Taco Hell – City Team Roll On To Victory

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Feb 182011

Roller Derby – Europes fastest growing sport – and Aberdeen is well up to speed. Voice’s Stephen Davy-Osborne and Fred Wilkinson were in attendance to check out the latest bout and spread the word about this new and exciting scene.

Last Saturday saw upward of two hundred brightly clad skaters and supporters descend on the Beach Leisure Centre for a roller derby of epic proportions between Aberdeen’s home grown team the Granite City Roller Girls and the Fear Maidens of Perth. The event was billed as ‘Taco Hell’ – sombreros and painted on moustaches being the order of the day as players and spectators endorsed the Mexican theme.

After an exciting display of speed, skill, balance, agility, and more than a few meaty challenges, the final score was a resounding success for the home team at 129 v 57.

Speaking after the derby, chairwoman of GCRG, Kirsten Reid (aka Krusty Thud) enthused by the success experienced by her up and coming team.

“Saturday was a huge success! 150+ spectators from all over Scotland and some from further field, made it a brilliant day.”

Equally enthused, treasurer Katrina Bird (Blood Red Bird) added:

“It was a good score from us but the Fear Maidens didn’t make it easy and we will have a fight on our hands with our return bout in Perth later on in the year”

The GCRG were founded in 2007 as the Aberdeen Aces, but a lack of training facilities meant that training could only take place in car parks, and other large, flat, open spaces.

It wasn’t until late 2008 that they were offered training ground with Aberdeen Lads Club in Tillydrone, that they re-launched themselves with a new name and set about recruiting new members, which initially proved somewhat of a struggle.

However, with the release of the film ‘Whip It!’ starring Drew Barrymore and Ellen Page, and an inspirational advertisement from Nike featuring roller derby, there came an influx of new members – with plans now to create a second team for the Granite city.

All this extra publicity can only do good for the relatively unknown sport, which has become the fastest growing contact sport in America and Europe.

“Finally, roller derby is being taken seriously and we are deeply proud to be a part of it” agree Kirsten and Katrina.

With their recent successes, the GCRG are keen to take their team to the next level, even considering the possibility of putting team members forward for the Scotland team competing in the first roller derby world cup, being held in Canada in December of this year.

The team are a non-profit organisation and fund everything themselves. They regularly hold fundraisers, with their sponsorship team always on the look-out for new sponsors, no matter how big or small, to help the team progress to their full potential.

However, it is not all about raising funds for the club –  a home bake sale at the derby this weekend past also saw the team raise over £100 for Northsound’s Cash for Kids charity.
Early March sees the girls heading down to Newcastle to play the Newcastle Roller Girls in their furthest away bout yet, followed by a home game against Edinburgh’s Cannon Belles at the Beach Leisure Centre on April 2nd. More details of these events can be found on the GCRG website:


Feb 102011

By Fred Wilkinson.

Aberdeen Voice will be taken offline for a period this weekend for essential major surgery in preparation for our site upgrade. Many of you will have read the recent AV article outlining our need to upgrade our hosting arrangements in response to growing readership which our present set up displays signs that it is struggling to cope with.

See Article:  https://aberdeenvoice.com/2011/01/aberdeen-voice-an-update/

At this point we do not know how long the site will be down, but we understand the work involves more of a rebuild than a refurbishment. However, hard wired for pace and efficiency, our tech-man  is the kind of guy who works for exactly 26 hours a day, but only when everyone else is asleep, so we are fairly optimistic that the changes will be relatively smooth and swift.

Although the changes to be implemented this weekend are primarily to add facilities for more efficient team working as well as preparation for the site upgrade, it is likely that readers will see an improvement in page loading times as a result.

As for the site upgrade, we are still not entirely sure when this will take place. We are all too aware of the risks to site stability the longer this is delayed, and proud as we are to have kept Aberdeen Voice running for 6 months on a total budget of £40, somewhat regrettably, this is not sustainable.
However I am pleased to report some progress. An Aberdeen Voice bank account has been opened, and between donations pledged, and donations already received, we have sufficient funds to cover the first 6 months of our improved hosting package.

For the most part, the funds so far have come from the long overlooked and fluffiest corners of the pockets of AV team members in addition to the time effort and resources they willingly contribute on a daily basis, free of charge, in favour of keeping Aberdeen Voice as loud, clear and inclusive as possible.

If you enjoy reading Aberdeen Voice and would like to contribute towards our growth and longevity, then please consider making a donation.

Aberdeen Voice operates, and will continue to operate as a ‘not-for-profit’ organisation, and will continue to be run by volunteers. All monies raised/contributed will be used for running costs and operational expenses only.

( Ahem …. cue new fangled button …  now let us pray! )

Feb 042011

By Fred Wilkinson with thanks to Aberdeenshire Cllr. Martin Ford.

According to Donald Trump ( as quoted in the Press And Journal 31.01.2011 ):

“We have consistently said that we have no interest in compulsory purchase and have never applied for it.”

The discussion which ensued in the form of readers comments below the article online has done nothing to clarify whether or not it is the case that Trump International Golf  Links Scotland ever did pursue this course of action, and it would appear that the P&J do not feel obliged to clear this matter up.
However we at Aberdeen Voice are always willing to lend our fellow journos a hand, so if anyone out there at Aberdeen Journals are interested in helping out your confused readers, read on.

Jan 072011

First of all, on behalf of AV, Fred Wilkinson would like to wish a Happy New Year to all our readers and contributors… and everyone else as well.

Whatever it is you have found to celebrate of late, whether the glittering blanket of snow some are glad to see the back of, a significant birth, time off work, turkey and trimmings, drinking to the seasonally normalised abnormal levels, the giving and recieving of gifts, the kids faces when they saw the decorations, the wrappings come off a coveted item, the effort of removing all the sellotape before said paperage could be recycled, we hope you had a good combination of joy, madness, and involuntary downtime.

Anyway, underneath all that razzamatazz, that highly anticipated and revered date, the 25th of December, marked exactly 6 months since publication of the first issue of Aberdeen Voice.

Determined and dedicated though our team may be, I doubt if any of us would have dared 6 months ago to predict we would be publishing regularly into a new year – otherwise we would all have ran off and done something less daft – like nude underwater indoor bowling, or low impact breathing, or …
The truth is, we didn’t know what lay ahead – only that there was an appetite for an alternative, and it would appear that appetite is still there and growing.

Today, by contrast, I doubt if any of the Aberdeen Voice team would bet against us providing a regular service beyond next Xmas and into 2012. However, the coming year poses a different set of challenges.

Our readership has grown steadily to the point where we have all but outgrown our present hosting arrangements. We are already experiencing dips in performance at peak periods, and current projections would indicate that a major upgrade is required within weeks if we are to satisfy the growing, global as well as local demand.

The fact that we have managed to run AV for 6 months on a budget of a few coins atop £40 never fails to raise a chuckle, and a proud chuckle at that – if there ever was such a thing.
However, whether we like it or not, due to you pesky readers multiplying like bloody vermin, we have no choice, other than to kill you all, but move to a more professional package. And so we now face an annual budget of around £500 to maintain progress at the rate that you, yes YOU, the readers demand!

We do not accept payment for adverts or in exchange for publishing any kind of material as we believe that this compromises our status as an independent organisation – and an independent organisation we wish to remain.

However, that’s not to say we will refuse a beer in exchange for a quiet mouth and an open ear – as long as we can buy you one back in exchange for your silence and attention while we feedback our assessment of your story, your angle, your character and your parentage.

But seriously folks, we do feel the time has come to seek assistance with future running costs.

We will of course be putting our hands in our respective collective pooches as we believe the value of AV is greater than the aforementioned cost, and in view of feedback to date, we know many of you agree.

With the planned introduction of a ‘donate’ button, and a fundraising event coming up soon, we are confident that we will not only continue to encourage grassroots citizen journalism and regularly publish items of relevance to the people of Aberdeen and the Northeast, but we will have access to features which will facilitate the creation of a better and more flexible product.

Whether or not you will find yourselves able to ease our financial burden, we hope that you will continue to support Aberdeen Voice by contributing articles and information, reading regularly and spreading the word.

One way or another we, will continue in our role of supporting freedom of expression and democracy within the widest acceptable bounds in the known journalistic universe … and wider if you toss the odd coin into our fountain of genuine fresh fairy tears – of joy I hasten to add.

We are the vehicle – you are the voice….. and that voice is getting louder… so, mind ye dinna scare the bairns noo!

Wishing you all the biggest and best in 2011 – AV

Nov 192010

By Fred Wilkinson with thanks to Stuart Reid.

Thousands in Aberdeen are shocked and distraught by the news last week of Aberdeen City council’s proposal to cease funding schools based music tuition via closure or privatisation of its Music Service.

The service consists of 50 music instructors who teach all orchestral instruments and singing, guitar, piano/keyboard and bagpipes in schools in Aberdeen.

If approved on Dec 3, the proposal would effectively bring to an end the entitlement to free tuition and access to a wide range of instruments for students of parents in receipt of Income Support or Child Tax Credits.

The news has sparked outrage amongst students, former students and teachers in the Aberdeen area and, in addition to a 6000 strong Facebook Campaign [1] and a 1859 strong petition [2], it is expected that more than a thousand people will attend a demonstration against the proposal on November 30th. [3]

The proposal to withdraw music tuition is one of twenty-two proposed cuts to education, culture and sports services on page 21 of Aberdeen city council’s Priority Based Budgeting Final Draft Report. [4]

A final year education student told Aberdeen Voice of her concerns:

“I feel very strongly about this issue as I am currently about to become a primary school teacher and I have already witnessed first hand how music improves attainment in all subjects, fosters team spirit and sustained hard work.”

As well as the loss of a valued educational facility, it is feared that jobs in music education may be axed, and it is unlikely that the pool of instruments currently in circulation will be maintained. The opportunity to simply enjoy music in a supportive environment is perhaps unseen, and unquantifiable – and therefore may be an easy target when requiring to make savings

1% of the education budget ensures that 14% percent of school pupils receive music tuition

There is a danger that the term “you don’t miss what you’ve never had” may be a strong card in how this proposal plays out. If so, then it is a good time for musicians and music students to shout loud about the value of music tuition and its part in determining their life choices.

Former pupil of Aberdeen Music Services Stuart Reid is all too aware of the value of the service he has enjoyed:

“My experiences there have profoundly influenced what I now do. It was the exceptional tuition and wide range of youth groups run by the service that first let me experience the joy of music making.  I am presently a final year music student at Birmingham Conservatoire; if it had not been for the music service then I would not be doing what I am now.

“Aberdeen City Council has good reason to take pride in its music services. Most importantly it can take pride in the men and women it employs in this department, whose wealth of knowledge and devotion to their profession help maintain the services consistently high standards. This is entirely the wrong area to assess in cost saving measures.

Indeed, accounting for just 1% of the education budget, the music service surely represents excellent value for money. On the ‘Help Aberdeen Music Service’ page on Facebook, Cllr Martin Greig comments:

“14% of the school population benefits from this service. Music education is a tradition of which we can be justifiably proud”

Let us look at those figures again. 1% of the education budget ensures that 14% percent of school pupils receive music tuition (the percentage who benefit will be somewhat higher).  Is it just me, or does this read like a case for increasing that element of funding?

Opposition to the proposed cuts might gain encouragement from the fact that a similar proposal by Fife council to cut £434,000 from the schools music service budget has been deferred following a sustained campaign against the move. [5]

However, Mr. Reid has been overwhelmed by the response to the Facebook page he created to gather support in opposition to the proposal [1]. At the time of writing, only five days after the page launch and the posting of 60 invites, the link been distributed to over 6000 groups and individuals urging all concerned to write to members of the Finance and Resources committee before 3rd December.

In his own letter to committee members, Mr Reid states:

“The far reaching benefits of music education are sadly rarely recognised. In brief, pupils have been shown to benefit both educationally and socially from music instruction.

“All pupils, regardless of personal ability stand to benefit from music education, but Aberdeen Music Service gives a quality of education that grants another tier of benefit. An astonishing number of pupils involved with music groups at the city’s music centre go on to perform at national level in organisations such as the National Youth Choir of Scotland and the National Youth Children’s Orchestra, Jazz Orchestra and Orchestra of Scotland. Many others go on to study at prestigious universities and music colleges up and down Britain, contributing to Britain’s wealth of arts and culture.”

Mr Reid’s words resonate strongly. As a professional musician, I owe much to the guitar tuition I received in secondary school. As one of many casualties of severe cuts to Social Care services, I consider myself more fortunate than most in that I am able to make a living from playing a musical instrument.

Many of my fellow professionals in the field of music will cite schools based musical instrument tuition as the foundation for their present level of expertise. As well as the means to earn money, we have enjoyed many opportunities to travel – sometimes to unusual and exciting places and events, making precious acquaintances in the process of presenting our own local/national culture worldwide.

It is extremely sad that this valuable, yet undervalued service has come under threat, and a generation could be denied the fantastic opportunities and experiences myself and my colleagues have enjoyed by way of our education in music.


[1] http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=684606295#!/event.php?eid=160768090626312

[2] http://www.facebook.com/l.php?u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.gopetition.com%2Fpetition%2F40692.html&h=a03db

[3] !/event.php?eid=140848399298674

[4] http://www.aberdeencity.gov.uk/web/files/next_five_years/nfy_pbb_final_report_oct2010.pdf


Nov 122010

By Fred Wilkinson.

From an assortment of mail a few days ago, I picked out what I thought was my Musician’s Union members magazine. It turned out to be issue 6 of  ‘Connect’ – the magazine for alumni and friends of RGU. These arrive so infrequently, that I can’t remember when I received the last one.

In light of recent events, and the idea that I don’t like being called an alumnus any more than I consider myself a ‘friend of RGU’, I decided to write to RGU to ‘cancel my subscription’ and offer them illumination from an ‘alumnus’ with regard to my reasons.

Dear Sir/Madam.

Thank you for the latest edition of ‘Connect’ – the magazine for alumni and friends of Robert Gordon University. It’s arrival through the letter box has always been welcome in that it reminds me of good times studying at RGU, and previously R.G.I.T.

It has always represented to me a sense of belonging, and a nice gesture in that despite the fact 10 years have passed since I completed my last course, RGU still remembers, and the door is always open.

However, delivery of this latest issue stirred up a completely different range of feelings.

The day I discovered that I had passed my HNC in Social Care ( inc SVQ 3 ) is one I will always remember with great pride and admittedly, much relief. Dedicated as I was to care work, the coursework was extremely valuable, and possession of said qualification allowed me to access some valuable opportunities and experiences, but more importantly, gave me confidence and equipped me to provide an improved level of care to service users, and confirmed to me the validity of my decision to follow a career in this worthwhile and rewarding profession.

How times have changed. Every single care establishment where I have worked has been closed down as Aberdeen City Council slashes budgets, and redefines who it has (or rather who it does not have) a responsibility to serve on the basis of need, means and/or ability. The very same organisation which seconded me to the HNC/SVQ in order that I would repay their faith in improved performance via improved knowledge, understanding and skills, now appears to have no need of my services, nor the services of many others with similar levels of experience and qualifications.

unlike Mr. Trump, I was obliged to finish my course (pardon the pun) before I received my award

In effect, the cutting of costs has devalued members of every vulnerable client group, every worker, and the social work service as a whole. Similarly, via the same decision making processes, my qualification has greatly diminished in value.

What little value it may have retained disappeared completely with RGU’s decision to award Donald Trump an Honorary Doctorate, ironically at its faculty of Health and Social Care. I was of a mind to return said qualification in support of former principal David Kennedy and in protest over the award to Donald Trump. However, the moment where I had nothing better to do than look for a worthless piece of paper never quite materialised.

My qualification was achieved not only as a result of the excellent standard of tuition at RGU’s Kepplestone premises, but  from two years of hard study, sleepless nights, a hunger to learn and succeed, and a constant battle with stress and self doubt. But unlike Mr. Trump, I was obliged to finish my course (pardon the pun) before I received my award despite the fact the level of my qualification is humble compared to that awarded to Mr. Trump.

The very idea of this ill advised Honorary Doctorate being handed over at a ceremony within premises designed for the education of professional carers – to an individual who has brought division, destruction, anxiety and misery to a small community and particular individuals – including an elderly woman is, frankly, sickening.

The idea of an establishment, dedicated to care, playing host to a man who publicly displays disregard and contempt for ordinary people – a man who publicly humiliates ‘neighbours’, and privately endorses acts which deeply hurt those same ‘neighbours’, would have been exceptionally bizarre if it didn’t actually happen.

Therefore,  I ask, so that I can distance myself to some extent from the distasteful association between Donald Trump and RGU, that you will remove me from the mailing list and no longer send me ‘the magazine for alumni and friends of RGU’. Whether your door is always open or not is of no consequence to myself anymore, and I live in hope that other alumni will follow my example.

If so, then there is a faint glimmer of hope that you will need to produce less, thereby preserving resources an offsetting a tiny proportion of the ecological and environmental destruction carried out in the name of Donald Trump.

Yours Faithfully,

Fred Wilkinson

Nov 052010

Bonfire Night is upon us and as we watch the traditional burning of effigies and the sometimes surprising, sometimes disapointing firework displays, the thoughts of some spectators begin to wander ……

** ‘If Moir Lockhead wis a firework, he’d be the only firework allowed in the display, wid cost far mair than similar fireworks in Edinburgh, wid bide for ages in the Coapy milk bottle while you wait for movement and when he eventually took off, it wid be grudgingly, wi a splutter and a hotter but still leaving six sparklers chasing efter him in vain.’ – David Innes

** ‘If Aberdeen F.C was a firework, it would be one of those you light, get all excited about, tell all yer mates “watch this, it’s gonna be beautiful” You wait and wait, it doesn’t go off, not sure if you should let it be of go over to it and light it again……you’re warned “nah leave it – it’ll go aff” ……you wait, then “f*ck it I’ll go over” and it blows up in yer face’. – Slimfella, Aberdeen-Mad.

** ‘If  Aberdeen City Cooncil was a firework it would be a dodgy katherine wheel which when lit,  would twirl around and around in ever decreasing circles creating lots of heat, sparks and noise, expending fuel and energy at an alarming rate but never actually going anywhere’. – Fred Wilkinson

** ‘If Kevin Stewart wis a neep lantern you’d struggle to see the facial outline due to there being nae licht inside the f*ckin heid.’ – David Innes

** ‘If The CitySquare/Gardens was a firework it would come in a plain pale grey box ( artwork purchased separately ) around a hundred times the size of the firework itself, cost about 100 times more than the ‘money back on next purchase’ voucher redeemable only when your home and car have been legally bound as security until your cheque clears.
When taken out of the box, you would find that the quaint little oil platform shaped device comes with a badly written manual in which you would somehow suss that the firework does not work unless it is connected to a mains gas supply. However, on the back page there is a telephone number for an engineer who can come round anytime, dig up your garden and install the pipe and connection required.

This will cost you, but on the upside, they will accept your ‘money back on next purchase’ voucher towards the cost of the work ( which would of course include arranging planning permission for the installation).
When lit, sometime ( around 2016 by the time all the paperwork is complete ) it would throw out a brief burst of sparks and swirling flares, and then produce a large limp flickering flame.
As you wait to see what else it does next, you find the small print in the manual which informs you that there is no way of turning it off and that your transaction validated an agreement to purchase your uninterruptable gas supply from an un-named supplier at an undisclosed price for an unnegotiable 25 year term.

It might seem like you got a bad deal, but the solicitor, the gas company, the planning dept and the engineer all agree it was a pleasure to do business with you’. – Fred Wilkinson

** ‘If ACSEF wis a squaad o guisers, they’d ask you if you wanted to hear a song and when you refused they’d sing it onywye saying that they didna recognise the insignificant numbers o respondents who said ‘no”. – David Innes

**  ‘If Aberdeen F.C.  was a firework, it would be one of those indoor fireworks that turn into a giant, endless sh*te.  ( see below)’ – Kelt, Aberdeen-Mad

Oct 292010

By Fred Wilkinson with thanks to Christine Wilkie.

The Final Solution to the problem of Evil is a thought provoking and, in parts, controversial examination of the role of religion, faith, relationships and politics in modern day life. Two years after the authors tragic death, the piece has been released as an e-book by Chipmunka publishing.

David Alexander Edward Murdoch, born in Aberdeen on 21st January 1965,  was diagnosed with manic depression (bipolar disorder) at the age of twenty-one.

Davie, as myself and many others knew him, was a widely known and popular character who, despite his own difficulties, displayed a friendly and caring nature towards others around him. As fortune would have it, I only ever caught up with and spent time with Davie when he was ‘in good form’ and therefore have only pleasant memories of time in his company, and never fully appreciated the devastating impact of his mental health condition.

Never afraid to speak his mind, conversation with Davie could be surprising but always stimulating, and whether through his subtle sense of humour, or in focussed discussions, his need to question and to look at things from different angles always brought something fresh to our exchanges.

Davie had difficulty accepting that he had an illness. However, the condition dominated his life until his tragic death by suicide in Aberdeen on 23rd November 2008.

The Final Solution to the problem of Evil was inspired through his studies in Theology and his constant questioning of the meaning of life, the relevance of religion in today’s world and his often controversial views on day to day politics.

Unfortunately, Davie did not consider the piece to be finished. A short time before he died, he had written more on his computer which was misplaced during his last bout of mania. Perhaps we will never know what he really considered to be “The Final Solution to the Problem of Evil”

Chipmunka Publishing specialises in books, multimedia, music and art from themental health and well being community with the aim of giving more people a voice and changing the way the world thinks about mental health.

For more information on The Final Solution to the problem of Evil, click here.

Also by David A. E. Murdoch – Flying My Own Plane

Sep 172010

In the last issue, we focussed on events set around the closure of Choices day care centre. With gratitude to carer David Forbes for his contribution, Fred Wilkinson continues his series of articles.

Firstly, I must apologise, as due to illness, and a few thorny legal issues, I was unable to finish the article I hoped to present this week. However, from the closure of Choices to the ongoing work of the Future Choices charity, I doubt if we will ever be short of a story.

In the process of gathering information for previous articles, I was offered the opportunity to attend a Future Choices committee meeting. Having had very little contact with Choices’ former users in more than two years, this invitation was most welcome. As well as a chance to catch up with old buddies it was a chance to witness first hand how the group were faring, and what avenues and opportunities were being pursued.

It was an afternoon of mixed emotions. I was made to feel extremely welcome at the home of group chairman Kevin McCahery and greeted warmly by all who arrived. However, as I caught up with their news, I was also updated on behalf of others I would, sadly, never have the chance to meet again.

As they conducted their business, and exchanged humour in between, it was extremely reassuring to realise that their resolve was very much intact, and the friendships between those present were as strong as ever. Also uncompromised by time was the residual anger, which surfaced occasionally. This anger directed towards particular sections and individuals within Aberdeen City Council may yet subside, but it is clear that it will take more than time for their contempt to be replaced by trust. Altogether the uncomfortable subtext was a message – that the closure of Choices, and how it has affected group members, was unforgivable.

I thought it was an awful wind up, but when the news bulletin came on the TV, my heart sank

Present at the meeting was David Forbes. Mr Forbes’ mother previously attended Choices and he clearly remembers the heartbreak experienced by all involved with the Day Centre.

“I’ll never forget in all my life. I got a call from my mum’s Day Centre informing me that Aberdeen City Council had decided to axe it due to their massive cutbacks. How do you tell your disabled mum; who loved going to the centre to keep active, see her friends, and learn new skills, that she could not go anymore?”

Mr Forbes chose to sum up his feelings around that time in two words.

“Emotional Hell.

“Strangely I thought it was an awful wind up, but when the news bulletin came on the TV, my heart sank as I accepted it was very real.

“I was 26, and caring full time for my mum who suffers from memory loss due to severe brain damage following a heart attack.”

The impact of closure affected many in addition to the service users. A secondary function of Choices was, that in providing day care to disabled individuals, their families and carers like Mr Forbes could enjoy periods of respite, enabling them to work or otherwise focus on their own personal needs and interests, and their personal and professional relationships with countless others.

“On the very last day of the Centre closing, it was very difficult personally for me to witness many disabled people, including my mum, crying and comforting each other. It made me realise how vital the service was to the local community.

The hard work was worth it and the fight to press on is bigger than ever!

“My mum and I have built up very good friendships with the people who used the service. We worked as a team and helped the other users to protest against the axing of the centre, with marches, petitions, media interviews, even lobbying Parliament …sadly all failed.”

But rather than just lie down and accept defeat, users and supporters including Mr Forbes pulled together to form Future Choices – a charity whose primary aim is to do what Choices did for the users – helping the local disabled community of Aberdeen live their lives as they should be allowed to do.

As I observed the meeting in progress and contributed where I could, I wondered if in some perverse way the cruel loss of Choices, and the fight to win back that sense of belonging has made the group stronger. They are still some considerable way from having in place what they aim for, but I feel a real sense of momentum in the group and a sense of pride – assets which give the group huge appeal.

Mr Forbes confirms this observation.

“The Charity is now up and running with new members being added regularly, and with loyal supporters and lots of future fundraising events in the pipeline, the future for Future Choices will hopefully be brighter.”

“The Question that I ask myself everyday when I see and do work with the Charity is where would we be now if we didn’t pull together as a strong team?

“And then when I turn to my mum and remind her she can still see her friends these days, it suddenly becomes clear. The hard work was worth it and the fight to press on is bigger than ever!

The meeting rolls on at a pleasant pace. The group are as always glad to be together, so no decisions are hurried, and the hard edges and painful memories are outweighed by the many, shared experiences they still laugh heartily about. Much as I share the desire to stay on and enjoy their fantastic company, I realise an hour has passed since I announced with apologies that I had to be heading home, and so I leave fortified with optimism that Future Choices are moving forward, and I pity anyone who dares to stand in their way.

David Forbes has organised a dinner dance event at the Hilton Treetops, Aberdeen on 13th November.
Tickets are £30 which includes live entertainment, a welcome drink, and a 3 course meal.

Contact David Forbes.
07821700046 / 01224486372

All proceeds to Future Choices ( Charity Reg SC040085 )

Sep 102010

Following last week’s Aberdeen Voice report on the progress of the Future Choices charity, this week Fred Wilkinson recounts events set around the closure of Choices.

Its time this writer put his cards face up on the table. In 2004, work related illness ended my 13 years as Senior Assistant Unit Manager with ACC Social Work Dept – now Neighbourhood Services.
However, I continued to do relief work, initially at Park House Day Centre, finding the experience not only rewarding, but often inspiring. It was a joy to witness that in the right environment, with the right support, there was more ability in evidence than disability.

I later worked in a small number of Day Care Centres for people with disabilities, Including Rosehill D.C.C and Choices.

For all my years in care work, and all the colleagues I worked alongside in many locations and situations, many of whom were highly conscientious, dedicated and talented, the staff team at Choices were second to none. Professional and personal interactions were in balance. There was a healthy respect between staff of all designations, a keen spirit of co-operation, and a great level of efficiency achieved through good communication and co-ordination.

Here was an able and willing workforce who believed in and took pride in their work, and voiced appreciation for assistance from fellow workers. Additionally, they consistently displayed a healthy regard for the users, which was frequently reciprocated. In terms of ‘Best Value’, ACC’s favoured benchmark, Choices was surely as good as it got.

There were tears, cries, blank stares of disbelief. Some felt physically sick. Others trembled visibly.

The 14th February 2008 is a date now referred to by former users and staff of Choices as the Valentines Day Massacre.
It was on that day that Choices Manager Joyce Ferguson received an email with the devastating news.

On Friday 15th February, at Choices Day Centre, I became aware that ‘permanent’ staff were being summoned in turn to talk privately with the Unit Manager.

And one by one with a spring still in their step they closed the door behind them as they entered – only to emerge minutes later almost crippled by their vain attempts to disguise the fact that they were shaken, shocked, bereft, aggrieved and traumatised, and would search for another door to shelter behind until reasonably composed.

The Unit Manager  later addressed the users.

The announcement brought a collective gasp from all parts of the room. There were tears, cries, blank stares of disbelief. Some felt physically sick. Others trembled visibly. Different reactions, but the same stimulus – pain.

At a single stroke, this once co-ordinated, capable and highly effective staff group appeared inadequate – too many in need of immediate comfort and reassurance – too little time to prepare, plan, prioritise and provide.

The early response was essentially a sense of denial from “This is not happening” to “They can’t close Choices”. Then came the questions “What will happen to us?”, “Where will we go?” and the big one – “Why?”.

Anxiety however, gave way to anger.

The next big question “What are we going to do about it?” was the first to yield credible answers, and the combined efforts of a group of disabled individuals would soon amount to a campaign that could be regarded as nothing short of heroic.

As the battle lines were drawn, up sprung a fence which Choices staff could neither sit upon nor stand either side of.

To actively support the campaign would be viewed as industrial action, whilst anything short of support threatened to undermine relationships built upon trust, mutual respect, and working together over many years. It was difficult to determine how assistance with users’ efforts to save their service was any different to that routinely offered in connection with their wellbeing, development, personal fulfilment and self determination.

Staff were aware that to stay outside with the users, they could be seen as participating in the protest.

Staff would feel duty bound to warn a blind person in their care that he/she was walking towards a staircase. To take no action would equivalent to tripping up said individual one step short of said hazard. So how could staff reconcile the caring and enabling role they were professionally committed to, whilst on the payroll of Aberdeen City Council?

The implications of such a dilemma put the staff to the test when the users held a protest. The users invited friends, family, media and sympathetic politicians to join them outside the building facing Westburn Road. It was an awe inspiring spectacle as the fruits of their tireless efforts and organisation came together.

Decked out in their handmade ‘Save Choices’ T-shirts, holding up handmade banners and placards, together possibly for the last time, they proudly and defiantly stated their feelings, as passing vehicles pumped horns in support and made donations before continuing their journey.

Respecting the users’ rights and wishes, staff ensured that they reached their chosen location safely, and remained ready to assist as necessary with regards to mobility. Staff were aware that to stay outside with the users they could be seen as participating in the protest.

However, to be apart from the group introduced certain unacceptable, and unnecessary risks.

Particular users were vulnerable to injury due to falls or seizures.

A few were prone to anxiety whilst others had sensory impairments and communication difficulties.

Staff members believed it unacceptable to contribute to known risk factors, and simply wrong to withdraw care.

A compromise had been reached whereby staff were permitted to assist the users on condition that they took an unpaid 30 minute lunch break.

To clarify, staff remaining in the building while the users were outside were paid for their time. Those who chose to support the users in accordance with their personal needs, and to minimise risk of injury and discomfort were obliged to do this for free.

To this day it is difficult to accept that the council were prepared to reward inaction, yet would apply financial disincentives to anyone choosing, instead, to provide a minimal caring presence for a period of 30 minutes.

The council stood firm. Adult Services Team Manager Helen McNeill contacted Choices’ Acting Manager Clare Rochford and requested a list of all staff that had chosen to assist the users. Ms Rochford announced the list with an unmistakable sense of pride. Notably, the equivalent of 30 minutes wages was subsequently docked from Ms Rochfords’ salary.

It demonstrated Choices as more than an enabling facility. It was potentially a mechanism for empowerment

Despite Aberdeen City Council’s divisive stand with regard to the role of staff, the users, an already close group of individuals, found strength in themselves and each other as they determined to save their service. With the help of their friends and carers they delivered a  petition with over 5000 signatures to St Nicholas House.

Veteran musician and entertainer Alexander Rennie, 73 year old husband and carer of choices user Mary, enlisted the help of his daughter to create an online presentation to highlight the issue. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5MsfJRTdeA&feature=related

Users also organised to respond to the proposals and spread their message by way of carefully crafted letters and emails which fully represented the group. They collaborated to present a united and cohesive argument to local media. They set up face to face meetings with key players within Aberdeen City Council, and defiantly launched a legal challenge to the closure.

All this brave and tireless work, and the quality of organisation the users achieved was in some ways equally as breathtaking to witness as their impressive march down Union Street – the biggest demonstration in Aberdeen for a generation. These people were no longer our equals. They were beyond equal – a force to be reckoned with.

It also served to further highlight the value of the service which was being withdrawn.

Without the transport to bring them together, premises suited to their individual needs in which to meet and discuss issues, and the facilities to aid their efforts, how effective could the campaign have been in the face of such overwhelming odds?

It demonstrated Choices as more than an enabling facility.

It was potentially a mechanism for empowerment, and as such was a loss of a magnitude impossible to comprehend for anyone evaluating the service purely in financial terms.

How sad it is then – particularly at a time where the Future Choices charity are seeking out suitable venues for their activities- that a purpose built facility no longer has any purpose.

How sad that where once was the hub of a content and functional community, now stands an empty building boarded up and neglected – next door to the similarly abandoned Park House where many friendships and relationships were formed and sustained over three and a half decades only to be torn apart at the snap of a finger.

How can such disregard for the social needs of vulnerable people, and such waste be justified in terms of ‘continuous improvement’ and ‘best value’?

Next week Aberdeen Voice focuses on the legal challenge to the closure of Choices, how the case could have been successful, and the probable impact this would have had on care service provision nationally as well as locally.