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Tribute to Lorraine Gradwell

04 September 2017

Lorraine Gradwell, founder of Breakthrough UK and former Disability Rights UK trustee, died on Sunday 3 September 2017. Our Deputy CEO Sue Bott has written this tribute.

I first met Lorraine in 1991.  I had just started a new job in Shropshire as a development worker for a very young disabled people’s organisation.  I made my way to Manchester to see what I could learn from this disability activist who had a reputation for knowing her own mind.  I admit I was a little nervous.

We met and of course she could not have been nicer or warmer.  She gave me plenty of advice about how to deal with the thinking in Shropshire which was not as advanced as in Manchester.  You see there always was the Manchester way, quite distinct from the London way, and, according to Lorraine, far superior.  A true Mancunian!

I’ve watched Lorraine’s career with interest.  She was a force to be reckoned with in what was then the British Council of Organisations of Disabled People. Yes, she sometimes gave other people a hard time but only because she believed passionately in furthering disability rights.

She was the founder of Breakthrough UK, a Manchester based disabled people’s organisation entirely directed to increasing the employment of disabled people. It was a brave move. I wondered whether an organisation with a relatively narrow focus from other disabled people’s organisations would work.  Lorraine made it work and Breakthrough has gone from strength to strength.

I had the opportunity to ask the Office for Disability Issues to invite Lorraine to be part of the project group rolling out the last Labour Government’s Right to Control initiative – the project that was piloted in a few areas to bring disabled people’s support into one personal budget.  She came and her pearls of wisdom and experience stole the show.  So much so in fact I almost wished she had not been invited as she was far more articulate and wise than I was!

Lorraine was one of the first trustees of Disability Rights UK being elected in March 2012.  She approached her responsibilities in the usual forthright manner.  Hers was a necessary voice in a new organisation deciding on its direction.  Unfortunately, she had to resign as the travelling and commitment became too much.

I’ll miss Lorraine.  They do not make many like her forthright and principled.  If there is an after-life, then the angels had better watch out.  She won’t let them off the hook.

See also Appreciation of Lorraine Gradwell to be held on 2 October