Campaigner for young people with learning difficulties;
Born: September 28, 1931; Died: September 24, 2013.
Sheena Walker, who has died aged 81, was one of Scotland's leading campaigners for young people with learning difficulties, fighting tirelessly to improve conditions and facilities for them in her local area of Cumbernauld.
Bringing up two mentally handicapped children of her own during the early 1970s had brought home to her the fears and frustrations faced by many parents caught in similar circumstances. She decided to do something about it.
For more than 40 years she championed the cause of the young mentally disabled, helping to make Cumbernauld one of Scotland's best care centres in the field. So successful were her efforts that, within a few years, families were moving to the area so that their children could avail themselves of the facilities she helped create.
Ironically, Mrs Walker, her husband Jimmy and their then two sons James and Derek, had moved from Glasgow to the Lanarkshire new town in the late 1960s because they thought it would provide better support for Derek who has Down's Syndrome.
They were mistaken. The stark reality was that there were few facilities in the town for young people with learning difficulties. The Walkers made friends with another couple, John and Marianne McCall, whose son Tommy was also Down's Syndrome. With nothing available locally, both sets of parents had no option but, hale, rain or shine, to take the lads by bus each day to a day centre in Kirkintilloch. At the time, children like Derek and Tommy were deemed to be ineducable and no provision was made for their schooling.
Sheena Walker, however, was not prepared to accept the situation. She formed an alliance of local parents who felt the same way about their mentally disabled children and it quickly became the Cumbernauld branch of the Scottish Society for the Mentally Handicapped (later to become the charity Enable).
In the beginning the group met in whatever community hall or room was available. Eventually, however, Cumbernauld Development Corporation gifted them premises in Stonylee Road in the town's Carbrain district. At last the community had a place where families of handicapped children could come together and support each other.
Mrs Walker, like most of the parents in the group, felt strongly that no-one understood, not only the needs and requirements of youngsters with such complex disabilities, but also the pressure it placed on their families.
Under her leadership, the group continued to grow and the centre became a haven for families from all over the central belt who knew that it was a place where they would find the kind of help and support they required.
As its reputation grew, Sheena Walker and her colleagues raised more and more money to purchase equipment such as mini buses and develop a day care centre.
At first it was staffed by volunteers but it later started to employ professionals and developed what was almost an apprenticeship in social care under the Youth Opportunities Programme of the late 1970s.
For her part, Mrs Walker was always on the lookout for new ways of improving the children's development. She became not only an experienced advocate of the rights of young people with learning difficulties, but also a skilful politician. In her efforts to secure funding from public bodies such as Strathclyde Regional Council and Cumbernauld Development Corporation, she learned how to play one against the other. Her groundbreaking strategy worked well.
One of her great strengths was in her ability to anticipate developments in the field. Colleagues spoke of her remarkable radar which picked up new ideas that might help youngsters and their families.
She was among the first in Scotland to introduce respite care, for example, which allowed parents and carers to do things other people take for granted - such as going to the cinema or going out for meals.
Having established a first rate service for children with learning difficulties, Sheena Walker then set her sights on providing help for youngsters approaching the next stage in life.
Gifted more property by Cumbernauld Development Corporation in the mid-1980s, the group opened group housing facilities, first in Stonylee Road and then in several other parts of the town. The service, which still continues today, provided about 30 single tenancies.
Mrs Walker, who continued her involvement with Enable until she was in her seventies, received a host of honours for her achievements. She was made an MBE and named the Evening Times's Scotswoman of the Year. She was also twice voted Cumbernauld's Citizen of the Year.
Janet Sheena Walker was born in Maryhill, Glasgow, the daughter of James and Jean Thomson. She was educated at Kelvinside Academy. As a young woman she worked as a hairdresser and an auxiliary nurse at the city's Rottenrow Hospital.
She met her husband Jimmy, a BT engineer, at the dancing in Glasgow. They were married for more than 50 years until Mr Walker's death five years ago.
They had four children, James, Derek, Paul and Gary. Paul, like Derek, was severely disabled. Sadly, he and Gary predeceased their mother.
Mrs Walker, who had been ill for some time and died in Strathcarron Hospice, Denny, is survived by her sons James and Derek, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
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