Good and Bad Help is a welcome attempt to discover what it takes for individuals faced with big challenges to develop the confidence to take action in their lives.

I’ve always believed that the thing people really need in life, especially when they’re facing big challenges, isn’t so much services but good people around them who lift their confidence allowing them to take action in their own lives.

This certainly rings true for Rishard’s mother Mel, who experienced both sides of what has come to be known as ‘good’ and ‘bad help’.

Rishard, who has Down’s Syndrome, faced daily challenges growing up. On one occasion, he was locked out of school and left in the playground because the school couldn’t deal with his aggression during lessons. He was just 10 years old at the time. On another occasion, a police helicopter was called when Rishard punched his travel escort and jumped off the special needs bus he was travelling in.

On both of these occasions, the help on offer quite simply didn’t help.

It was from a menu and wasn’t tailored to the needs of the family – there was counselling for Rishard and a Triple P parenting video for Mel.

Unlike most other youngsters his age, outside of his family – and, really, that meant Mel – Rishard didn’t have the opportunity to connect with people and make friends he could count on.

Grapevine helped Rishard and his mother press pause and create a plan for an ordinary teenage life. We took Rishard’s ambitions seriously, we made sure he could travel independently, and we helped connect him to the people, places and things that would move him forward. Mel would say we didn’t give up. We stuck with the search until we hit home.

Mick, a family friend, gave Rishard a job in his city centre bar. Rachel, a former colleague, spotted an opportunity for disabled actors to train at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, and Rachel, Steffen (his brother), and Paul (Rachel’s husband) helped Rishard get there three times a week. Ego Theatre company in Coventry found Rishard an agent, and Richard (the owner of a local theatre company) scouted Rishard a role in ‘No Offence’, a 2015 Channel 4 series.

People finally got the opportunity to know Rishard as a comic actor and dance artist. And guess what? As he became more active and his identity more positive, his frustrations reduced and relationships with his family improved. Instead of coping alone until a crisis was reached, he and his family grew a strong circle of positive people around them. People who could boost him during tough times, but who could also open up new prospects.

For Rishard, the future now feels positive. He has secured a role in BBC Doctors and is on tour in London, Mnachester and Birmingham in the role of Hansel in ‘The Twisted Tale of Hansel and Gretel. Because Rishard can lead his life, Mel also has a chance to lead hers.

What are the lessons? What did it take to achieve this? Ultimately, it took tuning into Rishard’s motivations and his dreams, not focusing on behaviour management.

If we, as services, could do only one thing to make our help better it would be to listen deeply to what people are telling us – through their words and through their actions. It would be to trust that ordinary people have skills and experience that can make a difference to others deemed ‘vulnerable’. These strengths aren’t active because they aren’t recognised and opportunities to unlock them aren’t visible. Good help unlocks those opportunities.


Clare Wightman is CEO of Grapevine Coventry and Warwickshire.

With thanks to the photographer for permission to use their image: ‘Dream’ by Erich Ferdinand.

Clare Wightman