‘Tis the season to be . . .

Date: 3rd December 2021

As we near the end of 2021, our Chief Executive, Eddie McConnell reflects on the year and what is to come. 


As 2021 draws to its inevitable close with almost indecent speed, I find myself reflecting on a year like no other.


This time last year, I distinctly recall an unparalleled eagerness to welcome 2021, despite the prospect of a third national lockdown.  Like so many, I wanted to put behind me all of the cruelty and chaos of the previous 12 months which were defined by that villainous virus.  I also remember thinking, I quite like the sound of ‘2021’, after all it contains our magic number, ‘21’.


The year began with some hope and optimism as one v-word became replaced by another, vaccines were coming over the horizon.  And yet, amidst it all, huge sacrifices were still being made and we had all grown wearily accustomed to living our lives in bubbles with significantly reduced connections to our nearest and dearest.  If we were to get through 2021, it would need a whole new level of personal and community resilience. And so, it began.


For me, the stand-out moments of the last 12 months – what we call our ‘magic moments’ – were defined by kindness, compassion and connection, the kind of resilience I can’t get enough of.


In January, three wise men arrived, not so much from the east (more the northeast) in the shape of Trevor, Ian and Billy.  They weren’t from our world and they didn’t carry gold, frankincense and myrrh, their gifts were way more precious.  These three ‘kings’ would become champions for all things Down’s syndrome in ways that we could not imagine.  Trevor, Ian and Billy were our new friends from our charity partner, KAEFER UK & Ireland, and their energy and enthusiasm for our cause was inspirational and infectious.  They gave us hope, they challenged out-dated perceptions about people with Down’s syndrome and they raised huge amounts of funds for the charity, as their colleagues did throughout the rest of the UK and Ireland.  But something extra special was happening in Scotland, we call it KAEFER kindness.  These good people just knew what to do, they rallied to our support as they have done throughout 2021 and they have provided us with some of the best ‘magic moments’ of 2021.


As we took our first tentative steps out of the third national lockdown, no one could really have expected the outpouring of kindness and generosity that would come our way in March as we attempted to celebrate Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week and World Down’s Syndrome Day.  It was as if our community and our supporters had said ‘enough is enough’.  We experienced extraordinary levels of engagement and participation by many of our families and people with Down’s syndrome alongside support from schools, local companies and members of the public who understood that our community had been amongst the hardest hit. It was our most successful Awareness Week to date raising over £111,000 and it provided us with so many ‘magic moments’ from those who walked, ran, jumped to those who completed their own 21-in-21 challenge.


The kindness of our supporters was quickly converted into opportunities to bring joy to our young people and adults with Down’s syndrome who couldn’t get enough of our online chat and friendship sessions.  These sessions, what we call our TeenZ Space and FriendZ Space groups, tackle loneliness and isolation and they continue to be full of ‘magic moments’ of kindness, compassion, empathy and connection.  Our families benefitted too from the shift to digital, with our popular ‘grab a cuppa and zoom’ sessions and our flexible ABC at-home communication development classes which extended throughout the summer months into our ‘summer sensations’ programme.  All of these ‘magic moments’ are made possible by the continuing generosity and kindness of our supporters, young and old, new and loyal.


These ‘magic moments’ have sustained us in a year that never quite settled.  For many of our families, the strain continues day to day and our work is never more needed.  We know that our community has experienced deepened levels of inequality over the past 20 months and that many still feel left behind.  We must do everything in our power to bring magic moments into their lives and for that, we still need your help and support.


There have been times in 2021 when I felt quite overwhelmed.  If it wasn’t for the kindness of strangers and the generosity of family, friends and colleagues, I’m not sure I would still be doing the job that I love.  So, in looking ahead to 2022, I choose to be overwhelmed by that kindness and generosity and to allow it to sustain us in the work that we still need to do to ensure that people, who just happen to have an extra chromosome, can live their best lives.


As we end 2021, we are seeing the prospect of even greater ‘magic moments’ with the Down Syndrome Bill at Westminster and, in Scotland, the commitments to bring forward a Learning Disability Bill and change forever, the status and rights of people with Down’s syndrome, their families and their carers, as we usher in a year of celebrations marking our 40th anniversary in Scotland.  We hope that many of you will join our cause and allow yourselves to become overwhelmed by the positivity and potential of people with Down’s syndrome.  They have so much to teach us, and we have so much still to learn from them.


With your kindness and continuing support, our work goes on.


‘Tis the season to be grateful.


And we are.