Green grandma on her trike to clean up town
FROM traversing Faversham on her trike to growing her own food, Frances Beaumont is a grandmother on a mission.
The 68-year-old has been involved with environmental group Transition Town Faversham for three years as it tries to cut down on using fossil fuels. But it is not just the environment Frances is helping. As an occupational therapist, she has come out of retirement to set up Dyspraxia UK which supports people with the neurological condition.
Claire McWethy was invited for a snoop around Frances' award-winning garden in Upper Brents and discovered what Einstein and Harry Potter have in common…
What is Transition Town Faversham?
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It is a group concerned about climate change and our reliance on fossil fuels. We have members looking at food production, energy use and recycling. But we are also committed to promoting the community.
It is a little like going back to the wartime spirit. Like then, we dig for victory.
What goes on in your garden?
It has won a gold medal for attracting wildlife.
I leave it so there are places to attract insects and beetles which in turn attract birds. I grow spinach and keep bees. I have a fox which comes round but he isn't so keen now I have two dogs of my own.
Have you ever been stung?
My bee suit must have had some holes in it because a few times the bees have managed to get inside and sting me. It was very frightening.
How do you stay green at home?
I haven't driven for 10 years because my eyesight is so bad so I get around on my trike. I also use "grey" water which I have used for washing. I collect it instead of letting it go down the drain and then recycle it by using it to flush the toilet or water the garden. I don't use any pesticides in the garden. It is all organic.
Do you get frustrated with people who are not as aware of the environment as you?
No, I don't think you should preach about things until you have made them work yourself and the Transition Town movement has only just started. We would love to have it held up as an example of green living for a community. But I think everyone will find their own way to be green, eventually.
How did Dyspraxia UK start?
Nine years ago I was asked by Canterbury Christ Church University to assess students with dyspraxia and discovered the need for this sort of assessment.
The NHS wasn't offering help to adults with dyspraxia and the waiting list for children's assessment is two years, meaning there are thousands of sufferers who are undiagnosed.
I decided to come back out of retirement because there was such a demand. Now I train occupational therapists across the UK as well as running a free telephone help line.
What is dyspraxia?
It is a mild neurological condition which is genetic and possibly influenced by the environment.
Around half of premature babies get it. It means you can't make your body do what you want it to. If left undiagnosed it can lead to children thinking they are stupid and gives them low self-esteem.
It affects balance, co-ordination, and handwriting.
How can you spot it?
Children with dyspraxia are often slow at learning things like getting dressed and riding a bike. They appear clumsy. The condition was known for a time as Clumsy Child Syndrome.
Who calls you?
All sorts of people, from desperate mothers who can't get a diagnosis for their children to driving instructors who are worried about whether their students can pass the driving test.
Why doesn't the NHS do more?
I think it is a very low priority in the paediatric service. But what is really shocking is that over the age of ten there is no treatment available. There is a black hole in services. I would like to see adult assessment on the NHS.
What has your research found?
This month I will deliver a paper in Glasgow to the College of Occupational Therapists about how dyspraxia can make someone hypersensitive to the touch of some materials and the taste of food. Some sufferers even have to cut the labels out of their clothes because they are so sensitive.
How can you help?
By drawing up a report I can help teachers in a college or school to understand how best a person with dyspraxia learns. I can also help sufferers afford extra one-to-one tuition by getting them to apply for a Disabled Students Allowance of up to £6,000. It means they can get help to battle their difficulties rather than dropping out of school.
Are there any famous sufferers?
Yes, Einstein had dyspraxia. He could not tie his shoelaces, even as an adult. And Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe has a mild form.
There are also a lot of positives to the condition. Sufferers are usually very empathetic and creative people who can think "outside the box."
What did you do before?
I was an occupational therapist for 20 years and was the head of the unit at Folkestone's Royal Victoria Hospital. I also spent time as a personal injury expert.
What did that involve?
I was called into court as an expert witness in cases where compensation was being sought. They were usually multi-million pound cases where an accident or negligence had led to a serious injury or disability. Compensation was needed for the victim to make changes to their home or transport to maintain their quality of life.
I also worked on the other side, carrying out the care
It sounds very fulfilling.
Yes, I was helping them to have a full life, socially and spiritually as well as medical.
For some people, being able to go to church is very important, for instance. I would ensure that would still be possible, despite their injuries.
Do you have any hobbies?
I have had a dual career. After I trained as an occupational therapist I trained as an art teacher. I have just started doing watercolours but I used to do oil paintings and stone sculptures. I like painting flowers, landscapes and still-life.
Are you likely to retire again?
Not yet. Hopefully I will be working for the next five years.
Tell me about your family.
I am separated and have two children and two grandchildren. My daughter is an occupational therapist in Nottingham and my son Joss is a jazz pianist.
A jazz record by Ken Colyer
A bright yellow Messerschmitt bubble car. I have always travelled on three wheels.
Three dream dinner party guests?
Actor Daniel Radcliffe, chef Jamie Oliver and singer Paul Robeson
For advice on dyspraxia call the free help line, Monday to Thursday morning on 08454 564749.