‘When she walks in a room people stop and listen’

Penny Scott (right) with group advisor Elaine Alexander at the Omega Centre.
Penny Scott (right) with group advisor Elaine Alexander at the Omega Centre.
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Penny Scott hasn’t let a learning difficulty get in the way of her determination and desire to help others.

After realising there wasn’t a group where disabled people in Portsmouth could meet, get advice and find out about their rights, she set one up.

Since starting Portsmouth Self Advocacy Group 12 years ago, Penny has campaigned tirelessly to get funding and organised conferences to raise awareness of its involvement in the community.

Membership has risen from five to 35 and there are now weekly singing and drama classes, as well as unisex and men and women-only support sessions at the Omega Centre, in Omega Street, Somers Town.

And Penny, 65, of Southsea, held the position of chairwoman – which saw her chair meetings and oversee decisions made by committee members – for six years before stepping down in 2009.

Realising it still needed her guidance, the committee created a president-for-life role for Penny to step into.

As part of her new role she meets with other self advocacy groups around the country and discusses ways they can improve.

She is also the face of the Portsmouth branch at functions.

And if anyone needs a helping hand, she is there for them.

Penny, who has speech and mobility problems, says: ‘I have made a lot of friends over the years and I am proud to have played a part in changing people’s attitudes towards people with learning difficulties.’

Penny studied an Equal People Open University course before moving to Portsmouth 13 years ago.

She says: ‘I am very pleased that I began the Portsmouth Self Advocacy Group and I hope groups like this will help more and more people.’

Elaine Alexander was one of the first members of the group.

Portsmouth City Council, who she was working for at the time, recommended that she join because she had experience working with disabled people.

Elaine, 55, of Southsea, says: ‘Penny is an inspiration to everyone around her.

‘Wherever she goes, she rises to the occasion.

‘When she walks into a room everyone stops and listens to what she has to say. She has a presence about her.’

She adds: ‘She mixes well with everyone and she has respect because of what she has achieved despite having a learning difficulty.

‘It’s a pleasure working with her. She’s thoroughly enjoyed every moment of her role. I don’t think she expected it to grow so much but she’s had the confidence to keep going.’