A disabled women’s collective hopes that a “ground-breaking” new memorial fund will empower disabled women by paying the costs of attending events they would otherwise not be able to visit.
The Eleanor and Sophie Memorial Fund will provide financial support for disabled women to attend events such as conferences and concerts – both mainstream and disability-related – that they would not otherwise be able to afford to attend.
Among those at a launch event for the fund in south-east London were Firman’s older brother Richard, and her partner, Gerry Lyons, a Labour borough councillor in Waltham Forest.
Richard Firman told the event that their family had not been aware of how extensive his sister’s activism had been – she had also been a composer, musician and music teacher – and they had been “astonished” and “humbled” at the huge turnout to her funeral last year.
Eleanor Lisney (pictured at the launch), a SoF co-founder, said that when she and Firman had visited Geneva in 2013 to present evidence about the impact of austerity on disabled women in the UK to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), they had had to “scrounge” for funding from the National Union of Journalists and Waltham Forest Trades Council.
It was this struggle for funding that helped persuade SoF to launch the fund as a way of remembering their former colleagues.
When she died last year, Lisney paid tribute to Firman’s “warmth, her passion, creativity and friendship” and said she had never failed to stand up against injustice.
There were also tributes paid to Partridge at the fund’s launch, with Lisney describing her as “a precious person” who was “full of joy”.
When she died last year, friends and colleagues had paid tribute to her wit, wisdom and “genuine kindness”, her work as an actor, and the leading role she played in high-profile disability rights and anti-austerity campaigns.
Michelle Daley, another SoF co-founder, said the fund was “a great opportunity for disabled people to be able to do things that they would not be able to do.
“There are not any other grants available.
“This is ground-breaking in many ways. We are testing the waters, doing something new and different, but it is also being done by disabled women for disabled women and with no resources.
“It will remember the names of some powerful disabled women and will empower other disabled women and give them freedom.”
Daley said that both Partridge and Firman had been “passionate” about enabling access for disabled people.
She said SoF hoped organisations and individuals would contribute to the fund* so that it could provide grants to more disabled women.
SoF will announce details in due course on its website and through social media of how to apply for funding.
The event in Greenwich, south-east London, also marked the success of a year-long peer-led development project, which provided mentors for disabled women to develop their own projects and research skills, and share their knowledge more widely.
The scheme was led by Sisters of Frida and backed by the Rosa fund for women and girls.
Sorena Francis spoke about her project, which set up a user-led peer support group, the More Than 1 Forum, and uses creativity and the arts to raise the profile of disabled people in her borough.
She said: “It’s hard out there for disabled people, very difficult. Society just wants to add more of a divide. It’s them and us.
“To be a part of a collective is very important but also normally in society women are quite competitive, so it has been very healing for me to be in a space where people are supportive and they mean that.”
Another was Magdalena Szarota, a co-founder of One.pl, an organisation of disabled women in Poland, whose project was about using photography as a way of telling disabled people’s stories.
Tope Onanuga, another participant, aims to relaunch her blog to support disabled students when applying for university.
She said: “I had a mentor who works in radio and she gave me tips on writing and how to develop writing. She gave me a lot of good advice and a lot of feedback.”
Vivienne Hayes, chief executive of Women’s Resource Centre, the national umbrella organisation for the women’s sector, told the event that the support of Sisters of Frida had been “vital” in enabling her organisation to have an intersectional approach to its work.
She said that “solidarity” between women’s groups was “absolutely the most important thing”.
She said: “In 30 years doing this work, I can’t remember a more difficult time.
“For us to try to hold back the tsunami of government policies that seem to only aim to take away our rights and impoverish us we have to come together.”
*To donate to the fund, visit the SoF donation page and mark the contribution for the Eleanor and Sophie Memorial Fund
Picture by Wasi Daniju