CHERIE Blair praised the outstanding work of a disability service when she opened a learning centre on Friday.
The Prime Minister's wife was guest of honour at Vale Royal Disability Service, based at Hartford Business Park, as it launched its new community learning services centre aimed at helping train disabled people in order to boost their job prospects.
The learning centre further expands the service, which started in 1991 as a telephone helpline based in a flat in Winsford, and now has 11 outreach centres in Cheshire, has 29 disabled volunteers and nine paid employees and has helped thousands of local people over the past 15 years.
Chairwoman Christine Pickthall MBE said: 'The opening of our community learning services centre is important because we long ago recognised that employment can be very beneficial for disabled people. Employment boosts self-esteem and engenders a great source of achievement, satisfaction and pride.'
Mrs Blair told those gathered: 'This is a distinguished service and a wonderful building which is very spacious, bright and friendly. That is very important to your mission to reach out to people with disabilities.
'One thing I have learnt already is that you [Christine] are a woman that makes things happen. Anyone just hearing you speak and meeting you as I have done can see your drive and determination.
'It has made a difference and that's fantastic. I want to acknowledge that and it has been acknowledged by the highest in the land by your MBE. It's a real mark of respect.
'We have recognised that disability discrimination is the next frontier that as a society we have to examine; are we really accepting individuals for who they are rather than assuming that what they cannot do means they do not have anything to offer?
'I'm delighted to be here to celebrate this achievement for disabled people and recognising them as valued people in the community.'
Mrs Blair was joined by local dignitaries including Weaver Vale MP Mike Hall, chief executive of Central Cheshire Primary Care Trust Mike Pyrah, Deputy Mayor of Vale Royal Doug Shingler and county council vice-chairman Stephen Wilkinson.
Mr Pyrah said: 'Today is a real personal triumph for Christine and other staff and partners that work with her. I have worked in a number of areas in the country and I have never seen the enthusiasm we have here.'
'Our challenge is to rid society of taboo' > > >
'Our challenge is to rid society of taboo'
CHERIE Blair stepped down from the world stage to promote issues 'close to her heart' at Vale Royal Disability Service on Friday.
She said: 'My role as a lawyer means I'm interested in disabilities. I have practised for over 20 years and discrimination is an area I specialise in.
'Disability is a new area in discrimination law which needs exploring, as did racism and gender equality at one time. It's our challenge to rid society of this taboo and to keep on fighting. Thank goodness things are changing and in the last 15 years we have seen changes in the law and schools.'
Mrs Blair, who is patron for disability charity Scope, praised the work VRDS is doing in empowering people with disabilities. She added: 'There is nothing like seeing role models and there are plenty here. It's about human beings and how to bring the best out of them.'
Mrs Blair was asked by Vale Royal MP Mike Hall to perform the opening, and was delighted to accept the invitation.
She said: 'I have a particular affection for Mike. Tony and I have followed his career, so I like to support him.'
Founder member > > >
CHAIRWOMAN Christine Pickthall MBE, a founder member of the service in 1991, has been a wheelchair user since breaking her neck in a gym accident in 1972.
She was awarded her MBE in 2002 for improving services for the disabled and raising the profile of people with disabilities in society.
She said: 'When a person acquires a disability, it is a life-changing event. They are taken from independence to dependence and from ability to disability. This is an extremely difficult road for anyone who has to travel on it, and don't forget that acquiring a disability doesn't only traumatise the individual but also their families and friends.
'All of our trustees, volunteers and staff have personal experience of disability or have undertaken disability awareness training.
'At VRDS we know only too well that coping with disability has a detrimental effect on health and general well-being. It not only raises levels of stress but also increases the incidence of depression, often leading to suicide. This is exacerbated when disabled people become unemployed or cannot obtain employment, thus magnifying their feelings of worthlessness.'