Disabled activists have paid a series of emotional tributes to Nick Danagher, a central and much-loved figure in the disability movement and an “independent living revolutionary”, who died suddenly on Friday (6 July).
Among his roles, Danagher was a trustee of the Independent Living Fund, chair of Surrey Coalition of Disabled People (SCoDP), and a member of Equality 2025, the government’s high-level advisory network of disabled people.
He also had spells as chair of the British Council of Disabled People, and as chair and later chief executive of the National Centre for Independent Living (NCIL), where he convinced the Association of Directors of Social Services that the support for disabled people to employ their own personal assistants should be provided by disabled people’s organisations.
Baroness [Jane] Campbell, who had known Danagher for more than 20 years as both a friend and a fellow activist, said he had made a “huge contribution” to the independent living movement.
She said: “I would place Nick Danagher at the centre of the independent living movement. He was a key mover and shaker.
“He was the new generation that came in and modernised the independent living movement. He took it to its next level. He gave the disability movement an intellectual robustness.”
She described him as “phenomenally razor-sharp minded and exceptionally good on the detail”, and said he was “very much loved” by those who knew him.
She added: “I have never met anyone who had such a sharp, dry humour. He brought satire and comedy to the disability movement in a way that gave it an unusual appeal.”
Sue Bott, Disability Rights UK’s director of development, and former director of NCIL, described Danagher as “an independent living revolutionary”.
She said: “It is hard to imagine the disability movement without Nick. His total commitment to independent living, seemingly unflagging energy and good humour was an inspiration to all who knew him and worked with him. He will be very much missed.”
Rachel Perkins, chair of Equality 2025, said Danagher had “greatly enhanced” the group’s work with his “powerful intellect and wise insights – always informed by his deep roots in the disability movement and extensive work across so many facets of the disability arena”.
She noted his “wicked sense of humour”, and said he was a “thoughtful, generous and kind man”.
She said: “We are enormously grateful for all that he has contributed to Equality 2025 and all he has done to improve the lives and life chances of disabled people. He will be sadly missed.”
Maria Miller, the minister for disabled people, added: “Nick had a sharp, analytical mind which meant that the advice he offered, on a wide range of disability issues, was invariably insightful, practical and, ultimately, invaluable to DWP and other departments.
“His unique mix of campaigning spirit coupled with a helpful and pragmatic approach will be sadly missed by all those who work on disability issues.”
Carol Pearson, chief executive of SCoDP, said Danagher had “huge knowledge and experience of issues affecting disabled people”.
She said: “Through his expertise, disabled people have more of a right to equality of opportunity and independent living than they would have had without him.”
Danagher became chair of SCoDP last November, but had been a board member for five years, and had been involved with its predecessor organisation, Surrey Users Network, from its launch in 1998.
He also helped found Surrey Independent Living Council, and was its first chief executive, helping to introduce direct payments into the county, while he later worked as a consultant for Surrey County Council, working to improve the information available for disabled people.
Pearson said: “His influence has been directly within local authorities, as well as, like us, on the outside, working as partners in co-production.”
Danagher had also been closely involved with the new South East Network of Disabled People’s Organisations (SENDPO), and had been working as its policy officer since last October.
Pearson said SCoDP had been “swamped” by emails this week, many of which came from the county council, from people who were “devastated” by the news of his death.
She said: “He has given really strong leadership to SCoDP and I have really valued the personal support he has given me, and I will miss him hugely.”
One of Danagher’s closest friends, the actor and writer Sophie Partridge, said she first met him when they were children at a Brittle Bone Society event.
She said: “I remember very clearly he was using this red go-kart and he was really shy and cute. I thought he was cool and began pestering him, which I continued to do for the next 30-plus years.”
She said her friend was “incredibly smart, funny, kind, loyal” and a “true gent”.
“For me he was my personal guru, friend and ultimately a very decent man,” she said. “One of his favourite tracks was Squeeze’s Up The Junction and it really is my assumption right now that, without him, this is absolutely where we all are.”
11 July 2012