Cathy Avison (1963-1992)



1992-11-28 Cathy Avison Celebration


Catherine Avison was born in July 1963 and brought up in Oldham, which is to the north east of Manchester in the UK.

She left Oldham aged 18 in 1981 to study mechanical engineering at the University of Aston in Birmingham where she was the only female student on the course. During her time at Aston she was the Women’s Officer at the students union, organising trips to Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in 1982 and 1983, and also trips to the picket lines in 1984 to support the striking miners.

During her year in industry she worked for GEC in Leicester as an engineer. Cathy graduated with honours and deciding on a career change she went to the University of Bristol in 1985 to do a postgraduate masters degree in personnel management.

Having completed her postgraduate study, she returned north to take up a human resources position at Manchester City Council in the Equal Opportunities team. It was here she first met Mary Meehan and also Neville Strowger who became a lifelong friend.

After a couple of years working at Manchester City Council Cathy left and took a position at the Manchester Disability Forum (MDF) as a Development Worker with disabled people.

Cathy was also an executive member of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) and she did some training for GMCDP later on in her capacity as a self employed disability trainer and consultant. She later became the Chair of GMCDP.

Cathy had a close working relationship with Manchester Deaf Centre and the Deaf community, and built bridges between communities of Deaf and disabled people. She understood and respected the position that Deaf people are a linguistic and cultural minority, being different to some people who experience an acquired hearing loss later in life and continue to rely on the spoken word. This was pioneering work at the time and earned her a great deal of political respect for her integrity and clear thinking.

Cathy worked as a self-employed trainer, including for Manchester City Council to explain to staff the new targeted recruitment scheme for employing disabled people. This was easily within her capabilities – “money for old rope”, as she explained it to a colleague at the time.

In 1988 she travelled to Malaysia and Singapore with her close friend Jim from the Manchester Deaf Centre. Cathy enjoyed this trip and began planning her next trip soon after.

So, in 1990 Cathy and Martin Pagel, by then her life partner, enjoyed a long holiday in the USA. However it was a rocky start, because it was when they got to Manchester airport that Cathy realised she had left both their passports on the bed in her flat. Martin tore back to the flat and managed to collect the passports and return just in time to catch their flight. Another bump in the road was when they were due to meet Cathy’s sister Liz at Candlestick Park (the only place they knew of before they went) but Cathy got the wrong day – as Martin says, two rare examples of Cathy getting anything wrong.

Cathy employed her own PAs at her own expense – this was before the era of self organised care packages. Her blueprint for independent living was taken forward by the Coalition’s executive members at the time, laying foundations for direct payments as we know them today.

In 1990 Cathy wrote the lyrics of A Message from Telethon to You which was put to music and sung by Ian Stanton. The lyrics were published in the Coalition magazine in September 1990 and the album which includes this recording is The Incredible Shrinking Man by Ian Stanton. The lyrics were also included in the pilot edition of Disability Writes in July 1992.

In early 1991 Cathy became a director of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, and later on she took the position of Chair, possibly in June 1991, which she then held for life.

Brian Hilton commented, “I was a newbee on the GMCDP Executive when Cathy was the Chair. The meetings could get a bit raucous but she always seemed to somehow keep the us in order and on track, without ever raising her voice. Another warrior gone too soon.”

Cathy lived at 6 Glencross Avenue in Chorlton, Manchester, and died in Withington Hospital on Sunday 12 April 1992 – having been admitted to the hospital the day before. The previous weekend she had driven herself and Martin to Edinburgh and back. She was 28 years old. This was on the Sunday following the UK general election on the Thursday re-electing a Conservative government, a result she loathed.

Later that year, on Saturday 18 July 1992, there was a demonstration called Block Telethon in London to lay siege to the recording of the national Telethon at the studios of London Weekend Television, following on from a similar protest in 1990.



Come and get your money grateful crips,
This year was better than ever before,
There’ll be millions of Blackpool trips,
Endless segregated fun in store.

We know that some of you will protest,
Never came to terms with your tragic fate,
We don’t mind, you do your best,
And we don’t want to discriminate.

It’s a message from Telethon to you,
There’s a line of them saying,
How much they care for you,
And it’s said so often, it must be true…

Telethon is good for everyone,
Prime time slots for pics,
Sponsored pub-crawls are lots of fun,
Pop stars plug their new LPs.

Those of you at home who ring to give,
Feel a warm contented glow,
Dying children get to live,
You protest, but you don’t say “NO”!

It’s a message from Telethon to you,
A whole line of them saying,
How much they do for you,
And it’s said so often, it must be true…

Wheel up and down, belt your slogans out,
“Rights not charity, give us a say!”
Safe in the knowledge as you shout,
A big fat cheque is on its way.

Where does realism end and selling out begin?
How many principles per credit card?
Telethon has got you, you’ll never really win,
Charity degrades you, but poverty is hard.

It’s a message from Telethon to you,
A whole line of them saying,
How much they do for you
And it’s said so often, it must be true…

Lyrics by Cathy Avison, 1990.