Disabled social worker Michael Slimings has set up his own company to provide support to disabled people. Anabel Unity Sale reports
Michael Slimings is a poacher turned gamekeeper, turned lord of the manor. It has been nine years since he went from being a service user to becoming a qualified social worker and finally, as of last month, director of Incontrol-Able, a company providing support to disabled people in his home area of Hartlepool. Not bad for a man who went into day services at the age of 17 and only got his first full-time job at 41.
Slimings – who was born with the joint disorder arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and uses a wheelchair – laughs when he recalls the changes he has been through: “I’ve always been self-motivated and if someone says I can’t do something I will go ahead and do it. When I was 20 I went on holiday to Magaluf, Mallorca with some friends and yes, we got up to all the things young lads do at that age. I still go on holiday with those same friends now.”
Growing up, a career in social work was not something Slimings imagined for himself. In fact, any career seemed out of his reach. “I never thought about getting a job as a child. At that time you either worked in a Remploy factory when you grew up or you didn’t work at all. It didn’t strike me as wrong; it was just the way it was.”
Having been unsuccessful at his Remploy interview after leaving his special school Slimings found himself going into local day services. There he played snooker and did pyrography (decorating wood or other materials with burn marks). A lot of it. One day, when he was 30 and still living with his parents on benefits, a trip to the local Citroen garage changed his life. He attended its open day about adaptations for cars to enable disabled people to drive and was inspired.
After an assessment at a spinal and head injury unit in Newcastle, Slimings was told he could drive and this, he says, spurred him on to more independence. He passed his driving test and bought a specially adapted car with money raised by his friends and family.
Over the years Slimings had a few temporary clerical jobs and, finding himself bored, completed an NVQ level 2 in business administration at a local college. He also began doing voluntary work helping people with learning disabilities and young people at risk of offending improve their reading. This led to him completing a teaching certificate and then a GNVQ in health and social care in 1996.
Throughout this time Slimings had little contact with social services, although he continued to use day services. “My family had a social worker but we didn’t have much interaction with them, we just plodded along and got on with it,” he says.
He graduated from Teesside University with a DipSW in 2000 and found a job with Darlington Council’s team for children with disabilities as a social worker.
He spent eight years working for different councils, voluntary and private sector agencies in a variety of frontline and management positions before branching out. Having personal experience of disability, he says, sometimes helped break down barriers with service users: “Some clients and their carers thought I understood their situation more because of my disability. However, there were also some who had very high expectations of what I could do for them while I still had guidelines to follow.”
In 2006 Slimings had the idea for an organisation to impartially advise and support disabled people. Along with his partner, and fellow company director, Fiona Minchella, he launched Incontrol-Able last October with £7,800 from Hartlepool Voluntary Development Agency and £5,000 from the council and carers group.
Incontrol-Able aims to support disabled people using individual budgets and those who do not meet local authority eligibility criteria by offering a drop-in advice service.
In May Slimings left his job at Hartlepool Council to focus on the company. He explains why he started the company: “When I was younger there was no specific professional that I could go to for advice and support who had the imagination and creativity to support me to achieve the things I have.”
“We want to change the negative stereotypes around disability and offer support to people without the restraint of whether they are eligible or not.”
- For more information on Michael Slimings’ organisation
This article is published in the 30 July 2009 edition of Community Care under the headline “Let’s put eligibility to one side”