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Jason's community work is an inspiration for Bretton

Earlier this year Jason Merrill was given an special Mayor's Civic Award in recognition of his dedicated voluntary work with Bretton Parish Council over many years, alongside his work with charities such as Shine and Family Voice.
Jason Merrill
Jason is helping people with disabilities across the country

It's one of many ways in which Jason, who was born with Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, has given time to Peterborough, working as a fundraiser and co-ordinator as a way of giving adults a voice who may not already have one.

Jason, a well-known figure in Bretton for his years of work with the two charities and as a Conservative councillor, is confined to a wheelchair. It would have been easy to be annoyed with life, and let people come to him.

But instead he has gone out and seen people, and become an active member of the community. 

That includes work with the Conservative Disability Group - in December Jason will be a panellist for a national event to discuss public services - as well as co-ordinating meet-ups with people with similar disabilities from across the UK.

Speaking to Peterborough Matters just before the latest lockdown, Jason said: "The age group now that I'm concerned with, the 40+ group - most people didn't live that long when I was younger. 

"It could be down to medical reasons and people knowing more about the condition as how to deal with it, but there are certainly more people in our age group. Nowadays there will be some people who don't even know they've got Spina Bifida until they are in their 50s.  

"The group comes from across the country to speak on a variety of matters, from how we're feeling on the day to weather to people's rights, and of course the lockdowns at the moment. I've used that time to be fairly busy, getting my head down with social media. 

"We just had an awareness week with live Zoom sessions on a survey of 1,000 of our members. We also have a story being told on BBC Radio of our parents, and how they dealt with children with Spina Bifida."

Once we'd finished our coffee we headed to Queensgate, where Jason was greeted numerous times by people passing by. On his council work he said: "I sometimes think is it time to sit back, but you get involved and I enjoy being out and about in the ward. 

"The issues are those that you would get anywhere else in the city; flytipping, education, transport - all kinds of things. People get to know who you are and talk to you in the street, and ask for help - it's very rewarding."

I asked how people with disabilities have coped with this year's pandemic, and Jason said: "There have been those who have struggled -  people who live on their own, or only have carers in at certain times during the week. 

"If I've heard about it, for me it's helped being a parish councillor and knowing within my network who to go to, and they can help those who need it."

Time have certainly changed since he was a youngster in terms of awareness of disability issues, which was only a relatively short time ago. 

Jason, lives with partner Donna and has a 19-year-old son named Joseph, said: "It's a lot easier than it was when I first came here in the late 90s from Market Deeping.

"From living in a small town I didn't realise what the big issues would be, in terms of getting from A to B. That includes lifts, buses, taxis - it's not bad if you know the system now as I do, but when I first arrived here I hated it.

"I went to school in Lincoln and didn't really have to socialise that much at that time, but Lincoln was also more wheelchair-friendly.

"I've been involved in trying to get a lot of things made easier, working with people like Brian Tyler and the council.  There seems to be a lot more accessibility now.

"But there still may be issues ahead. For example the university location means that for me that I would have to get a bus from Bretton into town, then on to the football ground by bus which is too far. The one near the bridge is on the wrong side of the road and there's no zebra crossing nearby.

"Some people just won't be able to do it. I have a struggle when I go to watch Posh - even getting up the bridge isn't easy."

Of course being out and about means that some people will take the opportunity to pass judgment, but Jason is stoic about this. 

"I still get the odd comment sometimes, but I'm at the age where it's just "whatever" - I probably got more comments when I was younger.

"People told me to get up and walk, or that God will help me if I let him. If anything they are the things that get me down, more than the physical pain, especially when you're having a bad day.

"It has been difficult at times. When I was young I had a friend who was several years older than me, with another disability, who passed away around the age of 30. We were out at an event as an over-18s group and he had not been feeling too well, and  he went off. Somebody went to find him but it was too late.

"I don't dwell on it. There will be days when I don't want to do anything - the weather doesn't help as well. When it's bad weather some people with hydrocephalus can be affected by the atmosphere. But you have to take one day at a time and listen to what your body says.

"Being shut away would have driven me absolutely mad. I prefer to be busy."