THE BLOG

Dambusters: Living Legacy

15/05/2013 13:50 BST | Updated 15/07/2013 10:12 BST

Many of us remember the outstanding bravery of the Dambusters from the epic film of our childhood. Others will have studied their heroism and the story of the "bouncing bomb" as part of the new school curriculum. But for me in the week which marks the 70th anniversary of the Dambusters raid, carried out by the 617 Squadron of the Royal Airforce, my thoughts are on the legacy of the founder of our charity, Group Captain Leonard Cheshire.

Leonard Cheshire was one of the youngest commanding officers 617 Squadron ever had and one of the most decorated pilots of the conflict. The experiences he had during the war changed his life - and quite literally has transformed the lives of thousands of disabled people across the world.

When he founded our charity in 1948 Leonard Cheshire had a radical vision - that disabled people should not be shut away in hospital wards, as was then usual, but supported to live as full and as rich a life as possible. He chose to build a legacy which was not just about his wartime achievements, but which was about the value of every individual person, disabled and non-disabled.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh paid tribute to Leonard Cheshire when he said "The history of the treatment of the sick and disabled is illuminated by the flashing humanity of a handful of reformers and innovators. Leonard Cheshire joins that select group for the world-wide network of Homes which he has managed to establish in the face of every kind of difficultly and discouragement. It is one of the greatest acts of humanity of our time."

Today, Leonard Cheshire's legacy continues to be at the heart of everything our charity does. From care homes to campaigning, Leonard Cheshire Disability continues to work towards a society in which every person is equally valued.

I am proud to be Chief Executive of such an incredible, innovative charity. It was my knowledge of his work that inspired me to write to Leonard Cheshire as a student and volunteer at Alne Hall, a residential home near York. It was a decision that opened my eyes to the daily lives of disabled people. The dedication of the caring staff and volunteers, and their rapport with the people living there, will be something I will always remember and which continues to be part of our founder's legacy today.

There has never been a more important time for us all to remember the values, and the better world that men like the Dambusters hoped to create. They believed in a future where every life would be valued. But sadly, even in our wealthy and comfortable society, there are 70,000 disabled and older people in this country who are not getting care that meets their basic needs, such as eating a hot meal, washing or dressing. Councils are cutting back on home care visits - or in some cases reducing them to a cursory 15 minutes. Is a 15 minute visit twice a day all the care and support we think is right for a disabled person? Leonard Cheshire would never have accepted such a lack of dignity and respect to a fellow human being and I don't think we should either. Let's create together a living legacy in this country that we can be proud of.