The Sequal Trust charity started its life as the Possum Users Association back in the 1960’s. POSSUM stood for Patient Operated Selector Mechanism and was the first specialist equipment developed for the use of the disabled community. The association aimed to assist severely disabled people in the purchasing of equipment specific to their needs.
Prior to the 1960’s it wasn’t generally recognised that a disabled person could be helped to reach their full potential with the aid of assistive technology. Thanks to research chemist Reg Maling, who worked with a dedicated team to harness the technology of the day to provide greater independence with communication disorders and restricted physical abilities, The Possum was conceived.
Roger Jefcoate was a co-founder of the PUA and deputy leader of the team that developed the technology at Stoke Mandeville Hospital. In 1966 he persuaded the then Ministry of Health to supply the Possum system to severely disabled people nationwide. It was during this period that the team were developing further assistive communication devices, that Roger conceived the idea of starting a communication disability charity, to fund these assistive aids and thus the PUA was born!
The other founding and committee members were Robert Bowell, David Hyde and Christopher Dowcra Jones, who all served as chairmen of the organisation over the years. All three men had disabilities and communication difficulties of their own, which inspired them to found the disability charity. Robert had a congenital disease that prevented his muscles from developing but managed to run his own accountancy business from home. David broke his neck playing rugby in 1955 which left him paralysed from the shoulders down, but he endeavoured and became a demonstrator of assistive technology for disabled people. Christopher contracted polio in 1963 and was immobilised from the neck down but despite this, he ran a successful solicitors practice.
Many inspirational people have been involved with The Sequal Trust over the years, including Hilary Pole, who was described at the time as the most disabled person in the world. She was unable to see, speak or swallow but managed to contribute poems and articles to our magazine using equipment driven by the very slight movement she had in her big toe!
It was in 1969 the name of the PUA became The Sequal Trust, but the operation remained the same; to empower each disabled member to reach their full potential through the provision of suitable communication devices, helping them fulfil their dreams and aspirations. To see the person and not the disability and provide a means to set lively minds free remains our charities prime objective today.
An appeal was set up in 1989 with the aim of securing the long-term future of the charity. The target of £250,000 was reached under the guidance of Christopher Dowcra Jones and with the help of an Appeals Committee. At this point, Lord Havers became president, a position taken over on his death and held today by his son, The Hon Nigel Havers. HRH Princess Michael of Kent and the late Professor Stephen Hawking also came on board as Patrons.
The last surviving founder, Christopher Dowra Jones sadly passed in 1997 and John Davies, the Vice-Chairman and specific fundraiser took over as Chair. He had muscular dystrophy and was provided with a communication device by The Sequal Trust. John had an extremely positive and determined attitude towards life and remained a great inspiration and Chair-person until his death in 1999. It was after his sad passing that John Redfern, who had ankylosing spondilitis, was appointed Chairman and remained so until his death in 2009.
Roger Jefcoate remains active on the board of many charities on a mostly volunteer basis. Since his involvement with The Sequal Trust, he has gone on to launch several successful healthcare and disability charities.