artwork and feel inspired. I hope it brightens their day and makes their lives colourful, not dull. Everyone is human, we are not that different at all.”
15. Agniezska, “Treatment”
16. Ess, “Scared”Submitted online, no further information.
17. Bridget Mayer, “Changing Perceptions”Bridget works in the community, supporting individuals with disabilities or mental health needs. Many of the people who do this work are motivated by their own experiences with disabled people in the past. Here Bridget shares her own inspiring story.
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18. Barbs, “Dealing With Media Rhetoric” Barbs explains, “I made this postcard to portray how the sick and disabled are made to feel in 2013 dealing with all the government and media rhetoric due to the political climate around taking away sickness and disabil-ity payments. The tests are well known to be barbarian and inaccurate with thousands of people being found fit for work many of whom are subsequently dying. This stirring up of hatred is immoral and unjust. I adore the groups like DPAC and Black Triangle who give me hope that we can combat all this negativity and fight back. Also my body itself can sometimes make me feel trapped as it no longer does what I wish it to do, though I am definitely on the road to dealing with that.”
19. The See Me Hear Me group, “Don’t Forget”One of the few cards to be sent by a collective rather than an individual, and an articulate reminder of how all communities are filled with people with different needs. We can only thrive when we learn to respect and com-municate with each other.
20. Vince Laws, “Human”Vince was one of the most prolific and creative contribu-tors to the Postcards project in its early days. Vince is from Norfolk, is HIV positive and experiences anxiety and depression. For this postcard, which uses the packaging from HIV medication to remind us of our shared human nature, Vince submitted the following companion poem, which lends the postcard even more power:
Human Immunodeficiency Virus, H.I.V.
Human first and foremost,A maker of mistakes.The mistake I made,Was to fall in love.Don’t let it happen to you. I is Immunodeficient –I catch more germs than most,Of course I prefer to think germs think meSuch an absolutely fabulous host! V is for Virus,It contains both I and Us.We’re all human first and foremost,And in the end, all dust.
21. David, “Peace”This postcard was a standout of a whole series of wonderful postcards submitted by the young pupils at Moorlands Primary School.
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22. Yvonne J Foster, “Collapse”Yvonne J Foster is an artist living with depression. Using an ipad, Yvonne uses altered photographs, words and layered images to create a visual account of her thoughts and emotions. Yvonne explains: “At any time my depression can take me to dark and extremely frightening places where I experience thoughts and feelings that cannot be expressed in words. I take a photograph of myself when my depression is at its worst. When I look at those photos I can see someone who is scared and vulnerable, and I react with more compassion than I would by looking in the mirror. This helps me look after myself better. I am not my depression. It’s not what defines me. My art documents events at a time in my life when I didn’t have a way to describe what I was feeling or the pain I was experiencing, so I took photographs, I drew pictures and I used whatever words I could.”
23. James, “People”This postcard was submitted online. It quotes Naoki Higashida, a Japanese teenager with autism who has written a book explaining his world so that others may better understand him and others like him.
24. Val Kerry, “Equal”Val Kerry, an artist from Manchester, was a prolific participant in the project who was also notable for providing a huge amount of support to other artists. Describing her participation in the project, Val says she “entered because I think the project has an emotive quality.” She continues, “I’ve had experience of being cared for at my most vulnerable of times after having cancer aged 30, and I’ve also cared for others. It is my belief that even ‘abled’ people have disabled thoughts and actions on many levels.”
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25. Claire Halter, “Be Open Minded”Claire works as a support worker in West Sussex, helping people with learning disabilities to live independently and get out and about in the local community. She created this postcard at a workshop held in Littlehampton - it reflects her wishes for a better and more welcoming society.
26. Simon Partridge, “Black Cat”Simon, from Dover, has suffered from profound mental health difficulties for most of his adult life, and has always used creativity and humour as outlets. He is a prolific writer and illustrator. “Black Cat” is merely one panel from an entire postcard comic Simon submitted to Postcards, one of the most inventive and entertaining submissions made.
27. Alison Kerridge, “My Happy Life” Alison, from the Bristol area, is one of many contributors to the project who has a learning disability. The postcard is a collaboration between Alison and her United Response support worker, an example of how people with learning disabilities are able to express themselves and participate in the wider world with just a little support. It captures all the many elements which, taken together, add up to a happy life for Alison, from health, to clubs, to family. It shows how the aspirations and passions of people with learning disabilities are much the same as anyone else’s. As Alison writes, “I did this card to let people know how happy and fulfilled my life is with the help and support of my lovely family, friends and support workers.”
28. Lee, “iPad Gave Me Independence” Lee has complex disabilities which affect his mobility and ability to communicate. He is one of many contributors who wanted to celebrate how technology had transformed his life and given him a freedom and voice he had never enjoyed before. Lee’s increased independence is also the topic of the postcard “Independence”, by his mother Brenda, on page 8. Lee says: “This postcard is about me and my new iPad. It changed my life because now I can communicate about what I want. I can take pictures of places and people who are important to me. I can tell people what I would like to eat and drink. I can use my iPad in the community.”
29. Liz Hughes, “See The Child”Liz, an academic from York, submitted this postcard celebrating her son’s vibrant personality. “My son has autism which is an “invisible disability” in that there is no obvious visual clue and if you saw him happily playing in the park you may not realise that he has a disabling condition. However, when problems arise due to the autism, he becomes very noticeable in public as he can be very distressed: crying, flailing about and screaming. When this happens we have a very negative reaction from passers by including some very hurtful comments. I have heard people mutter “that child needs a good slap” and “what’s wrong with that child, he’s not normal”. I think what I was trying to show with the postcard is that you only notice my child when he is in full “autistic swing” and never realise that this is only a tiny part of him, his life, and his behaviour. I wish that people would treat children with autism with as much compassion as they would a child with a more visible disability, but equally I want people to realise that a disabled child isn’t defined by their disability and to see beyond this to the person inside.”
30. Ian Pyper, “Swallow The Lies”Ian has drawn ever since he can remember and sees it as a vital part of his life. His work has been described as “Future Primitive” and has been shown in galleries in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. He explains: “I’m an artist with only two fingers and a thumb on each hand – not something I consider so much as a disability, but more a physical difference. This postcard was inspired by ATOS and their treatment of vulnerable people in their ‘medical’ assessments and the reported numbers of people who have died as a result of being found fit for work when they were most obviously not capable. I have a real passion and anger about the way the current government and local authorities are treating disabled people and this is being reflected in some of my drawings at the moment!”
31. Geoff Holt, “At Home At Sea”Geoff Holt is from Hampshire and is a c5 quadriplegic, paralysed from the chest down. He submitted this moving and inspirational postcard online, explaining: “I submitted this postcard because I hoped it would make people think about the possibilities still available to them despite disability. My postcard shows the moment I became the first quadriplegic to sail unassisted across the Atlantic Ocean, arriving back at the beach where I had broken my neck 25 years earlier. It symbolises hope and aspirations.”
32. Melanie, “Break The Cycle” Submitted online.
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33. Camille, “Alone”Submitted online.
34. Ellen Wilson, “Inspired Every Day”.
35. Eric Coates, “Great Boyfriend”Eric was one of the participants at a special postcards workshop held at the Boot Shop, an artistic community based in Easingwold, Yorkshire. His warm hearted card is a reminder that while some people may list their achievements in terms of career advancement or status symbols, others see them as the quality of their human relationships.
36. Sarah Bailey, “The New Me”At a time when social care funding is under threat due to continued austerity measures, Sarah’s postcard is a powerful and joyous reminder of how good support can transform someone’s life. Sarah is 35, lives in Nottingham, is supported by United Response, and has a learning disability, as well as a history of mental health difficulties. She explains: “The postcard is about how much I have changed in the past few years. I used to have a bad life and never felt good about myself. I like to wear makeup now and grow my hair long. In my postcard, I wanted to show the new Sarah. My support staff make me feel good about myself, they help me to look nice and I like people to notice the change in me. Everyone now says how different I am and how pretty I am. It makes me feel really really happy. Seeing my daughter and spending time with her makes me happy, and doing new things with my support staff like going on day trips and baking cupcakes. It is great to see my postcard with all the others; I hope people look at it.”
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37. Ivor Epps, “Love”Ivor is 68, lives in Yorkshire and has a learning disability. He is a prolific and enthusiastic artist.
38. Shoshana Pezaro, “Life”Shoshana is 34, lives in Brighton and has multiple sclerosis. This postcard incorporates a photograph by Patrick McCarthy. She says, “I submitted a postcard because I thought the project was a great opportunity to challenge views about disability and disabled people. My postcard could have read, ‘I used to be a dancer, I now need carers to help me wash and dress. I struggle to walk 10 metres with a walking frame, I live with constant pain and I have to manage every hour of my life around fatigue. I had to sell my business, my husband left me, etc etc…” For that is one side of my life. But for that very reason, my ultimate aim in life is to have as much fun as possible. I want to get as much fulfilment and success from life as possible. Multiple Sclerosis is my illness, I am still me. And I never confuse the two. I hope that when people see my postcard it challenges the notion of ‘pity’.”
39. Luke Turner, “Magic Wheels”Luke has multiple complex support needs including cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, dual sensory loss, physical disabilities and epilepsy. He has high support needs, and a core part of that support is the wheelchair he needs for mobility. Luke’s mother told his support worker that when you meet Luke, you meet his chair too and this needs to reflect him positively to others as well as meeting his needs. That inspired them to work together on this bright and positive card, one which challenges the way that wheelchairs can be seen as symbolising tragedy or loss.
40. Gareth Rowley, “My Mind”Gareth is 18. He explains: “My postcard shows how my mind works and how my thoughts interlink with each other. The design is in the style of Kandinsky the artist”.
41. Carl Harris, “Everybody’s Human”Carl works for a major learning disability charity and submitted this postcard about the most powerful lesson that work has taught him.
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42. Matthew Chadkirk, “Being Disabled Does Not Make Me Inspirational”Matthew uses a wheelchair and has been involved in student politics, serving as a disabled student’s officer at Royal Holloway, University Of London. He explains his playful but pointed postcard: “I am sick of people seeing me doing normal things and finding them inspirational simply because I’m disabled and use a wheelchair. That’s what this image is designed to say.”
43. Damon Jephcott, “Disability Can Happen To Anyone”Damon, 21, was another of the participants at a special postcards workshop held at the Boot Shop, an artistic community based in Easingwold, Yorkshire. His postcard is a thought provoking reminder that disability is not necessarily something you are born with – anyone can acquire one at any stage in their life.
44. Scott Johnson, “Don’t Leave Me Out” Scott is 19 and from Staffordshire.
45. Carol Short, “The Way I Am”Carol’s postcard – starkly honest and self explanatory – was one of a few postcards which particularly seemed to move those who read it. Its honesty about subjects that are often considered too “embarrassing to be discussed” are exactly what the Postcards project was created to provide a platform for.
46. Rose, “Briar Rose Girl”Rose submitted this online with the following explanation: “This piece was included in an exhibit with many other artists, projected on the side of a skyscraper in NYC and displayed on digital screens in a show. It was a great day - but according to the current government in the UK, my work isn’t important. Welfare reform, social services cuts, cuts to the arts, changes to tax credits for self-employed people, abolishing of the Independent Living Fund, sanctions, the DLA/PIP/Universal Credit fiasco - the death of a thousand cuts, topped with headlines regularly blaming the disabled, under-employed, single parents and other “unwashed masses” for the recession, even while MPs in the UK get a payrise. I will paint as long as I can, before I get a brown envelope telling me I don’t work enough, I’m not disabled enough, I’m not productive enough. I’ll have to stack cans in Poundland until I get ill and get sanctioned. I wait for that day in resignation. But I’ll remember, once I was an artist - and once my work appeared in NYC. At least they couldn’t take that away.”
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47. Nathan Lee Davies, “Society”Nathan, 36, is from Wrexham, North Wales, and was one of the most enthusiastic participants in the project. He has a condition called Friedreich’s Ataxia – a progressive, genetic disease of the nervous system that has left him using a wheelchair. Nathan’s postcards are creative, humorous and thought provoking - often all at the same time - and tackle issues such as poverty, politics and isolation. In this card, created painstakingly from individual dot stickers with his support worker, Nathan is the red dot who feels apart from the crowd of mainstream society, represented in the mass of yellow dots.
48. Rowan, “Plato”This was submitted online and its message – attributed to the Greek philosopher Plato – seemed to capture part of the essence of the postcards project.
49. Lauren, “Strong Enough”Another postcard which was submitted online and which seemed to thematically link with the one above. Taken together, they are a reminder of how we all face challenges, but if we are still here that also means we are strong enough to handle them.
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50. David Nicholls, “My First Flight”David is 77 and has learning and physical disabilities. He created this postcard at United Response’s Community Network in Kent, working with his support workers to celebrate the fact that – with a little support – it is never too late to achieve your life’s dreams.
51. Anonymous, “Freedom”Submitted online.
52. Julie Puttick, “The Voting System”Julie works in social care.
53. John, “I Need A Friend”John is 57 and submitted this heartbreaking postcard at the Learning Disability Today conference in London.
54. Shandy’s Dad, “Armchair Doctors”Submitted online.
55. Amy Simmons, “Autism From The Inside Out”Amy is a student with autism. She explains her card: “My postcard challenges assumptions surrounding autism. Often, non-autistic people assume that they understand us more than we understand ourselves, that every imperfection or quirk we have can be attributed to autism and that we’re limited not by their attitudes, but by autism itself. Each autistic individual is unique; the media and Hollywood tend to only portray autism in its most extreme, classic form: allow us alone to form your understanding of us! Although autism can cause issues in itself, most issues we face are from ignorance or a lack of autism awareness in wider society. Some autistic individuals internalise these ignorant attitudes,
resulting in a negative self-image. People have addressed me through my mentor, Steve, in my presence: this is highly offensive and frustrating. I volunteer in a charity shop but I’m only allowed to clean, it’s not considered safe for me to use a kettle, a till or steamer. Steve was also accused of co-writing my assignments with me, because the university felt I was incapable of academic success by myself! However, through an autistic community project I belonged to, I joined the now independent band, ‘Born to be Different’, runners-up in Spotlight, a Black Country-wide talent competition for disabled people. I have various autistic and non-autistic friends. I attend the University of Birmingham. I have a wonderful support network (my parents, brother, other relatives, my friends and my dog, Miller, who eases my anxieties, simply by being himself)! Thank you for reading my story.”
56. Martine Norton, “A Very Long Continuum”Martine is 55 and lives in Kent, where she works in the community with people with learning disabilities and mental health needs. She says: “All people need to be accepted and loved and we all have a variety of experiences through life that may help or hinder our sense of belonging. Having disabilities can inhibit our sense of self and therefore push a person to the margins of social life. If a person has been abandoned, rejected or traumatised because of a disability they need to be helped to feel included and loved above all. In other words we are all fundamentally the same in terms of what we need, irrespective of our genetic make up or upbringing. Though where each of us might be on the continuum of life will of course vary according to what is happening to us at any one time and what has happened to us in the past. So for me the key message in this postcard is acceptance in an unconditional way, particularly inclusion in family and community life for all members of society.”
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57. Sam Ohene-Adu, “Climbing A Ladder”Sam has a relative with a disability and told us: “Life is about climbing a ladder. You need support from birth and a process of development to get to the top of the ladder. Physical support, financial support, emotional support and a pillar like a wall for the ladder to stand against.”
58. Alan Vaughan, “How I Write”Alan is 59 and explains his card simply: “This is how I write. I write a lot as I am deaf. Most of all I like to finger spell. This card says all the things I like.” It’s one of many postcards which explore how communication is far more complex and varied than most of us commonly realise.
59. Anonymous, “My Wish Is For A Lovely Girlfriend”Another postcard submitted at the Learning Disability Conference, and a reminder of how many of us share the same dreams, no matter how different our lives and backgrounds may be.
60. Paul, “Being Independent”This postcard, submitted by Paul - who lives in Kent, was born deaf and has a learning disability - is another reminder of how assistive technologies have transformed the lives of many people with disabilities. It is easy for those of us who do not rely on such technologies to overlook how they have transformed millions of lives.
61. Jade Rankin, “Silent Victim, Silent Witness” Jade, 20, recently trained to become a support worker, working with people with learning disabilities. She explains of her card: “In my spare time I love writing poetry, and when I recently did my training to be a support worker, the section on abuse made me upset. I came up with this poem to show their point of view when suffering from abuse.”
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62. Nathan Lee Davies, “Taxing Times”For the first postcard he submitted to the project, Nathan (see also page 28) created a sign protesting the bedroom tax on his duvet, using 2p coins. He explained: “I was fortunate enough to win my appeal against this ludicrous levy, but I know plenty of people who have been much less fortunate. ‘No To Bedroom Tax’ is written with 2p coins on my bed to symbolise the poverty of the disabled population. I couldn’t afford to use £1 coins. The Coalition has seen to that.”
63. Derrick, “Jamie”This card was submitted online and seemed a perfect companion piece to Nathan’s “Taxing Times”. It’s a reminder that while austerity has had an impact on everyone, disabled people have often borne much of the brunt of spending cuts and benefit squeezes.
64. Kelly Knox, “Challenging The Perceptions Of Beauty”Model Kelly Knox read about the Postcards project online and immediately felt moved to take part, submitting her postcard online. She has since become one of the project’s most passionate advocates. Kelly, the winner of BBC Three’s 2008 Britain’s Missing Top Model competition, felt strongly about the barriers disabled people experience and says the driving force in her career has been her determination to “challenge people’s perceptions about disability and beauty”. Kelly’s postcard is a picture of herself as featured in Marie Claire China magazine (something she doesn’t think would have happened in the UK) with the words “disabled model invisible in the perfect world of fashion” emblazoned across the image. She explains: “I wanted to create a postcard to push my message out there further, inspire other people affected by disability to create their own postcard and get their stories, thoughts and feelings heard, too. So many young people are under pressure to look a certain way because they are told every day by images they see that beauty is one dimensional. Surely it would be healthier if young people were encouraged to just be themselves and not a copy?”
65. Deepa, “Me”Deepa submitted this card online, commenting: “I am what I am if you love me or not. Don’t judge me because I have seen more than you could imagine.”
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66. Jimmy Duff, “What’s In My Head” This watercolour was painted in half an hour during a workshop at the Community Network in Kent. It was painted by a man of 84 with mental health needs. Jimmy had already impressed friends at the Community Network with his guitar playing but nobody had any idea that he could also paint until he dropped into the workshop, saw the postcards and the paints, and crafted this beautiful postcard. It reminds us of the talents millions of people hide. Asked about his postcard, Jimmy simply said he had captured “what’s in my head”. Asked about its resemblance to the great Italian lakes, he smiled and confirmed that he had been to Lake Maggiore as a young man – this memory clearly burns brightly for Jimmy.
67. Rachael, “Isolation” Rachael created this postcard at a workshop organised by disability charity Scope for the parents of disabled children. Rachael explains her heartbreaking card: “It describes in pictures how it feels for me as a mother of a disabled child on a daily basis. Isolation”
68. Val Kerry, “Positive Influences”Val (see also page 17) was one of the most prolific contributors to the project. She explains of this work: “I am always inspired by people who refuse to stand by and do nothing when another person is deemed different or becomes isolated by society, or their community. Prior to studying art I’d been training as a Crown Court reporter and decided to use an annual theme given by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in 2009 which I transcribed into machine shorthand on a Palantype machine similar to stenotype. I then overlaid the text with images of people I found to have had a positive influence in their lifetime. The first is Miep Gies, responsible for hiding Anne Frank during Holland’s Nazi occupation in WW2. The second is Nelson Mandela, who worked his whole life against difficult odds to make it happen. The third is Mother Teresa of Calcutta. She made it her lifelong mission to work with all those shunned by society. Whilst I have used renowned figures known for their humanistic values I am minded that we all know of people that we see every day who shine as a positive influence on us who are not, or ever will be famous, but still go that extra mile to make a difference to others.”
69. Andrew Newman, “Spondy”One of several postcards submitted to the project which expressed anger at the way welfare reforms and public spending cuts have fallen on the shoulders of disabled people.
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70. Sam Clive “Keep On Smiling” and 71. Gabby Clive’s “My Brother” belong together, not least because they were the only postcards submitted by a mother and daughter team. Sam and Gabby were attendees at a postcards workshop organised by Scope for the families of children with disabilities. Sam and Gabby came along with son and brother Cameron, 12, who is profoundly disabled, dependent on a wheelchair and unable to communicate verbally. Their postcards overturn the idea that disability is a tragedy for a family by expressing their love of Cameron, the joy he brings into their lives and – on 9 year old Gabby’s part – the ambition to keep providing support and love long into the future. Disability certainly changes families but there can be many unexpected rewards as well as challenges.
72. Adam Bray, “Art Saves Lives” Adam is a musician, artist and poet based in Kent. As an artist, he is highly influenced by the work of the die brucke school of German expressionism, Punk rock, and Kentish street culture. His work has been collected both nationally and internationally. Adam explains his postcard: “I have been working for United Response for four years now. I first started while completing a degree in fine art, and loved the job from the outset as it seemed to me that it was an environment conducive to the creative mind-set, in as much as it was working with people that seemed to have been largely forgotten about by the wider society. The role of the artist is to engage in areas that others will not.” Indeed, this was one of the main purposes of the postcards project, to shine a spotlight on lives that are often ignored.
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If all Postcards from the Edges had achieved was to provide an outlet for people with disabilities or mental health needs to express themselves, it would still have served a positive purpose. Many of the participants talked about how taking part in the project had boosted their self esteem or helped them to feel like what they had to say was of value. Others reported that the social connections they had made within the “Postcards community”, with many artists discussing their work with each other, had been a hugely positive result of the project.
However, the project was also designed to make an impact in the wider world. While it was crucial that the project connected with disabled people, United Response also wanted it to reach the general public, and to tackle entrenched attitudes and stereotypes about disability. Just as the Paralympics shone a light on the sporting achievements of disabled people, United Response hoped Postcards
would – albeit in a smaller way – shine a spotlight on the day to day lives, and creativity, of disabled people.
That’s why a series of four exhibitions to be held across the country were always a pivotal part of the project. The first of these was held at the Bankside Gallery in London, in the shadow of the Tate Modern. As this picture shows (number 73, photograph by Jo Hone), the postcards became a vibrant, kaleidoscopic display when all laid out in an exhibition format.
The exhibition went on to appear in Gateshead, Bristol and Liverpool. As at the start of the project, this was a nerve wracking time. All of the galleries chosen were free and open to the general public and in places where there was a high number of passersby who might be lured in – from the famous Sage music venue on the banks of the Tyne to the award-winning bar and art venue, Camp and Furnace, in Liverpool.
Conclusion: Postcards in Public
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But would people stop and take a look? And would the postcards make an impact?
Thanks in no small part to powerful features in The Guardian and the Daily Mirror, the exhibitions were a huge success. In addition to the 10,000 visitors to the Postcards website, around 4,000 people viewed the exhibitions, many donating money, buying postcards or leaving passionate feedback.Even more movingly, many visitors made their own postcards. Small tables with art materials were an integral part of the exhibitions, allowing anyone to get involved. In London, a remarkable 1 in 20 visitors took the time to sit down and express themselves, often very powerfully. Just read number 74 with its bittersweet declaration that after a lifetime of depression the maker is, at 65, finally happy. Others expressed appreciation for what the postcard makers had achieved, such as Andie, on number 75: “I had no idea what I would see / Or how what I saw would move me.”
It was particularly exciting when visitors responded to individual postcards. Anthony Wheeler is 18
and disabled, but when asked about the challenges he faced, he didn’t focus on what might have been predicted, but on his red hair. His “I Am Ginger” postcard (number 76) became a favourite of many visitors, and led to a response in the form of the vivacious “I Am Ginger Too” (number 77), left anonymously at the Bankside Gallery. This one moment – when a visitor who is presumably not disabled playfully connected with someone disabled over something they share – sums up everything Postcards hoped to achieve.
So many people and organisations contributed to the success of Postcards from the Edges that naming them all is impossible. However, we would particularly like to thank the Bankside Gallery of London, the Sage in Gateshead, the Grant Bradley Gallery of Bristol and the Camp & Furnace venue in Liverpool for providing invaluable advice and support, as well as wonderful exhibition spaces. Reason Digital were perfect partners in delivering a website simple and effective enough for postcard makers to use to powerful effect.
In terms of individuals, President, Martyn Lewis CBE, was a great champion of the project from the very beginning, and a superb host at our London launch. Sue Kent, Pauline Heath, Alison Kerridge, Nathan Lee Davies, Val Kerry, Chris Wright, Andy Wild, Ian Pyper, Ivor Epps, Amy Simmons, Ashley Shaffer and Yvonne Foster were all postcard makers who went on to play significant roles in helping us promote the project. Thanks also to all of the high profile personalities who supported us, particularly Emma Thompson,
Kelly Knox, Dame Sarah Storey, Hannah Cockroft, Sir David Gower and Sally Gunnell. We are also grateful to the many bloggers and journalists who supported us, particularly Disability Arts Online, Mumsnet, The Guardian and Ros Wynne-Jones of the Daily Mirror. Without your help in spreading the word, the project couldn’t have been a success.
Last, but not least, a huge thank you to every single person who contributed a postcard. You made it happen.
United Response was founded 40 years ago in West Sussex by Su Sayer CBE, who remains its Chief Executive today. It is now a major national charity which supports people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and physical disabilities across England and Wales. It supports people in many different ways – whether providing just a little help for people to get out and about in their community, or providing more intensive support for people with complex needs. United Response works towards a world where disabled people are equal participants in society with the same rights and opportunities as everyone else. When United Response opened its very first supported living house in Sussex in 1973, most people with learning disabilities lived locked away from society, in large institutions. United Response broke with the status quo by supporting people to live in their own home at the heart of a neighbourhood. It has
always believed that when disabled people are visible and known in their community, prejudice loses its power.
Over the years, United Response has worked on many projects and campaigns designed to give disabled people their rightful voice. In 2007 it gave people with mental health needs cameras and training and the result was an extraordinary exhibition, Mental Wealth, which appeared in the Houses of Parliament at the time of the crucial Mental Health Act. In 2010 it led the acclaimed Every Vote Counts campaign, which promoted democracy among people with learning disabilities and led to a doubling in the numbers of the people it supported voting in the last election.
About United Response
Registered officeUnited ResponseVantage House1 Weir RoadLondon SW19 8UX
Tel: 020 8246 5200Fax: 020 8780 9538
United Response is a charity registered with the Charity Commission and a company limited by guarantee. Charity no. 265249. N United Response January 2014.
United Response is a national charity supporting young people and adults with a wide range of disabilities to live the lives they choose.
For more information about Postcards from the Edges, or to create your own postcard, go to www.postcardsfromtheedges.org.uk