REACH: #Tull100 No Barriers Project

December 20, 2018 by Alison Watson-Shields

As anyone who has participated or had any involvement with the REACH Project over the last year will be able to tell you, we are committed to breaking down barriers; determined to ask questions, promote awareness, and an understanding of disability. 

In Summer 2018, REACH became aware of the #TULL100 No Barriers project by Big Ideas. The project had been established as part of the centenary commemorations of the First World War.   The project specifically deals with inclusion, no Barriers, equality, and diversity. The criteria made it  a natural fit for REACH  and  our objectives.

We were invited to establish our own ‘No Barriers’ discussion group to focus on issues of disability and inclusion. Before I move on and talk about REACH’s ‘No Barriers’ discussion I want to explain a little bit about Walter Tull and the project itself.

Walter Tull is an important figure in First World War history. He made history as the first infantry officer of black heritage in the British Army to lead his men into battle – an exceptional achievement. He was also one of Britain’s first black professional footballers.

Walter Tull’s life began in circumstances that were far from ideal; born in Folkestone in 1888, his mother was a local woman and his father was a carpenter from Barbados. His parents sadly passed away during his childhood and the family was separated between London and Glasgow.

Walter and his siblings did their best to remain in touch, and despite upheavals and difficulties in early life, Tull had a very successful career as a football player, working his way up to the professional league.  He was signed to Tottenham Hotspur F.C. for a year before he transferred to Northampton Town F.C. in 1911 where he made 111 First Team appearances.  Throughout his career, Tull played matches against many well-known teams such as Arsenal, Manchester United and Everton.  In December 1914, at the outset of hostilities in the First World War, Tull enlisted in the 17th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Throughout his military service, Tull continued to break down barriers; receiving several commendations for his gallantry, coolness under pressure and outstanding conduct. 

Due to his exceptional leadership and command abilities, in 1917 Walter Tull became the first commissioned officer with black heritage in British military history. This promotion was in direct violation of military regulations at the time which said that only men of ‘pure European descent’ could be commissioned as officers”. On 25 March, during the second Battle of the Somme, he died in battle, Unfortunately, his body couldn’t be repatriated, however, his commanding officer endorsed that the Military Cross be awarded to Walter Tull. His brother, Edward, accepted the Cross on his behalf.

Walter Tull’s contribution truly demonstrates that one does not need to be a person of means to effect change in the world around them. In order to change something for the better, all you really need is determination, perseverance and resilience.

Our ‘No Barriers’ discussion took place in November. Those who attended were asked to draw around their hands and write the most important barrier that they thought existed between them and the rest of the community. We had various responses including;

  • Bullying
  • Access issues for wheelchair users
  • Lack of opportunities
  • Inclusivity
  • Travel restrictions

We talked about the specific responses to these issues, the importance of asking questions tackling discriminatory attitudes and beliefs  and improving the understanding of the general public with regards to these specific problems.

Finally, I would like to encourage everyone to follow Walter Tull’s example when faced with a barrier, sometimes opposing the barrier and retreating are not your only options. Remember that some barriers exist because of a lack of knowledge or understanding, particularly when it comes to issues of disability – knowledge is power!

Written by Liam Twizell REACH Advocate

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