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Chief executive living with cerebral palsy changing the conversation on disability

PUBLISHED: 15:30 18 November 2018 | UPDATED: 16:01 18 November 2018

Tom Garrod, CEO of NANSA talking about his journey to the leading the charity, aged 29 and despite having cerebral palsy. Photo : Steve Adams

Tom Garrod, CEO of NANSA talking about his journey to the leading the charity, aged 29 and despite having cerebral palsy. Photo : Steve Adams

Steve Adams 2018 : 07398 238853

Tom Garrod cannot write and cannot drive, and despite being only 29 he is one of very few chief executives in the country living with a disability.

Tom Garrod, CEO of NANSA talking about his journey to the leading the charity, aged 29 and despite having cerebral palsy. Photo : Steve AdamsTom Garrod, CEO of NANSA talking about his journey to the leading the charity, aged 29 and despite having cerebral palsy. Photo : Steve Adams

Assuming his role with Norwich-based charity Nansa in September, Mr Garrod is hoping his senior position can change people’s perception of disability and the challenges that come with it.

Mr Garrod was born with cerebral palsy, a lifelong condition which affects movement and coordination. Signs of the disability varies, from mild weakness like fidgety movements and problems with speech to extreme physical helplessness such as not being able to stand, see or hear.

“Growing up, emotionally, it was tough,” he said. “One of the things I found was people who didn’t know me would hear my voice and automatically assume I had a learning disability.

“People would phone up and say ‘can I speak to the CEO?’ and when I say ‘Tom speaking’ they ask ‘are you drunk?’
“I had to put in more effort for any given task, more than someone without a disability, but my energy levels are what they have been all my life, I’ve never known any different.”

Tom Garrod, CEO of NANSA talking about his journey to the leading the charity, aged 29 and despite having cerebral palsy. Photo : Steve AdamsTom Garrod, CEO of NANSA talking about his journey to the leading the charity, aged 29 and despite having cerebral palsy. Photo : Steve Adams

While most youngsters would be knocking about with their friends, Mr Garrod underwent conductive education therapy at the Peto Institute in London and Budapest for most of his infant life.

From the age of three until his 10th birthday, he was taught how to live independently by learning how to walk and talk without aid.

But some of the methods used, which required hours of physical effort, would cause some children to cry from exhaustion.

“It was brutal,” Mr Garrod said. “But it’s why I’m here today.

“I really take my hats off to my parents. I remember a few years afterwards talking about it with my dad and I said ‘you used to leave me in that classroom and I used to cry,’ and he said ‘I was downstairs and I used to cry too.’”

As well as the conductive education therapy, Mr Garrod said he received valuable support from a strong network of family and friends. It proved so vital that he went on to achieve things he never thought was capable.

In 2009, he was elected county councillor for Wroxham and later chairman of the digital innovation and efficiency committee.

He joined the Nansa board of trustees in 2014 and in September this year was appointed chief executive of the disability charity.

He said it was the proudest moment of his life - to be able to support disabled adults and children and provide conductive education services to young people which proved successful in his childhood.

“It was a long recruitment process,” he said. “I am thankful and grateful for the opportunity I have been given.”

The charity was launched by parents of children with cerebral palsy more than 60 years ago to improve the lives of people in Norfolk with physical, sensory and learning disabilities.

“For me, it’s about feeling better tomorrow than you are today,” said Mr Garrod.

“I want to help people make that journey to fulfil their ambitions, whether that’s making a cup of tea, getting a job or becoming CEO.”

Another proud moment in his life, he said, was getting engaged to his girlfriend of three years Rebecca Halesworth.

They will get married in April at St John the Baptist church in Coltishall, which is only a few yards away from their home in Church Street.

He said: “It’s difficult meeting people, at the bar I am the one walking wobbly and women don’t go to that guy.

“But Rebecca has accepted me for who I am and that makes it all the more special for me.”

He said technology has helped him greatly with communication and helped him get through education, something which many disabled people did not have decades ago.

He said he looked forward to utilising his own experience to help others, adding: “I’ve got a great team around me, they say ‘good morning boss’ and I tell them look around you, everyone here is my boss. I’m just the one who steers the ship in the right direction.”

Nansa

Nansa was founded in 1954 by a group of parents with children living with disabilities.

For more than 60 years, the Norwich-based independent charity has been meeting the needs of people with disabilities at all stages of life.

It also provides support, education, training and advice to people of all ages and disability levels from their family centre in Woodcock Road and adult centre in Bowthorpe Road.

The charity offers conductive education services for young people under 5 and the milestones service for people aged 18-25 prepares them for adulthood.

During school holidays, families are treated to a short break from their caring responsibilities, where group members enjoy days out to local attractions, bowling, cinema and wall-climbing.

To find out more about Nansa, visit their website on nansa.org.uk, call 01603 627662 or email enquiries@nansa.org.uk.

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