Unfortunately the worsening Covid-19 situation meant that we were unable to meet in person at Wesley Memorial, but several of us, including some who could not have come in person anyway, were able to get together on-line and chat.
We rounded off the evening with some Christmas themed Zumba, run by George Martini.
Due to rising Covid numbers this was our last face-to-face meeting of the year. Members were asked to take a lateral flow test before coming, to wear masks, and socially distance from people not in the same family group.
Despite the difficult circumstances those who were able, or safe, to get to Wesley Memorial had an enjoyable evening.
Having not met in our normal meeting place at Wesley Memorial Church in the centre for Oxford since March 2020, and having had our AGM last year via Zoom, it was great to be able to hold this year’s AGM as our first ever hybrid meeting.
This enabled some members who would otherwise have had to travel some distance, and those who are shielding to participate.
Each year at our Annual General Meeting we award the Roy Lewis Trophy to someone who has inspired us by their actions and contribution to our club. The past year has been difficult for so many people but our members chose to award trophies this year to three people who have stayed strong and positive in adversity. Their bravery through sadness and difficulty has been an inspiration to us all. We send our love to Trisha, Melissa and Katherine.
We also had physical confirmation of the results of our sponsored walk to raise money for Toilet Twinning, and were able to show off the certificates.
We raised enough to twin both accessible toilets and four taps at the church.
As well as the usual AGM business of elections, accounts etc it was an opportunity for members to see the new church atrium, with its automatic doors.
It has been a long wait for Wesley Memorial Open Doors building project to reach this stage, but the results are beautiful. They are also much more accessible. At the far end of the space between the church on the left and the John Wesley Room on the right, before the atrium was built, roughly where the wooden desk is, there was the door into the building. It was installed before accessibility was an issue, and so opened outwards, as fire escape doors should do, and had a door closer to prevent it staying open, to conserve energy. It was also at the top of quite a short steep slope, which has been converted into the gentle unnoticeable slope of the atrium. The combination of these factors meant that entering the premises in a wheelchair, even for someone who was normally independent, required three people, one entering, one holding the door and one pushing.
All the fundraising Oxford Phab did to help support the Open Doors project has been most worthwhile.
Two things greatly important to us came together in this event – helping others and toilets. Supporting each other is core to what Phab means, and toilets loom large in the memories of anyone who has been out and about with Phab, particularly in the days when accessible toilets were scarce and often dumping grounds for unused furniture ! (Frustrating when someone is desperate to use them for their inteneded use)
There is an organisation which works to build toilets in the world’s poorest countries We tend to take access to good sanitation for granted – most of us even have a toilet in our own homes! For many people this is not the case, and Toilet Twinning was set up to help them. You can find out more about them by visiting their website at https://www.toilettwinning.org/
We went on a wet walk at Farmoor reservoir to raise money to ‘twin’ the two accessible toilets. It was very wet !
However we persevered, and despite the rain, made it to the far side of Farmoor reservoir.
Once again we were made very welcome at Hinksey Heights Golf Course. We had been going there, on and off, every since we were fortunate to be their Captain’s Charity of the year in 2016. As some of our members are clinically extremely vulnerable to Covid we are looking for well ventilated places to meet, and they have a marquee we were able to use.
They were also able to provide table service for food and drinks, which was much appreciated.
We very much enjoyed our last picnic at Kenninton church, and once again the kind church people opened their doors to us for another picnic, this time literally.
The weather was much less kind, and the rain soon drove us inside, which fortunately is a large, well ventilated space. Due to the weather, and some members being away on holiday, there were only 7 of us, but one was someone we have not seen for a while but was a member when we went to Holland, and on narrowboat trips, so the old hands could reminisce, and members who had not been could hear about those times.
After a long spell of not being able to meet in person, Oxford Phab are looking for safe ways of getting together. We followed up our Picnic at Kennington Church with a walk at Farmoor Reservoir.
About a dozen of us met at the car park, and made our way up the slope to benches out side the cafe, which was closed for the day. Then those of us who had bought picnics ate them, and we chatted, and enjoyed the view, including some rapidly moving sailing boats.
Once everyone was ready we set off to walk across the causeway which divides the reservoir in two. We enjoyed seeing the ducks, grebes, cormorants and coots as well as, for some of us, the joy of finding a new place with level access.
By the time we had returned to the car park and everybody who was being collected had departed the sun was setting, a lovely sight over the waters of the reservoir.
Oxford Phab has not met in person since Tom’s quiz in March 2020, due to the need to stay safe during the Covid Pandemic. We are really grateful to St Swithun’s church in Kennington for allowing us to meet in their lovely grounds and bring food to have an open-air picnic.
The weather was perfect, very sunny, with a gentle breeze, and would have been too hot, but for the shade provided by the trees. There was also a lovely wildflower meadow.
It was such a change to see people in real life again, and although video meetings are much better than nothing, they do not suit everybody, so we have not seen some members for over a year.
We even celebrated a birthday – with cup cakes for covid-safety.
At the moment nobody knows what the future holds, but it was good to get back to Making More of Life Together.
Disabled students often face extra barriers in access to Higher Education. ‘Study Higher’ are running a Webinar about this.
The webinar is run by Study Higher which aims to deliver impartial advice to young people in Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Swindon about their future options in higher education. They also work with under-represented groups in higher education, such as disabled students.
The Study Higher webinar called Accessibility in Higher Education is aimed at students who would like to find out more about disability support at university or college. The webinar will take place on 8th July 5pm-6pm and students will be sent in the post an accompanying handout including an ‘applying to higher education as a disabled student’ checklist and a ‘questions to ask at open days’ checklist.
The session will cover:
Advice on where to go for disability support (from a Disability Support Officer at Oxford Brookes)
Advice on questions to ask when researching higher education
Advice on the Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)
Insight from a recent university graduate on accessing disability support
Hear from a disabled graduate about the transition from school to career
In the nature of Phab, Oxford Phab members are a diverse bunch, and lockdown has affected us in different ways, but at the same time there are things which are the same for all of us.
Before lockdown a keystone of Oxford Phab was our normal club meetings at Wesley Memorial Church on a Friday night. Whenever possible we ran a minibus to bring members who could not otherwise get there, and did art and craft activities, played games, cooked and/or ate meals together. All the activities could be enjoyed by all our members, and also – something we appreciate more now that this is harder to do, we could just rage against the injustice of the world, chat, smile or laugh.
We do our best to replace this by getting together over the Internet for a chat on a Friday night, and also another chat session on a Monday night.
Meeting like this is a valuable social contact, but we are very aware that not all of our members can meet this way. Not everyone has access to the Internet and it does not provide the chance for smaller chats about subjects which might be deeply interesting to a small subset of our members, and deeply boring to the rest. I do still have occasional Jitsi chats with Phab friends to ensure the world continues to be set to rights.
The wider Phab
Another thing we did under the ‘old normal’ was to get together with members of other Phab clubs. While getting together in person is not possible at the moment the National Phab are organising quiz sessions through Facebook, which we then link to from our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/oxfordphab/ and some of our members join in those sessions.
Loss and remembering
Lives cut untimely short are not a completely new experience for us. Roy Lewis, who was chairman of Oxford Phab several years ago, was someone who everyone who was fortunate enough to know him will always remember. His wisdom, kindness, intellect and optimism certainly inspired me. He was also a ruthless draughts player, and could knock back Brandy and Babycham when we were out and about with an impressive lack of impact on his ability to hold an intelligent conversation on a wide range of subjects. He was not the first member we have lost, and there have been several others since, but I, and as many members as could, made a special effort to join the diverse group of mourners at his funeral.
It is particularly hard to lose Kelly at a time when we can not gather to mourn and remember. Although in many ways a completely different person to Roy, she too had an astonishing range of friends, inside and outside Phab who will miss her very much. One of the things which makes Phab special is that we find common ground within our diversity.
One of the things Kelly enjoyed at Phab was Zumba, and we are very fortunate that George Martini is able to do online Zumba sessions with us on Friday Nights, which we follow with a chat (as we did when we all met up at Wesley Memorial).
This can be just as energetic as face-to-face Zumba – and we are sometimes joined by people who have supported Phab through running garden parties, helping out selling refreshments and so on, who would not normally be able to join in, as well as particularly close members of other Phab clubs.
We were really excited about our planned holiday to Avon Tyrrell in August, but have had to cancel that due to the virus. We have to make do, for now, with remembering the fun we had last year, and in 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015 and all the other jolly holidays we have had.
Nobody can be sure what the future will hold, but we hope we can learn from these difficult times, continue to support each other in new ways, as well as old and that the strengths which have brought us through previous crises will bring us though this too. We appreciate the support we have had from Wesley Memorial Church, friends and families of members, carers and NHS staff.