Yesterday was the third annual 100 Voices conference held by Brandon Trust.100 Voices has grown impressively since it started, yesterday was more like 200 voices and the venue felt a bit crowded.
Having covered both employment and transport at past events, this year the subject chosen through the area forums was personal safety ie hate crime. It was great to see so many different organisations attending to give presentations or supply information - the MP Charlotte Leslie came along for the morning and gave a speech, there were police community support officers with safety devices to give away and beautiful bulging biceps (I'm not certain the biceps were a requirement but I feel they should become so every year) a police inspector who spoke, the lord mayor of bristol and many more. This year Billy who has moderate learning disabilities compered the whole event and did an amazing job - watching him tease the police inspector about all the senior officers he claimed to know was hilarious as the inspector clearly thought Billy was a senior staff member who was astonishingly well connected!
The standard of presentations is very high, each user forum group puts on their own show - this year we saw a reconstruction of the kind of daily harassment people with learning disabilities experience on public transport and a brilliant performance of 'our house' by madness which the team had rewritten to explain their lives. Just fantastic!
Of all the events I get asked to speak at 100 Voices is the most difficult to prepare for and the most rewarding. Usually I try to do something positive and upbeat, but that was a tough task covering hate and mate crime. In the end I decided to talk about friendship, what it means and how we can tell when someone isn't really a friend but trying to take advantage. I used some quotes from Winnie the Pooh and we went through some example scenarios of friends and people taking advantage.
You can always tell when a speech has hit home by the people who come to tell you their experiences afterwards and yesterday I was overwhelmed. There were hugs and kisses to express shared emotion and one lady who has come to speak to me every year but then been too shy to say a word dragged me off to see her Kanga bear and told me all about how it makes her feel safe and how much she loves Winnie the Pooh. It was just so fantastic to see someone who in previous years couldn't really manage a word effusive and excited to explain things to me. I'd talked a lot in the speech about how people can sometimes tell disabled people we have to pay for them if we want to go and do something and there was a lot of feedback on that issue, some of it very worrying. But right at the end of the day when I was leaving two of the guys came over with a drink they'd bought for me - it took a while as they both had challenges with verbal communication but by using mime and the odd word they explained they had bought me a drink to say thank you to me. I've been bought many a posh drink, especially in my younger, wilder days but this slightly flat cola was without doubt the best drink anyone has ever bought me.