Both of yesterday’s meetings made me nervous, but in different ways, and once there, the nerves soon passed, because I had prepared and I knew what I wanted to say:
I had suggested that we meet in a Garden Centre café, not far from Joshua’s daycare and close to where the RDA instructors live and I was first there. We had agreed to meet outside due to Covid, but the café was not busy so we sat indoors thankfully, as it was drizzling and cold. For the first half hour we chatted about holidays and so we were all more relaxed when it came to RDA business. I repeated my two concerns : firstly that Joshua was riding without stirrups due to his large boots and secondly, that his request to ‘Stop’ went unheeded back in April. I explained that I was not just moaning, that RDA is a fabulous opportunity for the riders and so my criticisms were constructive, to improve matters for all of the riders, not just Joshua. I received an apology for them not hearing or heeding Joshua’s request to ‘stop’.
As we talked, they understood more about my concerns and how Joshua is – although he has been riding with all three of these ladies for almost 15 years we worked out – it is a hectic half hour, when there is not a lot of time to get to know the riders. They asked about his epilepsy and about his daycare, so they had a more rounded appreciation of Joshua. And I understood much more about the pressures they are under from the national organisation, from the lack of volunteers and from the stables where they ride. That mutual understanding could only be achieved by taking the time to meet and share face to face, so it was a really worthwhile and productive meeting.
I arrived with a suggestion to the boot problem, which should mean that he can ride with stirrups again. We will either wheel him in a wheelchair or walk him to the mounting block as usual, then swap his clumpy NHS boots for some slimmer cheap trainers, that he can ride in but will not have to walk in. We will trial this at his next rides and see if that suits Joshua and if it suits their stirrup rules, which for the first time were explained to me : there has to be a minimum clearance round his shoe, so that his foot does not get wedged in the stirrup in the case of an emergency, so that his foot can quick release.
I was emotional at the meeting as I was being Joshua’s voice, but I only cried once – which is good for me – and it was when I was talking about giving Joshua more choice in his activities and letting him take the lead more. I wept then and noticed that the three RDA ladies welled up too, so they could see my passion for getting things right for him. But it was a productive and long meeting- almost two hours – but I think we all left with a better insight into each other’s concerns and a plan moving forward too.
After a tasty lunch with a school Mum, we drove to Joshua’s old school and it felt very odd to be back. I got butterflies walking to the reception, something which I had done almost daily for years. It was starting to feel overwhelming when the Dinner lady who used to give Joshua his lunch was leaving school and she gave me a big grin and asked after him, he was not forgotten after all and that was all I needed to set me on the right track. I had to sign in, which I never used to do as I had a pass as a school governor, and we were directed into the meeting room where I used to hold all of my parent coffee mornings. The head of 6th form chaired the meeting which was attended by four Mums whose ‘children’ – now 20/21 year olds – had left school during the Covid years – and one ex-pupil who attended with her Mum. Her presence was a great icebreaker too and when asked what she wanted from a leavers event, all she wanted was a Photo Booth, which seemed to be a modest request.
I was disappointed at first when the Head of 6th said that any event could not be held on school premises, for insurance reasons, and it was clear that this was for us to arrange, and fund, rather than the school providing a farewell event , as every other year has had a Prom. So with that being clear, we set about, not defeated, throwing ideas around about possible venues. One Mum brilliantly suggested her local village hall as a possible venue and we could hire it at a modest cost, so she is finding out about its availability and their charge. We decided to buy buffet food and paper plates, so we might need to make a small charge to cover the costs. One Mum knows a leaver who has his own disco equipment so she was going to ask him if he would DJ the event. So we had actions and a plan here too. I made the point that it was not just for the leavers to be reunited to be able to say goodbye, but that parents needed closure too. Sixth form staff would be invited to attend too and it would be brilliant if some of them felt able to attend. So after my initial disappointment, I left giddy that we had a plan and that we could between us create something that the young people should enjoy.. so long as we sort that photo booth out!