A LOVING dad who helped found a charity dedicated to supporting deafblind children is stepping down from his role as chairman.

Roy Cox, who set up Sense Scotland 35 years ago, arose from a “dream to have the ability to express our feelings and love for our daughter, Cheryl.”

He adds: “This is now possible, and she even reciprocates her feelings back to us, which means more than anything.”

Roy and his wife Liz, who are from Bishopton, first heard about the National Deaf-Blind and Rubella Association (now Sense UK) after the organisation featured on popular 70s children’s programme Magpie.

“They were based down south, but they were the first people to help us comprehend deafblindness and how there was a way forward with regard to communication through touch,” says Roy.

In the early days Cheryl, being ultra-sensitive, did not like putting her feet down or touching anything with her hands. Roy and Liz had to hold her feet on different surfaces, such as linoleum and carpet to gradually encourage her to walk on them.

Over time they found other parents across the country going through the same processes.

“We’d get together in each other’s houses to swap stories and discuss the horrors of what our kids did - and it was always great to hear that other kids were worse than yours,” says Roy, laughing. “I was from the building trade and here were all these other well-spoken academic types… I learned a lot.”

Glasgow Times: Cheryl in a Sense Scotland art sessionCheryl in a Sense Scotland art session

One of those ‘academic types’ was psychology graduate Gill Morbey, Roy’s ‘partner in crime’, he laughs, and together they took on the authorities – demanding an education and proper support for their deafblind children.

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They established Sense Scotland in 1985 with Gill as the first staff member and chief executive. From a handful of families based in a little shop on Glasgow’s Dumbarton Road, it has grown into a national service supporting more than 1000 families.

“We weren’t content to have our kids sidelined, written off,” says Roy. “We wanted what any parent wants for their kids, a good education, friends, a social life.

“We pressurised Strathclyde Regional Council to give us that. We found an old convalescent home from Glasgow Health Board that we got for a pound a year, and SRC refurbished it.

“Carnbooth School was the only centre for deafblind education in Scotland. It was fantastic for that time. But when Cheryl got to 16 she wanted more of life.”

Cheryl was one of the first people in Scotland to benefit from specialist education and touch signing, giving the family, says Roy, “one of life’s greatest gifts – the ability to communicate.”

Now aged 41, Cheryl lives independently, supported by Sense Scotland, and swims, skis and plays in a band.

“The thing about Sense Scotland is that it came from a desire from families to give their children something better,” says Roy, “to give them the opportunity to live a life.”

During Roy’s tenure, Sense Scotland has supported thousands of families and individuals in a variety of settings including independent living, day services, respite and a host of specialist programmes including family advisory services, early years, the One Giant Leap transition programme and the Partners in Communication initiative.

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He has also overseen the expansion of the TouchBase community hub model from its flagship centre in Glasgow to Ayrshire and Lanarkshire. The charity has 14 charity shops and a turnover of £20million.

Roy was awarded the OBE in January 2015 for services to the deafblind community in Scotland.

“I’m very proud, as are all my family, to have been involved in the creation of Sense Scotland and all it has become,” he says.

“Together we have created an organisation that will care for our children throughout their lives when we are long gone.

“I take much satisfaction from seeing the people we support flourish, given the gift of communication. I am confident that our organisation will continue to grow, helping many more families live a life that most take for granted.”

Roy adds: “Life in the ‘new normal’ will be challenging, but if the past 35 years have taught me anything, it’s that Sense Scotland will adapt and continue to do what it does best – ensure the best life for my daughter, and for all the other sons and daughters it cares for.”