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The Big Birmingham Blog as written by me…

Paul McCluskey

Peer Support Worker / Expert By Experience

Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust



Firstly, what an amazing weekend!

As another great recognition for all the incredible, and potentially influential status of my job as Peer Support Worker, I was nominated without my knowledge, from one of my dear colleagues and former Line Manager, Sue Bridges who felt that myself, and another dear colleague of mine called Lloyd Page are both very much deserving of award winners, which I only became aware of when I received an official email stating that I'd been nominated under the Breaking Down Barriers category, and my fellow colleagues, Sue and Lloyd were also nominated, which were as follows:


Sue Bridges: Learning Disability Nurse Award

Lloyd Page: Making A Difference (Not-for-Profit) Award and the People's (Individual) Award

Ian Duncan and George Millington: Support Worker Award

There was over 400 people there, from many different organisations across the whole country, so there were many awards handed out.

Unfortunately, I didn't win an award but was happy to have been invited to be part of an amazing, and unforgettable night. I was awarded a Finalist Award along with some 200 others!

THE DAY ITSELF:

On Friday 29 October, I was setting out to catch the 1156 train to Birmingham New Street, and I met up with my colleague, Sue, travelling in from Ipswich, then we get on to a very busy Midlands train and there was an issue in that, Sue did not have a reserved seat, but I did, but I was not happy that my seat was a window seat, and a complete stranger would have been sat next to me, who was clearly a regular commuter as she had her laptop out and I know I would've hated that part of the journey!



It was fortunate that there was a woman with two spare seats, unfairly blocked by her two suitcases, until I spoke up my concerns, when the lady offered Sue and I seats, which was at a table, even better, so we were both feeling a little bit stressed, and having lifted fairly heavy suitcases onto the upper rack, we could relax and start chatting about the day ahead and general catch-up.

The train was solid! We set off on time and had two overall changes to make... firstly at Ely, which was a fairly long journey, speeding past neighbouring stations such as Attleborough, Harling Road, Brandon, Thetford, Shippea Hill etc., down to Ely, where we had to change and only have a 30-minute wait for our next change, which went ridiculously quick! We both went for a cup of coffee and a light snack, although with the queuing Sue was caught up in, we had 10 minutes to enjoy a brief spell of fresh air, and not having to wear masks, then before we knew where we were, the train had arrived, another completely jam-packed nightmare with many other passengers with suitcases, blocking the aisles and making it nigh on impossible to find a seat, although after going up and down the train looking for an empty seat, we spot one with a table, so we settle there and place our suitcases on the floor, as Sue's was fairly heavy as it was loaded with various booklets and things associated with tonight's Award Ceremony.

We left Ely at 1330 then heading off North West-wards towards Peterborough, Stamford, Oakham, Catmose, Leicester, Melton Mowbray, Nuneaton, Coalsville Parkway, and eventually arrived at Birmingham New Street by 1545! That was a very long journey but what made it really special was with chatting with Sue at great length, sharing personal stories about my past etc., which I am not going to share here, so a polite request from me, to please not ask.

My first impression of BNS was how large the station itself was! It was like an airport concourse! Straight into a massive shopping mall, part of Birmingham's Bull Ring Centre, as Sue was due to introduce me to another work colleague, by the name of Gwen Moulster who I'd get to meet for the first time and to also come along to the ceremony and stay overnight too! We came out into Broad Street, and I was totally gobsmacked by this incredibly buzzing, bustling, industrial metropolis, with much roadworks going on and the evidence of there being a tram network, although there were no trams as the work on those was also underway.


Luckily Sue knew Birmingham more than I did, so we wandered around to locate a taxi, which we managed and headed round to this amazing space-like, futuristic, glass-fronted and very spacious exhibition centre which housed a Costa Coffee / restaurant, up to the auditorium, which was a very large room too, with over 40 tables all set up for the Awards Ceremony, bottles of Champagne in ice buckets, flower arrangements, pure white tablecloths and blue chairs with imitation gold trimming, a massive dance floor and a big stage area too!

We had to provide proof of NHS Covid vaccinations, and were issued with blue ribbons with the words, "Covid-19 Status Check," which were strapped to our wrists using velcro, of which, I am still wearing mine as a souvenir! Lol!


Once we were all ready for the evening, I got the pleasure of meeting Lloyd for the very first time, and vice versa, so that was a real joy, also to meet up with Jim Blair again, whom I had the pleasure of issuing him with a Green Light Badge back in 2019 in Ipswich. A very down-to-earth man, very funny and was nice to catch up with him and have a laugh too! From that point, we were all sensing tonight was going to be very memorable! We went to find our places for the evening...

There was another issue in that, although our table was at the front, which was fantastic, all seats were allocated for others BUT not myself, or Sue and Gwen, which was very inconvenient, plus we couldn't settle until this was sorted out, and Sue went to sort out this slight headache, until we managed to get a few more seats for that table then I could "officially" sit down, get to know Lloyd and having our first actual catch-up, outside of usually "seeing" each other at the Learning Disability Forums each week.

First part was the food, and the menu was as follows:

STARTER:

Camembert Cheese Croquettes, Poached Pear and Beetroot, Wild Leaf Salad, Toasted Pine Seeds and Apple & Cider Chutney

MAINS:

British Daube of Beef, Potato Gratin, Honey Glazed Roots, Red Onion Marmalade, Reduced Rosemary Jus

DESSERT:

Baked Orange Cheesecake, Marmalade Ice Cream and Meringue Crumble.

Although it was all fine dining, I cannot fault the food at all! It was lovely food, particularly the beef, that was the real highlight, it was so tender and crumbled apart as you bit in to it! The best beef I've ever tasted!

As the evening progressed, luckily the room was air-conditioned, and I'm really enjoying how we are all getting steadily merry on Champagne, Red and White Wine, other usual drinks such as your J20's, Cokes, Ciders etc.

I was happy to walk around occasionally, just to take in this amazingly "electric" atmosphere, where at one point, I was walking towards the bar, and was immediately star-struck as I saw the lovely Reverend Kate Bottley, who I have seen on Gogglebox, and below is a list of other TV and radio projects she is involved in:

Alone With The In-Laws (BBC2)

In The Footsteps of Judas, a BBC1 documentary all about Easter

Songs of Praise - she is a regular presenter

The One Show

Celebrity Masterchef

Hairy Biker's Cracking Christmas

Impossible Celebrities

Rip-Off Britain

Richard Osman's House of Games

8 Out of 10 Cats



They are the main ones although she's done much more and has a very impressive CV too!


I then returned to my table and told Sue that I'd spotted her and explained who she was. Once I explained, we went on a mission, looking around the whole room for her, although at that particular point, she'd gone backstage and that is a "no-go" area, unless you're fortunate enough to have a backstage pass, which are like gold dust and very difficult to obtain unless your name's on an exclusive list! Maybe one day?

It is now getting more amusing as I'm noticing Jim Blair getting absolutely "smashed" and he was doing some chair-dancing and later on, "busting some moves" on the floor during the live band right at the latter part of the evening, following the awards! It was a nice of such realism and the stuff that dreams are made of!

After a while, I've noticed that Sue has disappeared, only to return with Rev Kate, who has come over especially to say hello, give me a hug and have a chat with me, and I told her that I'm a regular viewer of Gogglebox, and she asked me about my favourite family, which I was thinking about, then she was summoned up on stage to introduce herself to everyone, and she said she is taking the place of actress, Sally Phillips, as she wasn't able to be there, so she'd be presenting the awards alongside the Master of Ceremonies, Steve Walls. After that introduction, she then disappeared to help out at the bar.



Then a little while later, everything went strangely quiet! The room went very dark and then I started hearing 'Here You Come Again' playing, then I looked right around and noticed this lovely woman figure with sparkly pink dress moving between the tables, shaking various people's hands, which I first thought that this was a Dolly Parton sound-a-like, until I became aware that IT WAS DOLLY PARTON as she began to sing her famous songs, 'Nine to Five,' 'Jolene,' 'I Will Always Love You,' which completed surprised the whole audience, who Dolly was ushering the audience to sing along. She came over towards us, Lloyd and myself both shook hands with her and had never felt so star-struck in our lives!


It took a while to sink in that it was her, until this moment comes up when she's stopped singing and she said: "My next song, I need a Kenny Rogers to help me with this! Any volunteers?" Lloyd stood up and I did too, and glad I did, I would've regretted it if I'd turned this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity down, so now looking back on it, I'm EVER SO HAPPY I went ahead with it, stood up on stage and sang along to 'Islands In The Stream,' with Dolly sharing her microphone and as I was singing, I was fixed straight into her eyes as I was singing! I never really rated her until that moment! She's currently 75 years old and she was so glamorous and sexy and still had an amazing powerful voice! I had to ask Sue to pinch me to make sure I wasn't just imagining what was happening!

At the end, we all bowed and got a standing ovation! What an amazing moment which I will certainly NEVER forget!

She's currently doing a U.K. tour but unfortunately she had to finish her performance and headed backstage so I lost that chance to ask for her autograph which would have been amazing, although I have tweeted Dolly and will ask for her autograph that way! I have met all sorts of famous people, which most was attributed due to my late dad's successful career in advertising and public relations from 1963-1988!


I was feeling on such a high! My heart was beating quite fast with the adoration of this lovely C&W legend! It took me a while to believe that was real! I was all over Twitter as well! Sue filmed me singing with Dolly, so on my other Facebook status, I have sent a video link, although it has We Transfer link, if you follow and click on the download link, then you can see and enjoy the moment for yourself, which I hope you will love as much as I did!


Then much later, feeling quite merry, very happy, having a laugh and enjoying everything about the night, and dancing on the floor to the live band that entertained people at the end of the night. All the awards had been announced, the categories were:

Employer (Independent) Award

Employer (not-for-profit) Award

Employer of People With A Disability

Newcomer Award

Support Worker Award

Registered Manager Award

Frontline Leader Award

Senior Manager

Learning Disability Nurse Award

Making A Difference (Independent) Award

Making A Difference (not-for-profit) Award

Trainer Award

Supported Housing Award

Breaking Down Barriers (Individual) Award

Breaking Down Barriers Team Award

Sporting Chance Award

Lord Rix Supporting Older People With A Disability Award

Great Autism Practice Award

Great Autism Practice Team

Positive Behaviour Support (Individual) Award

Positive Behaviour Support Team Award

Profound And Multiple Learning Disabilities (PMLD) Award

People's (Individual) Award

People's (Team) Award

The Jim Mansell Outstanding Contribution Award

The Lifetime Achievement Award

Social Care Covid Hero Award



And that gives you a full idea of the whole evening so you can imagine it was thoroughly enjoyable and memorable and hope you enjoyed reading it!


I fully enjoyed also getting Rev Kate to sign my programme which she did very keenly! She was so lovely, bubbly and adorable, so a massive great night was had by all!


I am now writing this, back at home, following a lovely night's sleep at the Jury's Inn Hotel in Broad Street, in the centre of Birmingham and enjoying a lovely full English at the local pub before returning to Norwich, as I was nursing a slight hangover, which was remedied by drinking a glass of water and a lovely strong coffee then getting ready for the long train journey back home, with Sue keeping me company and me talking more about my past, and it really helped being able to "open up" and talk honestly and openly, still, not saying any more on that here.


Our train left at 10:22, calling at Coleshill Parkway, Nuneaton, Melton Mowbray, Oakham, Stamford, Peterborough then had to change at Ely, for our train which gave us 30 minutes to wait, and by that time, and the late night and the early start, we were both starting to flag a little, although we were both feeling very tired and very happy too, and so proud of what was the best night out in a long time, and now, next year, as I'm new to Birmingham, I'm travelling up there for a week's holiday at some point and get to know this sprawling, industrial city!


We both finally arrived back in Norwich by 1430, both very tired, and luckily I live close to the railway station, so didn't have far to walk, although Sue had one more train to catch, back to Ipswich. We will definitely be keeping in touch, one way or another and maybe there'll be more similar nights to come?

THANKS FOR READING :)

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