Comment: In praise of a life's work less ordinary

Last weekend, I went to the retirement lunch of Mike Shaw, who for 15 years was executive director of the Christian disabled people's charity John Grooms.

John Knight
John Knight

The recent merger of Grooms and fellow disability charity the Shaftesbury Society to form the clumsily titled Grooms Shaftesbury has provided an opportunity for Mike, whom I worked with over those 15 years, to step aside and devote more time to himself. An ordained priest and the leader of an organisation founded on strong Christian values, Mike showed remarkable vision and courage in taking ideas forward on a practical level to improve the lives of Grooms's beneficiaries.

As I listened to the speeches made during the lunch, it became clear to me that in the 15 years I worked with Mike, the daily pressures of life in the sector obscured his landmark achievements. The delivery and subsequent expansion of a groundbreaking brain injury unit in Suffolk and the successful merger of two large Christian charities with long histories, shared values but very separate identities are examples of these great achievements. But I only fully appreciated the scale of them at the very end of his tenure - and I had known him well.

There was a restless energy about Mike's work - an energy I see across the sector. One speaker at his farewell lunch said Mike saw the distinctiveness of the voluntary sector in its ability to share experience, knowledge and expertise. It's far too easy to self-congratulate and beatify the work we do, but travelling home from the lunch I really felt that Mike displayed all that was best about the sector: he fully understood his beneficiaries' needs, was not afraid to take risks and constantly drove his organisation forward. I know there are people who may sneer at this interpretation of the sector's work, but the bottom line is: does our activity add to the greater good? Mike bade farewell to more than 150 service users, friends and colleagues by saying: "I hope we have made the UK a better place for people with disabilities." I say he did, and thank you.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire 

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