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Charlie Swinbourne

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Charlie is a writer and filmmaker, and was responsible for the award-winning Coming Out, which sees "a deaf boy go to his hearing mother with a surprising revelation" - watch it to find out what it is. He then went on make his directing debut with Four Deaf Yorkshiremen, and followed it up with a sequel. You can check out Charlie's personal website too.

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Deaf country life v deaf city life

16th August 2010

I'm soon to become a Dad for the second time, so we've started thinking about the long term, and where we want our children to grow up. With houses on the pricey side for anything bigger than a shed in our area of West London, we're currently wondering whether we'd be better off bringing up a family outside the city.
Town Centre
Moving isn't a decision we'll take lightly. I've lived here for five years, while my partner has been here for over ten.

The capital is full of opportunities for deaf people, with weekly deaf pub meets, regular events, accessible cinema and theatre performances, and numerous deaf centres and sports clubs.

Major deaf charities and organisations are based here, so you find that many deaf people flock here from all over the world. Consequently, my partner and I have many deaf friends across London who can easily be reached by just hopping on public transport.

This all worked well for us in the carefree days before parenthood. Back in that time of relative freedom, we'd take advantage of these fantastic privileges at the drop of a hat. With kids however, it's a slightly different story. They have these things called bedtimes that you have to be home for. And if you do bravely venture out during the day, pushchairs are difficult to transport along London's busy tube platforms if you don't possess the skills of a heptathlete.

There are loads of things to do in this city, but as parents of a young child, we don't get to do many of them any more.

Though living in London may generally be a positive experience for a deaf person in particular, it has an equal amount of more obvious negative points. It's densely populated, the roads are congested and it feels like a place suited to individual living because people spend a lot of time trying to avoid eye contact. I would prefer my children to feel connected to their local community, and engage with those around them.

When I think of childhood, I think of freedom, of the outdoors and of a calmer existence - rather like the area where I grew up. When I was seven, my family moved from busy Nottingham to rural Oxfordshire and enjoyed a very different way of life.

Mum and my youngest brother are profoundly deaf, Dad, my middle brother and I are hard of hearing. When Dad got a new job, we left the city behind and moved to Chipping Norton, a small market town on the edge of the Cotswolds. I remember being awed by the lush green fields and how little concrete and tarmac there was, plus the fact that it was so quiet.

The town had no visible diversity - whether ethnic, sexual, disabled or deaf - so we must have stood out. But people were friendly, smiled and said hello, and made us feel welcome.

On our first walks into the countryside, we found a big golden haystack and, as my brothers and I dived onto it, we felt like we'd found a little piece of paradise. We children soon settled in.
Chimneys of Bliss Mill, Chipping Norton
Visiting childhood friends was just a ten minute walk across town, rather than an hour stuck in a tailback in South Croydon. My brothers and I went to an excellent local comprehensive and felt like we knew everyone, from the town's elderly traffic warden to the man who ran the chip shop - the chippy in 'Chippy'.

It wasn't all smooth sailing, though. We were oblivious to it at the time, but Mum and Dad initially found it a lot harder. Not only had they left behind a strong deaf community in Nottingham, they had also left behind close hearing friends and found it more difficult to start again.

With no deaf people nearby, meeting other 'deafies' meant going on long drives, whether to Oxford Deaf Club at weekends, or visiting other deaf families, and sometimes driving over two hours each way so that we could sign with unleashed abandon. I got so used to the journeys that I'd fall asleep on the way back - but would instinctively wake up with the familiar feel of the car winding its way along the roads near our home.

Later, Mum and Dad found ways of getting to know local people. Dad coached youth football teams, while Mum started teaching sign language in a town twenty minutes drive away.

The area had tangible compensations for us as a family. Scenery that took the breath away on long country walks; old pubs with beer gardens where we'd spend long summer evenings playing Aunt Sally and being able to play football all day at the local park without Mum and Dad worrying about us.

The sense of isolation eased off as new technology came in. First Mum got a Textphone which enabled her to type to other deaf people in realtime, then a fax machine, then in the mid-nineties, a computer and later, email. By the time I left for university, mobile phones and text messages had made it even easier.

Around the time I moved to London, Mum and Dad moved back to Nottingham to be nearer their family and friends, and did so with heavy hearts, for Chippy had become home to them.

Recently, I found myself visiting the town for the day with our eighteen month old baby, wondering if I could go back. The question for us is whether we should follow Mum and Dad's example from all those years ago, and move to a place where there are less opportunities to easily communicate with others. Could we hack it, even for the kids?

But then I see the Bliss Mill that greets visitors to the town with it's huge chimney, and wander through those bright green fields, gaze at a sky unadulterated by tall buildings, and see those familiar faces walking around town with a smile. As childhood memories return, I remember when we were the only deaf family for miles around and wonder, what if?


    • 1. At 4:59pm on 20 Aug 2010, Wheelie EDSer wrote:

      "And if you do bravely venture out during the day, pushchairs are difficult to transport along London's busy tube platforms if you don't possess the skills of a heptathlete."

      And if you're a wheelchair user, you find the terminally slow lifts are full because someone brought a pushchair! ;-)

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    • 2. At 2:22pm on 24 Aug 2010, Charlie Swinbourne wrote:

      Yeah... sorry about that!

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    • 3. At 11:09am on 06 Sep 2010, AndyfromCornwall wrote:

      I wrote quite a long comment and now the software won't let me post it.

      There has been a problem...
      Your comment contains some HTML that has been mistyped.
      Name cannot begin with the ' ' character on line 7

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