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27 September 2017

Epilepsy Society's chief executive Clare Pelham wins honorary doctorate

Clare Pelham, Epilepsy Society chief executive winning her doctorate from the Open University

Epilepsy Society's chief executive Clare Pelham has won an hononary degree of doctor of the university from the Open University for her tireless charity work with Epilepsy Society and Leonard Cheshire Disability.

On Saturday, 23 September Clare received her doctorate from the Open University at the Barbican Centre in London. Professor Kieron Sheehy (pictured on the left) awarded her the doctorate for being a "powerful champion of those with particular needs and disabilities".

The full speech given by Professor Kieron Sheehy before Clare Pelham received her doctorate is below: 

"Executive Dean, colleagues, graduates, guests:


Clare Pelham is one of the United Kingdom’s most influential and effective charitable leaders, whose work has made a significant contribution to equality and justice in this country.

As a student volunteer on a confidential helpline in the 1970s, Clare took a call from a young man in a wheelchair who was desperately lonely and isolated, and who was thinking about taking his own life. Wanting to do more to help, she wrote to Leonard Cheshire, who had founded one of the longest standing organisations offering practical help to disabled people. As a result, she spent a summer volunteering at Alne Hall residential home, learning at first-hand the importance of respectful, compassionate and individualised care.

After graduating from the London School of Economics, Clare began her career at the Home Office. She worked for a time in the private sector before rejoining the civil service at the Prison Board. Subsequently she held a number of senior positions in the Cabinet Office, Home Office and Department for Constitutional Affairs, where she was the inaugural Chief Executive of the Judicial Appointments Commission.

In 2010, after several decades, Clare was contacting again by Leonard Cheshire Disability about a new challenge in the voluntary sector: she had hoped to join the board as a trustee but instead, she was asked to become Chief Executive.

Founded after the Second World War to provide a home for a single ex-serviceman with disabilities, today, Leonard Cheshire is the largest voluntary sector provider of social care services for disabled people in the UK. It also runs major campaigns for the rights of disabled people and carers, promotes the employment of disabled people in this country and abroad, and has homes affiliated in 54 countries around the world. The philosophy emphasises agency, dignity, and independence.

Under Clare’s leadership, Leonard Cheshire Disability became an integral part of the Open University-led Social Partnerships Network. This group aims to open up higher education and the workforce to disabled people, as a means of promoting social inclusion and social mobility. We collaborated on an extremely important initiative with the Department for Work and Pensions to raise awareness about the talent and skills available in a largely untapped potential workforce, encouraging businesses to recruit, support and retain disabled people.

At the same time, Clare spearheaded a series of campaigns to raise public and political awareness of the specific needs of disabled people. One high-profile success was the ending of 15-minute home visits. Disabled people were too often having to make intolerable choices - whether to ask for a cup of tea or go to the toilet – as there was not time for both. After a national outcry about the standard and scale of these flying visits, the government changed the law to emphasise that they are unacceptable.

Clare also served for a period as chair of the Voluntary Organisations Disabilities Group, bringing together charities across the sector supporting more than a million disabled people in working collaboratively for change.

In 2016, Clare became Chief Executive at The Epilepsy Society. The society is marking its 125th anniversary this year, and combines pioneering research with support and advocacy for the half-a-million people living with epilepsy in the UK.  

Clare is a powerful champion of those with particular needs and disabilities. As an advocate and ally, she is transforming attitudes and driving change which is helping build a more compassionate and inclusive society. 

Executive Dean, by the authority of the Senate, I present to you for the honorary degree of Doctor of the University, Clare Pelham."