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2022 Winter Paralympics - An Interview with Zak Skinner

The Winter Paralympic Games are once again upon us. With this opportunity to highlight the great and inspiring feats of many disabled athletes from around the world, we thought we’d reach out to a friend of Compaid, British Paralympian and European long-jump and 100m champion, Zak Skinner, to answer a few questions about his time training during a global pandemic and his expectations regarding the winter games.   How did you been coping with day to day life during the pandemic? For me the pandemic was a struggle, but I had it a lot luckier than a lot of people in the early stages. The track was allowed to stay open under strict circumstances which allowed us to carry on training and mentally, being able to have contact with people and get out of the house was amazing. It also took away a lot of the external distractions that can come in a lifestyle where there was nothing to actually do outside of training. For me the hardest part was when everything started to ease, because nothing eased for us. It was still too risky to be mixing with many people. Apart from that and unfortunately catching Covid myself, I did manage okay and am glad to see we are moving past it all now.   Did the pandemic disrupt your training? If so, in what ways and how did you resolve the issue? As mentioned earlier we were lucky in that the track stayed open, but the strict conditions meant the environment was strange and tight time slots meant we really had to cram everything in. We were always rushed with training and what we had to do, but these were minor disruptions compared to the other athletes who didn’t even have track access at all.   Do you work with any other disability organisations besides Compaid? I have done a very small amount of work before with the RNIB, but apart from that I haven’t. So it’s great to be working closely with a charity that helps and supports other disabled people.   What are your thoughts on the upcoming Winter Paralympic Games in Beijing? What events are you looking forward to watching and why? As a massive fan of the games and sports all around so it’s all very exciting. I think the Winter Paralympics also offer a lot more insight into the abilities and possibilities of people with disabilities. Purely because you’d assume that these sports can’t be done with people with severe impairments. But then you see people skiing with one leg and blind athletes travelling down mountains at 100kph and it’s truly breath-taking. My favourite event is the sloped skiing. It’s basically a race which is so exciting but also the margins are so small. For such a long and complicated course for it all to come down to thousands of a second makes it so exciting to watch. There is no room for error.   Is there one particular Winter Paralympic athlete who inspires you most, and why? Millie Knight, she’s one of the blind skiers that we have in the games and I can relate to the disability which is great. Not only this but the events she competes in, I even think possible for the visually impaired.   It had been reported from previous games that the Paralympics have been able to change public perception about people with disabilities for the better. What are your thoughts on this and what have you been doing to raise the profile of disabled athletes? 2012 London games was huge for this. Half the team that came with me to Tokyo I’m sure were inspired by 2012. It offered an insight into disabled sport that had never been seen before. We as elite athletes compete at a high level and want to win medals. However also as Paralympian we also showcase the possibilities and opportunities that are available to disabled people. Enabling them do and be more.   Do you have any advice for other people with disabilities who want to get into sports? I think the biggest things I learnt that I would advise other people with is don’t limit yourself with perceived exportation of your ability. Give it all a go and if it’s not working you’ll find out. But it’s more damaging to not partake because of fear of failure. The best thing to do is give everything a go and I’m sure you’ll surprise yourself with how good you are with it.   We, like Zak, are excited to witness everything the Winter Paralympic Games have to offer, and will be cheering on the skilled and determined athletes as they continue to reach new heights individually, in their field and collectively with their teams and the world as a whole. 

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Help us save the Kent Karrier service

Kent County Council is consulting on a proposal to terminate the Kent Karrier service, which provides door to door transport for disabled people, those aged 85 or over, or individuals living more than 500 metres from a bus route or railway station. Kent Karrier services are available in every district in Kent, and Compaid currently operates seven of these, in Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Malling, Sevenoaks, Maidstone, Ashford, Swale and North West Kent. Over 1,000 vulnerable residents in the county rely on these services to get out of their homes and into their local town and community at least once a week. A withdrawal of the Kent Karrier service would result in many more people being socially isolated and relying on adult social care support to live independently. A recent survey of our Kent Karrier passengers found that 88% said they felt more independent, and 82% said they were less lonely and isolated as a direct result of the service and the friends they made on their regular journey. Kent County Council is proposing to terminate these services to save around £500,000 a year. We believe that spending £500 per Kent Karrier member is money well spent, helping vulnerable people to find enjoyment and independence in their lives. The cost to KCC's social care budget would be much higher if these services were to disappear. If you agree that the Kent Karrier services should be saved, please submit your views through KCC’s official consultation, which you can find at www.kent.gov.uk/bussavings You can also contact your local KCC councilor to raise this issue. You can find contact details for your local councillor here: https://www.kent.gov.uk/about-the-council/how-the-council-works/county-councillors Together we can save these vital services and help disabled and older people in Kent stay independent and active for years to come.

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From Kickstarter to Social Media Assistant - Ife's start at Compaid

All the social media posts in the past week have been written by me, the new Social Media Assistant for Compaid, and in my brief time working for such a reputable organisation, I have learned more than I expected and have been impacted personally even more so. I started working at Compaid after 2 years of looking for a job post-graduation. As soon as I got out of university, the pandemic was in full effect, so my hopes of finding a job as soon as possible were slim. I had no work experience prior, besides the one position I had for only two months before leaving the company, but not long after that, I found the opening at Compaid through the Kickstarter Scheme and applied, hoping perhaps something would come of it. I didn’t know much about the organisation besides what was on their website, but once I was accepted and I started, my eyes were opened to even more about the business and the services they provide that I couldn’t have experienced by just reading articles. I spent the first few days in the training centre and accompanying a driver on one of the community transport buses, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to experience the life changing services of Compaid first hand. While in the training centre, I got the chance to sit with the staff and volunteers who help the many disabled and vulnerable people who attend each day, understanding the different activities and skills that are taught and how one to one support makes such a difference. In all honesty I was nervous to start, worried I might do or say the wrong thing, but as I sat with them, I realised just how important this environment is for these amazing people. I got to know many of the clients who are so talented and excited to learn and love to be inspired. Many of the clients attending the training centre are extremely creative, using the computers to create games, write and design pieces of art that are so wonderful it inspired me to get back to writing myself again. Despite the learning, physical or mental disabilities many of them have, these people are so real and honest and no different to you or I. When out with one of the drivers, we talked about his experiences picking up elderly and disabled people and helping them into town or to other journeys that they use our transport. One point that struck me was how the driver emphasised how we all have problems we are facing in our lives, but it doesn’t make us a lesser person for having them. Often in society, vulnerable people are looked down on or overlooked because of the illnesses they are facing, but if we take the time to just talk to them about their day, ask them what they’re interested in or let them talk about what they’re doing, we’ll quickly realise how valuable they are. Their stories and struggles and world view all contribute to the enthused and passionate people they are. They are more than their disabilities. This week I spent time with Val, manager of the Outreach Training Services. Before joining Compaid, even after reading through the website, I didn’t know how far their reach was, so after talking to Val, I realised how truly passionate she and her team are  about helping as many vulnerable people as possible. Working with organisations like Job Centre Plus and housing associations to support vulnerable people who may need Compaid’s help is admirable and the impact they have in the wider community is something I will respect for the significant future. I know I’m only one week into working with Compaid, but my time here has already been so inspiring for me within the organisation and in my own life. To be so passionate about a cause such as this is the way I want to lead my own life, and I hope that, as I continue to work with them, I will learn how I too can be a positive catalyst for change in my own goals for my life and in the lives of others I encounter along the way.

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