A NEW annual scholarship in memory of one of Liverpool’s – and the UK’s – leading disability campaigners is to be offered to students at Liverpool John Moores University.
Announcing the programme, Professor Nigel Weatherill, LJMU’s vice chancellor and chief executive, said the Sir Bert Massie Scholarships, worth £10,000, will be awarded to students who “live with the values that were so close and part of Sir Bert.”
Prof Weatherill, who was a close friend of Sir Bert, said: “Bert and LJMU are like fish and chips or ham and egg. He was one of our Alumni, where he graduated in 1977, and in 2002 he was made an Honorary Fellow for his contribution to supporting and highlighting the issues around disability. In 2008 he joined the Board of Governors.
“He was also a great friend and someone that you could go to.”
Prof Weatherill was speaking at a memorial event that celebrated the life of the former chairman of the Disability Rights Commission, who died last October, aged 68.
Almost 200 people, including family, friends and colleagues attended the event at Anfield, where Reds’ fanatic Sir Bert was a regular visitor.
Prof Weatherill added: ““He was not just a governor who turned up to look the through the papers. He was totally engaged.
“He had such a wonderful personality. And we want it to be embedded in Liverpool John Moores University.
“With the family’s approval we want to starting the Sir Bert Massie scholarship, a scholarship worth £10,000 each year to an undergraduate who represents and can evidence that, through their actions, they live with the values that were so close and part of Sir Bert.
“At any given time in the university, we will have three ‘Sir Bert’ scholars. We will treat them as ambassadors, and they will be the living essence of Sir Bert.
“We have an enormous debt to Sir Bert. I hope through the scholarships his spirit will live on.”
Lady Maureen Massie, Sir Bert’s widow, said: “I am absolutely delighted I overwhelmed – and Bert would be. Here we are in his favourite place with favourite people; I don’t think there could have been a better setting in the world.”
Liverpool Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram: “Bert always had an opinion, but I don’t remember him being nasty or cynical; I don’t remember him being belligerent about anybody.
“I want to ensure that all the decision-making processes of the Mayoral Combined Authority are as inclusive, transparent and accountable as it is possible to make them.
“With Bert’s guidance we designed the Fairness and Social Justice Advisory Board – the first of its kind in the country.”
Sadly, Sir Bert was too ill to take on the role as chairman.
“But we now have a chair who is as determined as Bert was to include inclusivity woven in to our thinking and policy-making processes at every level. It is another Sir Bert Massie legacy; and the 1.5 million people of the Liverpool City Region will be the beneficiaries.
“I will always be grateful for Sir Bert Massie’s advice.”
FORMER Lord Lieutenant of Merseyside Dame Lorna Muirhead: “I was a nurse in the early 60s and in those days you were lucky enough to survive polio or other disabling disease. But if you did, life would be, for many, in a home, a hospital, or at best just sitting in a chair in their own homes.
“How could they do otherwise? How could they get around? They were never seen in restaurants, on trams or buses or other public places and were largely hidden from the public gaze.
“Able-bodied people had no idea of how their lives could be improved, made useful, or given independence.
“There were no state of the art wheelchairs or cars, adapted buses or railway carriages. No hoists or ramps giving access to buildings, and, no such thing as a lavatory for the disabled. So how could physically disabled people engage with able-bodied people?
“Enter Bert Massie. Drawing on his lived experience, he became the Director of the Royal Association of the Disabled in 1990 and Chairman of the Disability Rights Commission in 2000.
“He was a skilled and sharp negotiator, never taking no for an answer. His influence for the good on the lives of so many is truly humbling.
“Every now and again, if you are fortunate enough in life, you meet a giant whose effort and life are so inspirational that yours is the better for having known them. “Bert was a giant and it was my great good fortune that our paths crossed, and he was my friend.”
BOB NIVEN, the former chief executive of the Disability Rights Commission: “I do not think it is sacrilege if I refer to the most famous manager of Liverpool FC:
“For a player/a person to be good enough for the cause, they must go through brick walls and come out fighting”.
“That is a pretty good description of Bert’s own life; of what he did to enable disabled people to have better lives, and to help bring down the many barriers to a full life which they face.
“Whatever he did, he was always Bert: whether with friends and family, or with disabled people and their organisations, with people, be they Ministers, Prime Ministers, business and other leaders. The same man shone through.
“A week or so ago, Maureen and I were fortunate to be invited to the annual banquet of the Wheelwrights Livery Company in London, of which Bert was a member. There were warm tributes to him, including from the present Minister for the Disabled. The Company announced its intention to establish the Sir Bert Massie Medal to be awarded to individuals for outstanding achievements on disability.
“His achievements go on and on.
“When Bert and Maureen went to Buckingham Palace for his Knighthood in 2007, they travelled by train from Liverpool and by taxis, and both were fully accessible. Bert had played a major part in the lobbying and the framing of legislation that brought this about (also in respect of buses and planes), working, by the way, with Ann Frye in the Transport Department.
“Bert was influential on the Building Regulations, on the way they affect disabled people, and on the changes to the benefits and care systems to enable disabled people to have greater independent living, and on relief for disabled people under the Community Charge.
“He was key to Britain’s legislation to give disabled people wide-ranging statutory rights on employment, access and education as well as their effective enforcement and implementation. “He did much, directly and through others, to raise public awareness of disability.
“And, probably most importantly of all, he gave confidence and inspiration to many disabled people to demand their rights and to fulfil their potential. “An incredible legacy. Before Bert’s passing, we spoke to a number of people that knew Bert well in several capacities. Many said Bert was the best social reformer since World War 2.
“All said he led a very fine life and that he was a very fine man, and I totally agree. I totally agree.
STEVE HAWKINS, chief executive of Local Solutions, of which Sir Bert was a vice chairman and trustee: “Bert was a great fan of water. When he passed away, we were delighted with Lady Maureen’s help to launch the Sir Bert Massie Wheelyboat at the Queens Dock, which is wheelchair friendly.
“He was a great man. I loved him. And so too did all the people at Local Solutions – from the person you first see on reception, to the people in the board room, and all the volunteers. We will miss him dearly.”
STEPHEN HUGHES, Sir Bert’s nephew: “Many will be aware of Uncle Bert’s achievements but I want to say what he meant to us, his family.
“Away from his diversifying and challenging career he was a fantastic husband, son, brother, uncle, brother-in-law and great uncle. He was part of a large family who we all admired and adored and looked up to.
“He was a real inspiration to us all, and while we all followed his career progression and achievement with great interest, it was abundantly clear to all us that he was also a very normal, loving caring family member.
“Uncle Bert was was the go-to member of our family that every family needs. He was a living example of how to overcome set back after set back through sheer determination and hard work. He was a beacon of hope for all his family.
“Despite the time Uncle Bert spent working away from home, particularly in London, and right across the world, the remarkable thing about him was that he never ever forgot his roots. He never forgot his family, his friends or indeed the great city of Liverpool and those fortunate to live here.
“He was a truly great man and we’ll forever be proud to say that he was one of us.”
BILL MORAN, Sir Bert’s Placement Supervisor at Liverpool Social Services:
“I met Bert in 1977. I had only just qualified as a social worker myself so, strictly speaking, I should not have been a placement supervisor. But the building where I was based was the only one of 11 district social services in Liverpool that had a ramp.
“We had a ramp because we were by the library that had a ramp. I think it was a case of buy one get one free!
“Bert was going out on visits and doing work like anybody else would except from a wheelchair and in a car that kept breaking down!
“My career changed in some ways because of Bert because I went on to specialise in services to provide for disabled people and older people, to try to improve the city.
“When we set up a disabled living centre and equipment service, it was Bert who came along to open it.
“Bert was a great man and we miss him but remember him fondly.”
JOE WOOLLAM, school friend: “We were both at the Children’s Rest School and Recovery, now called the Greenbank project.
“The air had a smell of over-boiled cabbage and carbolic soap and rancid butter which still lingers in my memory.
“The school routine was rigid and all-embracing. However Bert was determined to be the rebel and it was not long before he formed an escape committee.
“With this committee he organised unauthorised trips out of the school. The most popular trips were to Greenbank Park, down the road from the school, and occasionally to the nearest cinema – if we had enough pocket money left from our parents’ monthly visits.
“We were soon returned to the school, sometimes by the police, which could be very undignified, and we would be greeted with a severe beating with an old leather slipper and sent to bed without any supper. Bert hated Greenbank but I think he would agree that it was character-forming for both of us.
“I think he would also agree that the teacher who changed both our lives for the better was Mr Forbes. He recognised our abilities, gave us access to the grown-up section of the library, and taught us to play chess and to think about problems strategically.
“These skills Bert would use to make his way up the social ladder and to be a very effective advocate for all disabled people, regardless of their circumstances.
“I shall always remember Bert as my deep, loyal friend. He was my brother in all but name, and will always remain so.”