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‘Inspirational’ chairwoman steps down from disability charity role

Jean Willson is stepping down as chair of trustees at Centre 404

13 September, 2021 — By Millie Cooke

Volunteers, staff and service users at a disabilities charity have celebrated the “inspirational” work of Jean Willson ahead of her upcoming retirement after more than 50 years.

Ms Willson is stepping down as chair of trustees at Centre 404, Holloway, where she began volunteering when her daughter, who suffered from severe learning disabilities, was two years old.

The charity offers support to people with learning disabilities, autism and their families across north London.

Ms Willson, who has been chair for 10 years, said: “It gave me my identity back as a person. There’s a strong sense of solidarity in joining other families and fighting because we literally did have to fight for everything then.

Jean Willson has been chair for 10 years

“I joined because I wanted things to change. I was a very fast and furious young mum. I was very angry. It seemed to me by joining an organisation and campaigning that might solve it.”

She described the organisation as a “lifeline”.

Ms Willson has won multiple awards and accolades, including an OBE and a Woman of the Year award.

She says her role in Centre 404 has “enriched” her life, adding: “I can’t put into words what it’s like, even now, being a family carer. It’s the toughest, most stressful, life-changing event and you can’t do it alone. Especially if you’re a single mum. Especially if English isn’t your first language. Especially if you’ve got three or four other children and live in a place without a garden. That’s tough. So this place is here to help them. When they walk through the door or pick up the phone, they’re never going to be alone again.”

Ms Willson says she will continue to be involved with Centre 404 after her retirement, as a volunteer and an ambassador for the organisation.

Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, said: “Jean changed the face and gave a voice for all those people with learning disabilities and their family carers in the borough. I have always been impressed with the work of Centre 404.”

One family carer, who relies on the services of Centre 404, said: “What a wonderful role model and campaigner, you are an inspirational woman who fights our corner.”

Centre 404 relies on a network of volunteers to support more than 300 people in the community. If you would like to ­volunteer, contact Josie Korda at josiek@centre404.org.uk

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