This tea towel found it’s way into my collection; it was, in fact, a gift from me to Antenna, a Counselling Service for disabled people. In 1995, I was approached by the Leicestershire Disabled Support Group to find funding in order that a Counselling Service specifically for disabled people could be set up; they had already established that there was a need for such a service. The unique feature of this service would be to offer free, face to face counselling, by trained volunteers, in the homes of disabled people – something that was unheard of. There were all sorts of queries about ‘the counselling process being interfered with’ if the Counsellor had no control over the environment; for example, if the telephone rang or the dog started barking. Do people not understand there is a real world out there, not some protected environment. The argument I would always stand by is that many disabled people are, effectively, denied access to a Counselling Service when they are not able to receive it in ther own home – either because they cannot leave their own home through mental ill health or impairment or because the physical effort to travel to a venue takes so much out of them that the Counselling session becomes ineffective. The expense of travelling to a venue by taxi may mean that a disabled person may have to choose between counselling and food for the day. In 1996, many Counselling Projects were based in inaccessible venues.
In 1996, Joint Funding between Social Services and Health saw sense and awarded a three year, non-renewable, grant to establish the service. The Counselling Service was developed under the umbrella of FAIRDEAL, an organisation I worked for. There was a timescale by which the Counselling Service should be fully independent, a stand-alone project. By 1 September 1996, the Counselling Service was ready to launch as independent and the Management Committee had chosen the name of ‘Antenna’ with a logo of a butterfly. The name represented the antenna of butterflies, which seek out and sense the world around them. At the launch, I gave the Manager a tea towel covered with butterflies; at that time, it was quite difficult to find a tea towel with only butterflies on it! I am sure that today it would be much easier.
This tea towel was just perfect for what I wanted; it has 9 ‘windows’ with different butterflies resting on leaves and plants. While the butterflies are all different, and are highly patterned, they are not specific types. The tea towel has a border of leaves. What is nice about this tea towel is that although there is a lot of detail, the colours are muted, soft and almost pastel. The tea towel has worn well considering it is 20 years old although one of the stitched hems is slightly frayed.
Sadly, although Antenna was very successful as a stand-alone Counselling Service, providing a much needed service and valued by disabled people, it did not attract any additional funding, however hard we all tried. By 2001, the Management Committee asked another organisation of disabled people to incorporate Antenna into it’s services. Antenna still survives as an unfunded service but in these days of austerity for charities there is no guarantee how long it has left. In 2001, when Antenna gave up its own offices and equipment, I bought the tea towel back for a small donation, as a momento, a memory of all the hard work that was put into establishing Antenna.
20 years on, colleges providing training for Counsellors are still questioning whether home visits will ‘interfere with the counselling process’. It is no wonder that many disabled people face inequality, discrimination, lack of opportunity and unfairness if educational establishments cannot see that ‘reasonable adjustments’ as defined by the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (to be subsumed by the Equality Act 2010) are appropriate in some cases. Who would think that a Cloud of Butterflies could result in a political and human rights debate?
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