Chailey Heritage School Old Scholars Association
Alison Lapper – My Life in My Hands Every period in Chailey’s history has differed from the last and every Chailey kid’s story is different from the rest. There is no such thing as the Chailey experience. What there is is an unstated shared experience which has made us what we are today - for better or worse. And so, Alison’s story adds yet another dimension to the picture. It begins with the Queen presenting Alison with the MBE for services to the arts and ends with the creation of the controversial statue of Alison now in Trafalgar Square. Of particular interest to us is how a Chailey kid became an internationally renowned artist and now an internationally renowned work of art. Alison was born in 1965 with phocomelia (“limbs like a seal’s flippers”), not thalidomide as many people assume. She was transferred to Chailey six weeks later without her mother seeing her. Alison “was no longer a factor in her life”. The way we feel about ourselves largely depends on the feedback we get from family and friends. Abandoned by her family, initially emotionally quarantined by the “caring” professions, made to feel that her body was unacceptable and needed fixing - it wasn’t going to be easy for her. Her friends and a few good people helped her get by. She pays warm tribute to these but also tells of others who took advantage of her emotionally and physically. The strange thing for us is that the name “Chailey” is never used in her story. It is always referred to as the “children’s home”. Personally I never thought of Chailey as a “home” but a school for handicapped kids (not of course, the “public school of crippledom”). However, for the kids who had to cope who had parents who couldn’t cope, I guess Chailey was home. When I was at Chailey in the late fifties things seemed to gradually getting better. Kids started being treated like human beings. But Alison reminds us that even after this there still was a darker side to Chailey with kids being abused by the “caring” staff. Things did improve eventually however, but you only get one childhood. “My Live in My Hands” (only a crip could choose such a title) is well worth a read. It is full of surprises (even a chance meeting with Princess Diana). The part covering her more recent life becomes fragmentary but her life ain’t over yet. Perhaps there will be part two. I hope so. Ian Sowerby
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