Officer training – not all stiff upper lip!

Three months’ “shake-and-bake” officer training at the Britannia Royal Naval College back in 1978 produced a great batch of new Women’s Royal Naval Officers.

You can see that parades featured large – and it could be perhaps an hour standing around with those winter winds blowing up skirts.  We all had full sets of cold weather gear: thermal vests and short “long johns”.  The problem was when the weather was so bad that they cancelled the outdoor parade so we had to strip off the thermals in no time flat – which also meant grappling with complicated collar studs.  Where did they get the idea that still dressing up for the last century was a mark of leadership potential?

The great and the good, the Admirals and Director WRNS, came to inspect the turn-out and precision footwork.

Behind the scenes there was a bit more fun: taking our feet off the ground for a flight in the College’s helo.  I just wish I had an image of the ballroom dancing classes we took in preparation for all the future wardroom Balls– there was so much laughter at the dreadful footwork that some were thrown out for being too disruptive.

And the rehearsal for the end-of-term Passing Out Parade was another traditional time for different dressing up – its difficult to see which were the real women and which were just for the morning.

On parade 2 On parade Passing out parade rehearsal Butter wouldn't melt Close inspection Dressed for Helo flight

Can’t see but can cook and dream!

I’m Penny Melville-Brown and have been trying to push the disability boulder up the mountain of public attitudes for years.  So I’m delighted that Disability Talk has invited me to provide this guest blog.

Penny chopping while filming for bakingblind.comIt all started over 20 years ago when I was still serving in the Royal Navy and my eye sight started to go.  They were very good: after being off-sick for a year and with just sight in one eye, I went back to work, got a promotion and carried on even while the other eye was failing. The Navy helped me with flexible hours, getting to work and magnification on my computer even though, like other parts of the military, they weren’t covered by the equality legislation.    When I was finally medically discharged, those years with all sorts of health difficulties gave me the confidence that being blind didn’t stop me working.

But trying to persuade future employers seemed a slim chance until I was lucky enough to link up with others equally passionate about making work a real prospect for disabled people.  So I launched Disability Dynamics: working on employment programmes, equality schemes and trying to change some of our public services.  Over the last few years, I’ve been heavily involved in self-employment as it can be ideal when employers are still reluctant and we may need to keep control of where, when and how we work.  There are some wonderful stories of how people have changed their lives – feeling better and happier.  We were just on the brink of more inclusive support for business start-ups when the recession hit and the Government changed.

Over the years, I’ve heard from lots of people who are hugely frustrated, depressed and isolated because their efforts to get a job just result in repeated rejections.  I’m convinced that there are millions of disabled people who would work if they could but haven’t had the help they need or the opportunities they deserve.  Just pushing them through programmes designed for other long-term unemployed people can seem more about a target-driven process than getting the best from this national resource.  There are still lots of questions  as to whether the forthcoming Work and Health programme will deliver the radically different approach we need – and demolish the ultimate barrier: employers’ attitudes.

With lots of help from those with specialist knowledge about disability and employment, we put together our Steps to Success and Sustainable work models that show that just one organisation will rarely have all the skills and capacity to provide every variation of support.    Our Help to Work partnership showed that multiple organisations embedded in the local community working together can succeed where parachuted national providers may not.

Along the way, there have been many more topics to debate from the disability perspective:

You can see my blogs with lots of images of my flower arrangements and some recipes.  The last gives a clue to my latest venture: Baking Blind.  The cooking videos and recipes are just another way of trying to show that having a disability isn’t the end of the world and that blindness or any other impairment doesn’t stop us doing most things.  I’ve rather optimistically entered an international competition to take the idea around the world.  And I’ll be blogging more recipes over coming months – and about how I’m bashing bowls out of pewter!  One of my taxi drivers has been teaching me some of his dishes and we have a whole range of great bakes for Comic Relief coming next.


Penny Melville-Brown OBE

Disability Dynamics ltd

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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