Our Little Acorn

On 25th September 2012, MD Support Centre signed its first lease for premises at Hereward College. Now, almost exactly 10 years later, we have moved to our new home at Westwood House!

We kick off our 10 Year Anniversary Celebrations this month with a look back at the very start of our charity. So, how did we end up at Hereward in the first place?  How did it all begin? Read on to find out more…

Just like a house that can’t be built and sustained unless strong foundations are in place, or a tree that can’t grow tall and support itself without a good network of roots, the MD Support Centre as we know it simply couldn’t be where it is today without the founding Trustees and dedication from the supporters involved in getting it set up and running – especially those who took on the major responsibility for the initial fundraising which was needed to get the Centre off the ground. Whole families took up the challenge to raise funds and awareness of the project.

A couple of months back, I caught up with Karen Bayliss, founding Trustee and one of the key people who did a lot of the “leg work” early on to set up the Centre. Karen is also one of our ‘Coffee Machine Trio’ but more on that story later… 

One of the first things Karen said to me was, 

“Our little acorn, look how it’s grown!” 

She seemed truly in awe at how the Centre has developed over time and of the people now involved in its success. 

“It’s just like a tree” Karen says

“We planted the roots and now it’s grown, and it is branching off in different directions”. 

This is an analogy that I absolutely love. For sure, mighty oaks grow from tiny acorns and anyone that knows me more personally, knows about my love for trees. But I was also quick to remind Karen that none of this could have been possible if not for her. Karen, after all, was the one to help get the ball rolling to set up the Centre in the first place. Humbled, she replied 

“I just started the ball rolling.” 

For all of her modesty, I know that I wouldn’t be writing this if it wasn’t for Karen (et al), and you wouldn’t be reading these words. We are all here because of MDSC, and MDSC is here because of people like Karen, Jane and Mark Field and Julian Pritchard (the Charity’s first Chair of Trustees) along with many dedicated others.

So how did it all begin? And how does an object like a simple coffee machine play an integral part in this story?

With frustrations around access to appropriate physiotherapy for adults with neuromuscular conditions coupled with a high demand for such therapy in the Midlands area, Karen campaigned and worked alongside healthcare professionals tirelessly in an attempt to make things right. It was through the then named Muscular Dystrophy Campaign that Karen connected to Mark and Jane Field. 

Mark and Jane were similarly frustrated about the lack of access to long-term physiotherapy for when their son Murray became an adult. 

“We are not all square pegs fitting into square holes, some of us are round pegs” Karen adds. 

It’s true, one size simply does not fit all. 

“Through our work setting up the West Midlands Muscle Group, Jane, Mark and myself were invited on to the NHS West Midlands Specialised Commissioning Group to discuss services for people with neuromuscular conditions – everything from wheelchairs to physio. At one such meeting which had lasted all day, we discussed the need for ongoing condition specific physio, which the other members of the group just weren’t recognising. We eventually broke for coffee, and we made our way to the coffee machine, feeling very frustrated but not defeated. We looked at each I remember saying ‘they’re not getting it, I think there’s only one way we can go with this’ and both Jane and Mark replied together ‘Yeswe need to open our own centre’. We looked at each and nodded …. rest is history”

So, this is how the ‘Coffee Machine Trio’ if you will, came up with idea that they needed their own Centre and hence the Charity was conceived!

“Looking back, it was such an exciting and amazing experience, and to see how a conversation at the end of a very long and difficult meeting was a catalyst for what we have today”

Karen, like a handful of other service users had previously attended another centre, NMC Winsford in Cheshire, but the long journey times there and back ended up counteracting what benefits she received from the physiotherapy. 

Winsford however had an important part to play in the form of connections that were initiated by Matthew Lanham, CEO. Matthew connected Karen to Julian Pritchard and his Uncle Alexander Patrick, who were very enthusiastic about the project. Julian didn’t hesitate in getting on board and took on the role of chair of the rapidly expanding group of like-minded people, as well as rolling up his sleeves and helping with one of the first bucket collections at Birmingham New Street Station with Karen.

If Karen started the ball rolling, she kicked it to Julian, and he then ran with it. 

Another perfectly aligned meeting of souls.  

Even our first premises at Hereward College came about after a chance meeting during the (by now named) MDUK’s National Conference. The Centre (at that time known as NMC Midlands) had a stand set up to raise awareness of the project and it just so happened that the stand was opposite one manned by Jon Clugson from Hereward. Karen and Jon got talking, and that conversation led to an arrangement eventually being made that Hereward would be the Centre’s home – and so it remained so for our first 10 years. 

It seems the Centre was just meant to be. The Universe aligned and the right people met at the right time, and in the right place. Even down to the smaller things like the builders who helped bring some second-hand office furniture over for the office. Karen says,

“We were very lucky to be offered the office furniture from my husband’s company SMS Electronics who were refurbishing their offices. The only problem was it was in Nottingham, however my builder who was building my extension at the time offered to fetch and deliver it for us ….it was amazing how everything came together for us”

Each person brought their own knowledge and experience to the table, which again is a prime example of how people can integrate and work together harmoniously, in turn creating this precious community. I’ve mentioned it previously and I’ll say it again now, the Centre was built with the hearts of many, and it still thrives on love. 

“We were very lucky to have some fabulous people involved at the very start of the project, we were then joined by an army of fundraisers who raised the funds to make it happen”.

It all fell into place so seamlessly and here we are now over ten years later looking back in awe at how it’s grown so beautifully and it’s all thanks to you, each and every one of you. That little acorn, look indeed at how it’s grown. 

“I’m proud” says Karen “but I’m prouder of the people involved now… we did the easy bit really…”