It’s about 8 pm on a wet November evening and here I am, standing backstage at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh, while Perthshire native Fred McAuley is speaking on stage. Backstage, it is difficult to hear what’s going on out in the hall.
Nervousness and excitement don’t help either!
I’m with Georgie Williams and her assistants Lisa and Nima. We are at the Scottish Health Awards and Georgie is a finalist in the Volunteers Award. Georgie is a 28 year old woman who was born with quadriplegic cerebral palsy.
This means that she has no use of her legs and right arm and limited use of her left arm. She is unable to talk and uses a communication aid attached to her wheelchair.
Georgie joined CareSound Radio (previously known as Hospital Radio Perth) as a ward visitor and request collector in 2018. She attended two evenings per week and, with her communication aid primed with conversation and questions, she would go into the hospital wards at Perth Royal Infirmary, chat to patients and collect requests for songs to be played on that evening’s show.
While this was not possible during lockdown, she reverted to making radio programmes: recording introductions and chat about songs, then sending them to others to insert the music and creating the radio programme.
Following the lockdown, with visits to patients still impossible, she became the co-host of the Tuesday afternoon request show for local care homes.
Obtaining the requests the previous day by email, she spends around 10 hours preparing the introductions and chat on her communication aid, before travelling to the studio the following afternoon and presenting the programme. That in itself is a huge commitment but Georgie is determined to improve the lives of others with similar challenges.
Georgie is a member of the Straight Talking Group at Dundee University, an expert user group of individuals using augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) overseen by Professor Annalu Waller OBE.
She has recently completed a college module that allows her as an experienced user of a communication aid to mentor others who are new or less confident in using the devices.
Georgie works with medical students, traffic wardens and taxi drivers among others to help them understand the requirements of people with complex needs and how best to communicate and assist those with communication aids.
She also works with teachers and other educational staff advising on inclusion and equality and how to cater for those with disabilities within the school system.
We can all learn from Georgie, and others with complex needs, on how best to interact without being condescending or patronising. Her talks cover a wide gamut of issues that affect wheelchair users and communication aid users.
She is an exceptionally motivated and determined young woman who always sees the positive side of life, dismisses “disability” and embraces “ability”: loves to ski, swim, cook and meet up with friends, but her big passion is music, whether going to concerts or playing requests on the radio.
Georgie brings cheer to everyone she meets and is universally admired for her willpower and enthusiasm. She is a hugely inspirational woman.
It was my pleasure as Chairman of CareSound Radio to nominate her for the award.
And now, here we are, nervously backstage with fingers crossed. We hear Fred introduce the representative of the award sponsor to make the announcement.
She’s a bit far from her microphone and we are struggling to hear her, but the last bit is clear: “…and the winner of the Volunteer Award is Georgie Williams, NHS Tayside.”
The announcement is immediately drowned out by the whoops of delight from the others in our group and the cheers of the 600 people in the hall. As Fred pointed out, that’s the loudest cheer he’s heard for any winner in the dozen or so years he has hosted the awards.
We all fight our way through the curtain and onto the stage: then it all becomes a bit of a blur in the spotlights. A brief video about Georgie is played and Michael Matheson MSP, Cabinet Secretary for NHS Recovery, Health and Social Care presents Georgie with the trophy.
Fred has a chat with Georgie who makes a lovely thank you speech that she’d prepared, “just in case”. And then it was time to head out for photos and congratulations.
As I pass Fred, he leans towards me and off mike says “Are you having a wee greet big fella?”
You’re right Fred I am, and I’m not the only one!