The first two weeks of November were fairly busy with performances and workshops in North Carolina, Kentucky, and Michigan. But Cindy and I were able to relax as well by spending Thanksgiving with my family in Virginia. The day after, I was on a flight to the United Kingdom. I would be participating in a series of meetings that held a great deal of potential…but were shrouded in uncertainty. Two extraordinary ladies whom I met in Vancouver at the IASE Conference in July – Bronwen and Judith – organized the trip. They were operating totally on a “gut feeling” that we could find some exciting partnerships in the UK for this project. And so, I was on my way to London.
Unlike my recent travel experiences with United, US Airways managed to keep their flights on schedule and the trip was uneventful. I arrived at Heathrow, jumped on a bus to my hotel and spent the day in one of the greatest cities in the world – London.
The following morning, Sunday, I was at the train station for the journey to Newton Abbot, an enchanting community in Devon, the South of England. I would be spending the next few days at Hannahs at Seale-Hayne, an extraordinary place for people of all abilities. First Great Western graciously provided my ticket to start this adventure. Carl picked me up at the Newton Abbot station and we were on our way to the Seale-Hayne. I dropped my bags off at my room and Carl gave me a brief, but impressive, tour of the property.
This is quite a spectacular place! On Monday, I was given a more organized tour of Seale-Hayne and the sister property at IvyBridge. I also met up with the rest of the team here at Hannahs – some incredibly awesome people!
As you walk through the main arch of Seale-Hayne, you enter into the center of “campus” – a once agricultural university built in the early 1900’s and then, almost immediately, used as a hospital during WWI. After the war, it became a part of Plymouth University with a focus on agriculture.
Today, it is owned and operated by The Dame Hannah Rogers Trust, a charity that serves the needs of individuals with disabilities of all types. This is such a nurturing place for people of all abilities, integrating them into every facet of what happens here – from art, music, food preparation, service, etc. And the buildings and the land are beautiful examples of their abilities.
Even the Christmas tree at the front entrance is a piece of art – constructed of Coca-Cola cans and LED lights!
Hannahs at IvyBridge is designed to meet the needs of people who have more complex and profound disabilities, most of them physical. But the atmosphere is incredible and supportive – from cooking and fitness areas to some fun places for people to socialize.
Tuesday was the big day for me. More than 50 professionals gathered at Seale-Hayne to participate in an introduction on using magic tricks in the rehabilitation and education of people with disability. The audience was diverse – occupational and speech therapists, physiotherapists, neuropsychologists, special educators, and professors from Plymouth and Exeter Universities.
The most exciting part? They got it! They could see the multi and interdisciplinary connections in using magic tricks to motivate and engage those with whom they work! And now, we are exploring how to take this project to the next level in the UK – big adventures ahead!
After the workshop, everyone gathered for lunch for a Q&A. In the afternoon, Karen drove a few if us into Plymouth to see some of the sites in this historic port city. Then, all of us reconvened with the Vice-Chancellor of Plymouth University and several of the disability support staff to begin a dialogue to discover potential connections with some of the academic departments. In the evening, we all had dinner in the Royal William Yard area – historic and picturesque!
This is a great time to introduce you to two other people with whom I worked this week. Anastasia is a student at the London School of Economics where she is completing a master’s degree in Human Rights. She is a brilliant advocate for others with disabilities because she has cerebral palsy and lives the struggle each day. I also met Allison, one of the people who assist Anastasia with her activities of daily life. The three of us had a fun time exploring Plymouth!
Wednesday morning was an opportunity to sit down with directors and staff at Hannahs to sketch out how this relationship will develop in the future. We’ve managed to put together a good starter plan that will give us a strong foundation on which to build.
In the afternoon, Karen took us to two small nearby towns to do a little shopping. The first was definitely the most charming. Sadly, I’m not sure how to spell the name of the town but it was close to Darlington – I remember is sounded like Lochness? I took several photos, enjoyed the scenery, purchased a few Christmas gifts for Cindy, and stopped at one of the local bakeries for some original British pastries.
On Thursday, I was up early, packed my suitcase, met everyone for breakfast and then we made our way to the Newton Abbot Train Station. We boarded the Great Western Train to London and settled in for the ride. We arrived at Paddington at about 2:30pm – just in time to make our way to our first meeting.
We arrived at the Marriott County Hall Hotel at 3pm. This is a magnificent complex on the River Thames next to the London Eye. As the sun began to set, the view of Parliament and Big Bend was stunning!
Over tea, mulled wine, and sandwiches, we had our meeting with the CEO of the National Association of Special Schools. They hold their annual conference in October to reach the 222 schools across the UK that serve the educational needs of students with disabilities. We are investigating the possibilities of speaking at this conference in fall 2014.
Once we wrapped up the meeting, I caught a taxi to the London School of Economics (LSE) with Anastasia and Allison. They were kind enough to let me drop off my bags in their flat. The LSE accommodations are on Drury Lane, very close to where we had plans to meet several of the awesome people from Seale-Hayne for dinner. One of Judith’s life-long friends also joined us. She is an enchanting and delightful person named Maggie Steed. She is also an accomplished stage and film actress who has starred in productions on Broadway and the West End. We became fast friends over dinner sharing stories of life on the road.
Sadly, over dinner we also learned of the death of Nelson Mandela. We raised a toast to his work in human rights and his impact on the world. Among the many highlights of the week was the “final act” – a chance to sit and visit with Nigel Planer who is starring as “Grandpa Joe” in the West End production of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
After the show, Nigel gave us a backstage tour of the set at The Drury Lane Theatre. And while I was allowed to take a lot of fantastic photos, sadly I can only share them with friends “in person” – not on social media, which means, you will have to take my word that it was MAGICAL! I can share these photos because they reveal none of the magic of the set.
We talked well into the morning at the Loch Fyne Restaurant on Catherine Street, just around the corner from the Drury Lane Theatre. It was a dazzling evening that I won’t soon forget. Afterwards, I walked with Anastasia and Allison back to the LSE to pick up my bags and head toward my hotel at Heathrow. Unfortunately, after a mind-blowing evening with friends, there wasn’t a train, bus, or taxi that would take me to Heathrow…which only lead to another adventure!
Christmas in Central London is beautiful, crowded, and crazy! I walked from place to place hoping to find someone who would take me to my hotel. From the West End – bags in tow – I walked through to Covent Garden with no luck. I then made my way to Leister Square – no luck. Continuing on to Trafalgar Square, I passed the South African Embassy where people had assembled and bag pipers played in memory of Mandela. I stopped for a few minutes to FaceTime with Cindy to let her know I was okay…but still, no luck on a taxi. I texted Bronwen at 1:30am (with great apologies) and she said she would make arrangements for a taxi from the Park Plaza Hotel. I walked from Trafalgar Square, across the Westminster Bridge to the Park Plaza Hotel. Steve greeted me in the lobby – a wonderful sight to see at 2am – and my taxi was on the way. I couldn’t resist taking this photo as I crossed the Westminster Bridge.
I arrived at Heathrow on Saturday morning only to find that there had been a major power outage in London that caused havoc with air traffic control in all of the airports in the area. Flights were backed up for hours, especially those with international flight plans crossing the Atlantic. Fortunately, our 4-hour delay was only 90 minutes and I’m sitting on USAir731 for Charlotte. Soon, I’ll be home…but, after this trip, I’ll never be the same.