The effect of respect in support work - Avenues Group
30 - 1993-2023

The effect of respect in support work

Thursday 23rd of August 2018

The impact good support has on people’s lives can be extraordinary, and produce results that were never thought possible. The detail of what that really looks like will vary depending on the person, but according to Stephen Hignett, respect is always fundamental.


Stephen is currently writing a book entitled ‘The Memoirs of a Mental Defective’ in reference to a medical professional’s description of him in the early days of his recovery.

“I was in a very difficult place then, and I don’t feel I was treated particularly well, or respected as a person. I remember hearing that phrase so clearly, lying in a hospital bed as they scratched something down my foot to check my physical response. It’s stuck in my mind and I’ve used it as motivation in my recovery.

Stephen had suffered an acquired brain injury following a haemorrhage in 2003, and spent months in a coma. Optua started supporting him in 2005, when he was in a wheelchair,  before the charity joined the  Avenues Group.

Since then Stephen has made a steady recovery from his injury, leading an increasingly independent life. He has completed a college course in amateur dramatics and taken up roles in the community, including working as a tour guide and leading reading groups.

He explains: “I’ve loved the opportunity to contribute within my community. It’s been hard sometimes though, as I’ve been through periods of depression. But the difference in me succeeding has been the quality of support I’ve had. I really don’t think I’d still be here without it.

“So often people ask ‘how are you’ as an empty greeting without any real feeling. But my support workers today really do mean it, and that makes me feel valued, which is hugely important to anyone living with a disability.

“I know I can also be honest and tell them if I’m having a bad day and they’ll support me to work out how we can make the rest of it better.

“It’s that sense of respect though; that we’re all interested in each other’s experiences , regardless of any disability. Then the person can make real difference, and have a transformative effect on someone’s life.”

Christine Whittaker, who manages Stephen’s support, said: “It’s been a privilege for all of us to work with Stephen. It really is a team effort – the progress he’s made is down to his determination in recovery and the passion of the support workers to see him enjoying life and becoming an active citizen again.

“But there are many more people like Stephen who aren’t getting the support they need, which means we need more great people to join the team at Avenues.  It’s demanding work, as you’re supporting people to overcome significant challenges in their lives. But for anyone who feels rewarded through helping others; seeing them succeed and enjoying life again, it’s a unique career.”