This week, at the Queen’s Hotel, I heard a speech which knocked my socks off.
It wasn’t from a famous politician, a well-known sportsman, or a captain of industry. Nor was it a soaring piece of highfalutin oratory. Instead, it was a quiet, understated address from a young Gloucestershire man who had set up an ice cream business. He called it Adam’s Gelatos. What gave the speech added impact was that Adam had achieved his success despite being significantly disabled.
But Adam didn’t want pity. He didn’t want special treatment. All he wanted was a level playing field to let him show the world what he could do. It was immensely powerful and moving.
I have long been inspired to support people like Adam to fulfil their potential and achieve their dreams. I believe it is society’s moral duty.
And Cheltenham is uniquely well placed to discharge that duty. Our town is home to the brilliant National Star College, recently graded as outstanding across all areas by both Ofsted and CQC. St Vincent’s and St George’s does remarkable work providing a range of care and support services to disabled people. The GEM project is breaking down barriers to work for those struggling with disabilities and mental health issues. GCHQ is a renowned public sector leader in this field. And who could forget the incredible Butterfly Garden?
Despite this local expertise, Adam emphasised that some employers are apprehensive about taking on disabled people. Despite noble intentions, they can be nervous about inadvertently saying or doing the wrong thing. But help is available. The Access to Work scheme offers over £20,000 in central government funding to companies to make necessary adjustments when taking on a disabled member of staff. The Disability Confident campaign too provides advice to employers on how they attract, recruit and retain disabled workers. Over 5000 employers have signed up.
I would urge local employers to look again at this pool of talent. Let’s unlock potential in our disabled community. And let’s support the next generation of disabled Gloucestershire entrepreneurs.