Kevin Hyett (1958-2004)


Kevin Steven Hyett as born in July 1958. He was brought up in Irlam, a suburb in Salford, a city on the west side of Manchester. He spent some of his childhood at a boarding school.

In his 20s Kevin and his good friend Mary Stevenson were centrally involved in setting up the Salford Crossroads scheme, starting with a grant from the Inner Cities fund within the Urban Programme to employ a coordinator and meeting in Eccles library with the help of Salford Council for Voluntary Service. Joint Finance from the Area Health Authority was applied as well.

Another group that Kevin was involved with from an early time was the Disabled Drivers Motor Club, which he always said was more working class that the Disabled Drivers Association. The snobbery between the two groups was that of officers and of ‘other ranks’. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that Kevin loved his light blue noddy car or trike as they were often called. He took pleasure in proving that, because he had the larger engine option, it was approved for motorway use. He would probably have gladly been the last disabled driver to use a noddy car if necessary.

He also liked to poke fun at silly regulations, his favourite being that – any disabled driver at the time could claim for free leather driving gloves, but only if they had no hands.

Kevin also liked his photography, building up quite a collection of cameras, lenses and attachments, this still being in the ‘old days’ of analogue film and chemical processing Kevin Hyett was one of the founder members of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP). He was passionately committed to the disabled people’s movement and also played key roles in the British Council of Disabled People and setting up Breakthrough UK.

After being turned down for studying for a chemistry degree on the grounds that it would be “too dangerous” for him, Kevin undertook and completed a degree course in computer programming. This led to him embarking on a lengthy career with the petrochemical company, Shell UK.

He lived for a while in a ground-floor flat in Cheadle near his work, but he was harassed by some young neighbours who would deliberately kick a ball aggressively against his wall and against his noddy car. He soon moved to the nearby and more affordable neighbourhood of Sharston, buying a detached house set back from the street.

In the beginning stages of Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Kevin’s IT knowledge and organisational skills were vital in setting up the systems to make the organisation run smoothly. Kevin played a vital role in establishing GMCDP’s legal status. Kevin was adamant that GMCDP should never become a charity as he felt that it was completely at odds with what the organisation stood for. Kevin was very passionate about young disabled people becoming involved in all aspects of the work GMCDP does.


Kevin worked at Shell UK as a computer systems engineer. He had a story of a time when he had to go to a conference in Silicon Valley, California, and he had some time to spend in San Francisco. In his hired electric wheelchair he headed for the fisherman’s wharf area of the harbour and went into a bar. When he lit a cigarette the bar staff came across and told him, “Sir, you must take that outside, you cannot smoke that in here.” He was very pleased, because he said it was so unusual to be treated just like anyone else.

Kevin was a director of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) in the period 1992-2004, also serving as the company secretary from August 1993 to January 1994.

Kevin’s partner from the 1990s onwards was Angela Madeley and she was also a Breakthrough-UK director from 2000 to 27 June 2013.

On the 8 December 1997 Kevin was appointed as a founding director and the first Chair of Breakthrough-UK.

Kevin was living at 202 Altrincham Road in Sharston in south Manchester, and he died in Wythenshawe Hospital on 16 March 2004 aged 45 years.


As well as his interest in photography, Kevin was a keen cricket fan. After his death a willow tree was planted in a small memorial garden at the then offices of Breakthrough UK at Aked Close in Ardwick, Manchester. When Breakthrough-UK had to move its base to the Abraham Moss Centre in north Manchester, it named its new offices as the Kevin Hyett Suite.

Kevin’s files included over 200 rare and many unique documents concerning the disabled people’s movement, a substantial archive, reflecting the many aspects of his campaigning for disabled people’s rights. (Many of these documents are available online from this site.)

Kevin was astute in his savings, and with the sale of his house, after providing for his sister there was still a decent bequest to the funds of GMCDP. People there were keen to see that it wasn’t just used fir running costs, and knowing of his interest in developing the confidence of young disabled people, GMCDP used the funds for youth projects including one called, Taking Action aiming to produce accessible information for disabled people aged 18 to 30 years old. The Accessibles booklet and display is an award-winning example of this legacy work.

Kevin can also be seen being interviewed with others in the video, Thoughts and Reflections on Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, 90mins total, on YouTube.

A Tribute to Kevin Hyett

by Lorraine Gradwell first published in Coalition, May 2004

Kevin Hyett, a founder member of the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People and Treasurer for the past twelve years died on Tuesday 16th March 2004. Long time colleague and friend Lorraine Gradwell pays tribute to Kevin’s important contribution to the development of the Disabled People’s Movement over the past twenty five years.

Much to my regret, l cannot claim to be a founder member of the Coalition, having been dragged along to the first open meeting at County Hall in Manchester by Neville Strowger. My first clear memory of Kevin was not the same one he had of me: he remember arguing with me at that very first meeting that considered setting up a new organisation. He had said that an organisation – l think the Disabled Drivers Club – was political and I (a bit green then) said it wasn’t and we argued about it, or so he says. My memory is of being paired with Kevin to plan an open meeting on the “Politics of Disability”. Having been nominated to the steering group to set up this new organisation some wag probably thought it would be a good learning experience for me.

I remember an early planning session at Stretford Sports Centre, prior to my swim and then an hour of table tennis with Kevin, Neville and others, and Kevin shaking his head at me and not understanding how l could say the “right things” without having demonstrated any analysis at all.

Incidentally, few today know of Kevin’s Thursday “ping pong” nights – he developed a “killer” serve that was almost impossible to return and one night he was even persuaded to have a swim, an experience he rarely talked about and never repeated! Of course, the final hour in the bar was no doubt an added attraction for him.

Kevin has been involved in the establishment of many initiatives and organisations, including the British Council of Disabled People (BCODP), the Coalition, and latterly Breakthrough UK. But just as crucial as helping set them up had been his ongoing commitment to these organisations and the very practical support and input, which he has given consistently. BCODP, he fervently believed, should have a membership composed only of organisations, and should be 100% controlled by disabled people.

It was set up with 51% control – radical enough in the early 1980s – but this was never good enough for Kevin. He delighted in going to the AGM and Conference and pushing each time for the limit to be stretched, revelling in being seen as an awkward and radical troublemaker. The last effort, often working tactically with other Coalitions, achieved a policy of 75% control, but typically for Kevin this was seen as just a stage in the process of working towards the 100%. No doubt if we could talk to him now about the current regrettable state of BCODP he would bark “Well, what do you expect?”

Kevin’s commitment to GMCDP was total. From the very beginning as described by Ken Lumb in his piece, to the early days, some fifteen years ago, when the staff team was small enough to meet with all the officers in his flat for our twice monthly planning meetings, through a rapid expansion of activities, staff, and credibility, Kevin was always there. He brought principles and values, but also a canniness about finance, about staffing, about running an organisation.

Typically, he introduced most of us to computing and GMCDP staff were early users of email. He insisted on trying to teach us how to use DOS to organise our files – what a relief when we found Windows! Much to my delight he was also the first person ever to “crash” a Coalition computer – presumably because he had enough knowledge to cause the computer to give in …

In the early campaigning days the Coalition often sent people to conferences and events to challenge the status quo and spread the word. It was always entertaining going to these events with Kevin, mostly due to two particular qualities of his.

Firstly, he believed implicitly in the Coalition and what we stood for and took pleasure in promoting our point of view — and if that involved a verbal battle of words and wills then so much the better, Kevin relished the argument and it was a good spectator sport.

Secondly, there was the debriefing and celebrating in the bar in the evening, regaling ourselves with tales of how the battles were won and heaping ridicule on the unfortunate opponents. I was always glad he was on my side …

In the mid 1980s, when equal opportunities was still a relatively new and exciting concept, Coalition members were involved in the consultations around setting up a new Equal Opportunities Unit in Manchester City Council (MCC). Kevin was centrally involved in the calls for the Council to require that the jobs be advertised for disabled people only – probably the first local authority to do this. Kevin continued to be involved with the groundbreaking and powerful Disabled People’s Steering Group (DPSG) until it was disbanded, a victim of government legislation.

When the Direct Payments scheme was established in Manchester Kevin was again centrally involved: I was asked by MCC to set up the scheme whilst l was progressing Breakthrough and Kevin took a close interest in developments. When the scheme left my workload he and l were active members of the users group, with him constantly pushing for more user involvement and user control, and disappointed when the scheme became just another form of local authority provision rather than taking the intended route of being contracted out to control by disabled people.

Always a little ahead of the game in many respects, Kevin’s thinking pushed the boundaries and he was keen that we should not “stand still”; for example, he has been a prime mover recently in trying to develop the plans and secure funding for a conference on the social model of disability, believing implicitly in the model whilst recognising that how it is applied needs to reflect changes and developments in society and in the disabled people’s movement.

Kevin’s involvement with Breakthrough came through a rather different route to his other activities.

Breakthrough was a result of long discussions within MCC and DPSG about employment support for disabled people. These discussions led to a new strategy for MCC which involved setting up a new organisation, controlled by disabled people, to provide more appropriate employment support. l was appointed by MCC to develop this initiative and one of my tasks was to recruit a Board of Directors for the new organisation. l knew I needed a strong and astute Chair who would relish the challenge of setting up a new type of organisation – not a campaigning organisation but one that would aim to deliver services, under contract, based on the social model and on principles of independent living.

Well, who else could l turn to?

As Chair of Breakthrough, Kevin was keenly aware that we were again breaking new ground. Not a typical disabled people’s organisation, yet controlled by disabled people; not a campaigning organisation yet aiming to impact on and change policy at all levels; a registered charity to boot! If he had any qualms about being the Chair of a charity l never heard them; Kevin was always clear that, as a service delivery organisation, we could take the financial benefits that charitable status brought and still run according to our principles.

He was also clear on the differences between the Coalition and Breakthrough, and of the potential values of the two organisations working together whilst remaining separate. With Kevin’s support and guidance Breakthrough has gone from strength to strength, building on the crucial political foundations developed through the Coalition and trying to apply the principles of the disabled people’s movement to the ‘delivery of services’. In “small business” terms we have been very successful, doubling our staff and our income in five years, delivering services in Manchester and Liverpool.

But Kevin was also clear that we needed to get out there and sell our message to the establishment. “l want you out there on the golf course” he would tell me – always being available for the necessary debriefing when the golf course proved a little too much, and rejoicing with me when we scored a “hole in one”. It’s hard to see how Kevin’s contributions to Breakthrough and to the Coalition can be replaced.

I’ve realised, on re-reading this piece that I have sometimes talked about Kevin as if he is still here, and I have used phrases such as “Kevin says, or, Kevin remembers …” I find a bitter-sweet comfort in this and so have left the words in the present tense.

I’ve worked so long and so closely with Kevin that many times I knew just what he was going to say about something. I hope this is something that will stay with me now that he’s gone.

Finally, I never heard Kevin express any liking or admiration for Simon and Garfunkel, and I haven’t found them in his collection, but they are a favourite of mine (he’s more for Status Quo and Blondie) and since he can’t argue with me now I’m going to quote from a Simon and Garfunkel song that I think aptly describes Kevin:

In the clearing stands a boxer, and a fighter by his trade,
And he carries the reminders of every glove that laid him down
Or cut him, till he cried out in his anger and his shame
“I am leaving, I am leaving”
But the fighter still remains

The Boxer, by Simon and Garfunkel.

First published in Coalition, May 2004.