Committed campaigner receives honorary degree for work with Bristol disability community
Press release issued: 11 April 2022
A disability campaigner who has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to helping others has received an honorary degree from his alma mater, the University of Bristol.
Gordon Richardson was paralysed from the chest down by polio as a child.
He showed a flair for finance from a young age, buying his first shares aged nine – the shares were bought in his grandmother’s name and he owns them to this day – and went on to complete an Economics and Accounting degree at the University of Bristol.
Now 68, he spent 30 successful years in the finance sector, before retiring age 50 having qualified as a chartered accountant and financial advisor.
Since then Mr Richardson has spent the past two decades helping disabled people in Bristol and further afield.
On Monday [11 April 2022] Mr Richardson received an honorary degree in front of 300 fellow Bristol graduates.
“I loved my three years at University and made some of my closest friends there. There are around 40 of us who still meet up now, half a century after we left,” Mr Richardson said.
“Bristol really set me up for life, and I’ve got no complaints about the way it turned out.”
Despite retiring at 50, Mr Richardson was just getting started, and he has spent the last 20 years working with Bristol and national disability charities, to “give something back”.
He co-founded the Fishponds-based Vassall Centre Trust (VCT), which developed the 50,000 sq ft building into one of the first fully accessible workplaces in the UK.
The building was used by charities for disabled people and was run by disabled trustees, employees and volunteers. It was later sold to a private owner who continues to run it in the same vein.
The Trust’s success was recognised with a prestigious Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service in 2004.
Since leaving the Trust in 2014, he has become co-chair of the Bristol Disability Equality Forum, which advises the council on disability rights, lobbies them for change and advocates for disabled people.
He was also the first disabled trustee of Designability, which creates products to help disabled people.
More recently he has been elected to the national board of the British Polio Fellowship, the leading support group for polio survivors, and last month was made chair of the charity.
In the same month he was appointed as one of the new Disability Equality Commissioners, a group of disability experts who advise the Bristol Mayor on issues in their area of expertise.
He also uses his finance skills as Treasurer of the Bristol Walking Alliance, Bristol West Diabetes Support Network and the regional arm of the British Polio Fellowship.
Amongst all this Mr Richardson spent 15 years as a pre-school governor and was the representative for nursery schools on the Bristol Schools’ Forum, for which he received a commendation from the Lord Mayor in 2016.
“I got so much out of society, all the medical support over the years and everything else, it was time to put something back,” said Mr Richardson, who lives in Westbury-on-Trym.
“And that was my skill, giving a voice to people who didn’t get the same education as me, people who need a helping hand.”
Mr Richardson’s University friends travelled from all over the country to watch him receive his honorary degree.
He said: “It’s a tremendous honour to get an honorary degree from your own University. I know a lot of it’s on the back of work that my colleagues have done and I hope they will enjoy it with me.”
Mr Richardson was nominated by staff at the University of Bristol’s Norah Fry Centre for Disability Studies, “in recognition of his significant work on behalf of Bristol’s disabled community to improve quality of life and to ensure due consideration is given to their needs”.
Professor Pauline Heslop, the current Head of the Centre, added : “Gordon’s innovative approach to campaigning and advocating for disabled people is demonstrated in his work over the past 20 years. Many people in Bristol and beyond, both disabled and non-disabled, will have benefitted from this, often without knowing. He thoroughly deserves his honorary degree.”
Professor Judith Squires, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost at the University of Bristol, said: “Since leaving us nearly 50 years ago Mr Richardson has impressed with his finance acumen and his generous spirit.
“He is a credit to our University and we are proud to welcome him back here today.”