Tommy Whitelaw, Project Engagement Lead for Dementia Carer Voices and long-time campaigner has been awarded an Honorary Master of the Open University for his exceptional contribution to the education of health and social care workers, managers and policy makers on the needs of people living with dementia, their families and carers.
Tommy’s campaigning journey began in 2011 when he undertook a walk round Scotland’s towns and cities to collect hundreds of life story letters from individuals caring for a loved one living with dementia. Tommy was caring for his late mum Joan, who had vascular dementia and felt passionately that no one should have to face the confusion, loneliness and isolation that too often becomes part of the caring experience. Tommy presented these letters at the Scottish Parliament to ensure that real people’s experiences are at the heart of the decision making process.
Since then, he has engaged with thousands of carers through his ‘Tommy on Tour’ blog and as Project Engagement Lead with the Health and Social Care Alliance’s Dementia Carer Voices Project, conducting frequent talks to health and social care professionals, students and carer organisations across Scotland and indeed the UK to raise awareness of the impact of dementia on people and families, and the importance of empowering carers in carrying out their difficult but vital role. He and the team have also made a series of videos which have been used as key learning resources by the Open University, with many students also attending Tommy’s educational seminars to really embed the importance of genuine person centred care.
The team are incredibly proud of Tommy for this incredible achievement, and for the work he does on a daily basis. We would like to say a huge congratulations to Tommy for what is a truly outstanding accomplishment.
Upon receiving the award, Tommy said:
“I’m really privileged to receive this Honorary Master of the University from the Open University. Arriving home from a talk and receiving the letter the day after my mum’s birthday was particularly special.
The work we do is really based on people and relationships, so I would like to dedicate this to my mum, and my friend and colleague Irene Oldfather’s mum, along with my colleagues Laura and Sarah, and Joyce Cavaye for the nomination.
As a project, we are looking forward to working with the Open University and excited to have the opportunity to work with the future of health and social care.”
Speaking of the award, ALLIANCE Director Irene Oldfather said:
“I first met Tommy in July 2011, a few months after my mum had died.
I was at that time promoting work on the Charter of Rights for People with Dementia that I had started in Parliament. I recognised a kindred spirit.
Within the sadness of Tommy’s story, there was an enthusiasm and determination for change that can only come from the journey of loss that dementia can be. I say loss – but somehow even within and around that deep daily loss is something that cannot be broken even by dementia – unconditional love. The privilege of caring – a special smile, a small gesture – even when communication is gone, a meaningful shared look can and often does, say it all. And you think – how lucky am I – how lucky am I to have today, with this wonderful amazing beautiful person who did everything for me – my mum?
I don’t think anyone in Scotland has done more to raise awareness and to campaign than Tommy and it is right and fitting that those efforts have been recognised in his Honorary Degree from the Open University.
It is almost four years to the day that I first met Tommy. I am proud of what he has achieved and I know his mum would be too. Sometimes it is from the deepest darkest places that the light shines through. Since that day four years ago Dementia Carer Voices has been set up. We are determined that the light and sparkle of wonderful people will never be diminished even by dementia and that the wonderful mothers of this world will always be remembered. Thank you Tommy for all you do to make that happen.”