Wheelchair user and creator of PA recruitment website PA Pool, Katy Etherington, paints a picture for Disability Horizons of the night she was awarded an Association of Colleges Gold Award at the Houses of Parliament.
The morning arrived and I opened my eyes with some trepidation. Today was the big day; we were off to the Houses of Parliament where I was to be presented, amongst a line up of other seriously notable winners, with an Association of Colleges Gold Award.
The awards ceremony is held each year to recognise further education graduates as well as acknowledge the vital role that colleges play in the careers of the winners. Apparently my achievements since leaving the National Star College (who kindly nominated me for this award) have warranted this accolade.
Alongside people like Justin King (the CEO of Sainsbury’s) and boxer Amir Khan, to name but a few, I still can’t see how anything I’ve done compares to their achievements; setting up PA Pool and a bit of Freelance work in graphic design?! Really?!
My PA, Edit, did a fantastic job of making me look the part and by the time dad arrived I was buffed, polished and as ready as I’d ever be! I spent the entire journey to London practising my speech; that was the bit I was most nervous about, as public speaking is my idea of hell! But, by the time we arrived at the first line of Policemen guarding the colossal building, I was pretty confident I’d mastered it as well as I could.
Once inside, a blue-coated escort appeared and marched us into the building past even more Policemen armed with automatic weapons. Quite overwhelmed by it all – and concerned that we hadn’t been search by security as we were warned we would be – I sat silently in the main cafeteria looking out for any famous faces.
Conservative MP Eric Pickles waddled past and disappeared behind a screen towards the back of the room. I concluded that it must be where the ‘notable’ people sat to escape the ‘nobodies’.
Eventually dad and I plucked up the courage to move from our seats and venture out onto the Terrace Pavilion to see the view of the Thames and the London Eye. A few more recognisable faces were congregated around tables sipping chilled glasses of wine, but I found the view over the river much more interesting.
On the way back to my seat I bumped into another wheelchair user, Craig, my ‘mini me’. Every winner had a ‘mini me’ and Craig, who was still a student at National Star College, had been picked as someone who would follow in my footsteps. We joined in conversation with David, who was my tutor from National Star College and is now Director of College Development. We were mid chat when I was summoned to do an interview for local radio. Scary, but I tried not to think about it and let my brain go on autopilot! They seemed pretty pleased with my responses to their questions. Mind you, I think they always say how fantastic you were, don’t they?!
The room began to fill up and people mingled and chatted. Justin King stood talking to me for ages, extremely interested in who I was and what I’d done. At the time, I embarrassingly couldn’t for the life of me remember who he was; oops! I was absolutely mortified that all the effort I’d made swatting up on the other winners had been in vain; my brain had turned to Swiss cheese.
It didn’t seem very long before the time came to present the awards. Everybody gathered around the small podium ready for the ceremony presented by Liberal Democrat Lord Willis. He seemed like a very pleasant and genuine chap and read a short biography about each winner before presenting them with their award.
I was the very last person to receive their award and sat awkwardly listening to Lord Willis read my biography, still not quite fathoming how I could be amongst such a wealth of high achievers! Then it was my moment to approach the podium and accept my beautiful cast glass accolade. My speech was a bit of a blur, but I think I said thank you to all the right people. Dad said it sounded really natural and unrehearsed, which I’m guessing meant it was OK. I was just mightily relieved when that last word passed my lips!
With all the formalities over we were all able to chill out a bit! Everybody was really friendly and the atmosphere was much more relaxed than I’d feared. Before I know it Big Ben was chiming 6pm; the time had flown, but it had been a really, really lovely two hours. I still couldn’t quite believe where I was though and what had just happened!
As we exited, I was able to take in a few more sights of the impressive building, especially at the crossroads of the House of Commons and the House of Lords. It was an amazing sight and I was so awe struck that I almost missed a sighting of Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson who whizzed past in a pink blur!
Back home and with a nice chilled glass of wine, the realisation that I had won this amazing award was slowly starting to sink in.
The reason I had won was PA Pool. Finding and recruiting your own PA isn’t easy and, as I often say; “when it’s good it’s fantastic, when it’s bad it’s horrid”. For me that sums up having to rely on finding the right person to help with most of everyday tasks! Being a PA user has not only given me some of the most liberating experiences of my life, but also some of the most stressful!
I hope, therefore, that you will find PA Pool helpful in enabling you to make choices for yourself.
By Katy Etherington
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