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Simple Stuff Works Heroes – Helen Laverty

04 Apr 2018

Simple Stuff Works has the privilege of working alongside a number of remarkable people who change this world for the better. In 2018, we are going to celebrating some of these people through our ‘Heroes’ blog series.

First up is…Helen Laverty

By day, Helen is a senior lecturer in Learning Disabilities at Nottingham University. By night she quietly changes the world by bringing people together through Positive Choices.

In a recent interview with Helen I asked, ‘What is Positive Choices?’

“Positive Choices started as a consequence of some of my nursing students being told at an RCN forum that there was no future in Learning Disability nursing.”

The ensuing conversation between Helen and her students catalysed the idea for a one off event where like-minded nursing students, professionals and families could get together to

Celebrate Learning Disability Nursing as a Positive Choice.

Helen and three others met in a motorway service station outside Wexham and dreamt up an event where Learning Disability Nurses were the majority not the minority. They developed a conference where nursing students from 5 nations (UK and Ireland) were inspired by hearing from leaders in their field and those living with learning disabilities that what they do is important and makes a difference.

Positive Choices is as much a festival than a conference.

The first conference took place in Nottingham in 2005 with the tagline #Togetherwearebetter. This year hundreds will gather in Dublin for the biggest and brightest conference to date. But it isn’t all about the speakers and learning, rather it is a huge celebration of how those with learning disabilities contribute to a brighter and better society. The festivities of Positive Choice 2018 will be kicking off with MiXit, the inclusive theatre company, and 16-year-old DJ Jay creating a party atmosphere with his inclusive and Makaton friendly disco.

One of the biggest highlights of this Positive Choice 2018 are the Shiners.

Shiners are graduates of an amazing organisation, Cornwall Accessible Activities Program. As well as enabling holidays for those with learning disabilities and their families, CAAP have also set up an access to work project called ‘Time to Shine’.

On 14th April, Helen and Sally Phillips will be conducting the first graduation ceremony for Shiners. “With passion and enthusiasm, the Shiners wanted to contribute to the Positive Choices conference but with budgets tight”, Helen confessed, “we weren’t sure how we could fund it.”

That’s when the local community stepped in.

Through fundraising events and support from hundreds of people, £10,000 has been raised to send 15 Shiners to the Positive Choices conference in Dublin next month.

Alongside 500 student nurses and 150 registered nurses, 15 Shiner ambassadors will be supporting the conference in a wide variety of ways. From being ‘meeters and greeters’, to working on the registration desk, promoting merchandise or fuelling people with much needed coffee. These 15 ambassadors represent the heartbeat of Positive Choices and the need for heroes and champions to live without fear.

Heroes and champions deserve to live a life without fear

Helen states that currently there is a constant fight for existence. Both for those living with learning disabilities and those supporting them, each are having to take a stand and combat prejudice.

Speaking to Helen it is hard not be infected by her passion for supporting those with learning disabilities and those training to make a difference in their lives. When I asked what Learning disability nurses do, she responded,

“Learning disability nurses are there for the good and not so good. We engage in all aspects of life and are the scaffold which hold other professionals together. Our skills lie in creative, non-traditional and sustainable solutions.”

When I asked what this looks like in reality, Helen described a recent incident where she supported a well-known parent of a child with Down Syndrome. The medical team were discussing the possibility of a general anaesthetic to obtain a blood test. Through support, Helen was able to advise the family in strategies to help make the blood testing process successful. What seemed like small, simple steps made a big difference to the life of one young girl and her family.

“Ask for us or we will disappear.”

With increasing cuts in services and provision, Helen is adamant that those families who would benefit from contact with a learning disability nurse, needs to ask for one.  Either by asking a GP for a referral or accessing the learning disability liaison nurse in an acute setting. Helen asserts, ‘It is relatively easy to gain the benefit and wisdom of a learning disability nurse in your area. What is really important is that you ask for us. Because if you don’t, we will disappear.’

You find out more information on Helen’s work through this YouTube clip, the Positive Choices website or this YouTube clip about ‘Tea at Grandma’s’, a new venture for Positive Choices, in partnership with Cornish Down Syndrome association.

“We’ve been to as many Positive Choices events as we could – they are an opportunity to reconnect with what is important and to meet others as passionate and committed to improving people’s lives as we are here at Simple Stuff Works. It was at a Positive Choices event that we organised our sponsorship of the amazing inclusive performing arts group Mixit, something we are really proud to do. We sponsored the ‘Strictly no Labels’ event providing trophies and encouragement for those taking part. We are a little bit in love with Helen so any opportunity to spend time with her and her amazing students is one that we jump at!” Sarah Clayton, CEO Simple Stuff Works

Rachel is a nurse, author and mum living in Essex with her husband and three sons. Her life changed the day her eldest son was born and introduced her to the world of severe disability and life-limiting epilepsy. As well as doing laundry and picking up Lego, she blogs at Born at the Right Timeand published her memoir ‘The Skies I’m Under’. Rachel is passionate about sharing her family’s story to improve the care of complex families. Her speaking engagements include leading workshops with parents as well as training professionals.