This is a tribute to Brendan Carroll, who helped me arrive where I was meant to be…

Years ago I worked as a caretaker in a centre for adults with physical disabilities. This experience proved to be a fantastic grounding for me – and, in many ways, a humbling one too. Among the many interesting people I met was a young man called Brendan Carroll. Brendan was the same age as me (25 at the time) and was born on the south of the River Thames – the opposite side of the river from me. Another coincidence was that, as growing babies inside our respective mothers, we both ended up with the umbilical cord wrapped around our necks. The great difference between us came down to a twist of fate. I was fortunate that my mum’s midwife turned me and released the cord before I emerged, whereas Brendan wasn’t untangled and, as a consequence, experienced brain damage resulting in Cerebral Palsy.

Brendan was a wheelchair-user and his speech was quite difficult to understand, but once you ‘got your ear in’ it was well worth it, as he had a cracking sense of humour and was a intelligent, kind, genuine and principled young man. He was an early campaigner in the Norwich disability rights movement and I very much admired him. However, what astonished – and outraged! – me was that, having gone to a ‘Special Needs’ school where little was expected of someone with a disability, no-one had taken the time to teach Brendan to read. On discovering this I remember saying, indignantly to him, “but you need to read more than I do – I can lift and lug things, you can’t!”

Having found out about this I went to see my manager and asked him if I could spend some time teaching Brendan to read. To his credit, he agreed to this. As a result, for months, every morning I would spend time with Brendan, going through the basics. It was quite an intuitive process as I was not trained to do this, but we found a way. Then, one day, Brendan came in, arms whirling with excitement, and explained to me that, for the first time in his life he had been able to read the signs on the train stations and know where he was without asking. I think we were both inspired by this.

Brendan went on to study with the Open University and positively touched a lot of lives during his short life (tragically, he died in his forties of cancer). For me, it gave me the confidence to ‘take a leap’ and start the Open University myself. I went onto graduate and then trained with Norfolk Adult Learning as a Learning Support Assistant. Subsequently, I became a tutor went on to work for Adult Learning as a community worker, before finding my ‘tribe’ and arriving home with MensCraft in November 2021.

Colin Howey

Norwich Pit Stop Coordinator