Shirley Sorbie MBE
by Kevin Forbes DDCS Chairman
1992 was an interesting year, for many reasons. Britain crashed out of the European Exchange Rate Mechanism, we had an election – won by the Tories and the labour leader Neil Kinnock resigned straight away, Charles and Di separated and although it was actually the Queens 40th anniversary, she declared it an ‘annus horriblis’ oh, and Shirley Sorbie joined Dorset Deaf Children’s Society and then became a trustee and her first starring role was making jellies at the Christmas Party. Apart from (I have just realised) a disturbing lack of jelly at our Christmas Party, how little has changed. The Queen has had another family caused horrid year, Britain and the EU have separated, the Labour party are still losing leaders after Conservative election wins and Shirley Sorbie is still at DDCS. Albeit (and not to have a go at jelly makers) more involved now.
When I was asked to become Chairman of the society four years ago, it was by Shirley, someone who had been so kind to our family when our own daughter was diagnosed deaf ten years earlier. Of course, I couldn’t say no. I quite literally couldn’t, as Shirley had me in a persuasive head-lock, one she has mastered over the years in getting things done for the deaf children’s community many years before I popped up on the scene. One of the first jobs I realised I had to do when seeing the most exceptional efforts she put in, was to get this officially recognised. I also realised I needed to keep it a secret from her as (1) she probably would try to dissuade me (as not wanting the limelight) and (2) it would be less impactful and less likely to make her cry when she found out (spoiler, she did, a lot). So, I set about a mission of tracking down some names from the past and asking for some references to send off to the Honours and Appointments Secretariat. The dozen or so letters I got back were unanimous in almost every way, from saying what an exceptional person Shirley was, to saying it was long overdue. So, I went through the application process, used my newfound Shirley-taught headlock skill in getting our local MP to back it as well and applied. Then we waited and waited. And waited. I emailed them again and made it clear that if Shirley wasn’t accepted, it was 100% down to my inability to articulate how special she was and to let me get more letters. They frustratingly responded that these things ‘take time’. I fretted I had mucked it up.
But then I got a phone call one Saturday morning in May 2019 from a sobbing Shirley. I was a little surprised, had Tom finally washed up his plate, had Jamie made his bed, were her boys finally being as lovely as her daughter Kelly? Or more unbelievably, had Charlie finally told a joke that was funny? I dismissed all these as fanciful fantasies; of course they could never happen. “You did this didn’t you” Shirley asked, then I realised she had had the initial ‘secret’ letter not to be shared for fear of being locked in the Tower; she was going to be Shirley Sorbie MBE. How awesome is that!
Since that day, lots has happened. Shirley was on TV, a camera crew went around to her house on the Queen’s birthday when it all becomes public and filmed us opening champagne and Shirley announcing to her family and friends that she was in the Queen’s honours list.
The local paper ran an article on her. The more annoying of her friends and family now call her ma’am and curtsey when she walks in (me included) oh yea, and of course she went to The Palace. Shirley then met and (being Shirley) joked with Prince William (see the picture) and of course was presented with, in my opinion, one of the most deserved MBEs in the history of the award. Also, for the record, since that day I have been heavily praised for ‘sorting it out’.
I will leave you with some quotes from the letters of support and parents, only limited by the space I have to write this article.
“She played a central partnership role in the trial work and development of the Quality Standards for Hearing Impaired Children and the National Screening Programme, which now tests hearing for all babies in the UK”
“I cannot think of anyone more suited to receive an honour than Mrs Sorbie.”
“Shirley would not hesitate if I asked her to join me in London for key meetings”
“It was instantly apparent that Shirley was a ‘Doer’”
“She was always not only full of good ideas but willing to get things off the ground and see a project through”
“The idea of nominating Shirley for a national award is a fantastic one and I can’t think of anyone who deserves this more”
“Talking to other friends who are Teachers of the Deaf in different authorities, I am not aware of another society quite like it and that is down to Shirley.”
“Shirley's knowledge is unsurpassable and her passion and dedication for helping deaf children never wavers”
“Shirley would not want to take credit for the group’s success….it is Shirley’s organisational skills and sheer hard work that has made these meetings so productive”
“Shirley’s warm, sensitive and extremely approachable manner that has given reassurance and comfort”
“Shirley has been a huge part of our lives for 13 years, her support means so much to us.”
“…immeasurable benefit to so many”
“I have seen first-hand how tirelessly Shirley has worked for the charity and how she has always been there to support a person in need, day or night”
“Shirley is an inspiration and was an absolute dream to work with, utterly selfless and awe inspiring”
“Can’t think of a nicer more hard working person than Shirley, she puts her heart and soul into DDCS”
“Shirley always goes that extra step to support and will often be on the phone all night if she is needed”
“An outstanding woman!”
“Shirley has a wonderful way of welcoming everybody to the group from the littlest baby, all family members right up to the grandparents.”
“She has an amazing memory and knows all the families and their stories and cares about each and every one of them.”
“Shirley makes things happen with a can-do attitude and inspires others to help too.”
“Her welcoming, warm and positive attitude can make a huge difference to parents in the early days of coming to terms with their child’s disability.”
“I and my fellow teachers of the deaf are very aware of our good fortune in having such a strong and active local parent group in the DDCS…. provide holistic support to deaf parents and children area. Shirley plays a pivotal role in this.”
“During that time, I saw Shirley's exceptional dedication to the well-being of deaf children and families through her organisation of events, campaigning for better speech therapy services and setting-up of the first residential weekend for older pupils”.
“A very deserving recipient, we are so proud to say Shirley is part of our lives and always thankful she is”
“I think it's fair to say that nearly every family of a deaf child in Dorset has benefitted in some way from Shirley's input over the years”
“Her tireless and caring input deserves recognition; she is one in a million”.
I am sure that you would all agree we are all so proud of Shirley getting this award, she has touched the hearts and improved the lives of hundreds of families across our county. You couldn’t expect him to know, but Prince William was a very lucky man to have awarded Shirley Sorbie her MBE, I doubt he will award a better one.
Congratulations Shirley, we all love you!
Message from Shirley:
Receiving this award has been such an honour and was absolutely amazing! I am so proud to be a trustee of Dorset Deaf Children’s Society and blessed to be a part of the lives of all the wonderful children and families. It was a total shock when I received the letter from the cabinet office and even now it is still hard to believe. How could this be happening to me! I have cried and laughed a lot from all the wonderful messages and cards I have received. I am so humbled by it all and DDCS will always be in my heart. Thank you Kevin for all your efforts to make it happen!
An important thing I must say is that I could not have done it all without the support of my amazing husband Charlie (plus his jokes) and my family. So it’s now business as usual and on to the next event. Thank you everyone.
To give you some idea of what Shirley has done over the years I
have put together a timeline of Shirley’s career at DDCS:
1992 Joined DDCS as a member after Tom was diagnosed at age three.
1992 Joined the committee and first event was Christmas Party.
1995 Started volunteering for Cards for Good Causes selling NDCS Christmas
cards in Ferndown Library raising money for DDCS
2000 Invited to join the Children’s Hearing Services Working Group (CHSWG)
as a parent representative (she is now the DDCS representative).
2001 Jamie diagnosed with hearing loss.
2002 Shirley became Minute Secretary until 2007
2003 Became Treasurer
2004 Started attending NDCS National Council meetings in London
2004 She suggested a DDCS local database/membership
2005 Started to organise most of the events
2005 Set up and stock the Literature holders and info in Audiology waiting
rooms in East & West Dorset. Also started DDCS info library for families.
2005 Introduced welcome letters to new members
2005 Invited to attend HSS Parent Support Group for babies and pre-school
2006 Took on the job of producing the news flyers and newsletter
2007 Due to other pressures, Chairman unable to run website, Shirley took on
most of the running of it.
2007 Shirley’s idea of a DDCS Information leaflet/membership form agreed,
printed and sent out and Shirley set up a membership database and
became Membership Secretary
2009 Helped to organise first residential activity weekend for children 10 -18
years old. 2010, 2012, 2014 followed. Then family weekends 2016,
2018 and 2020! All organised by Shirley
2010 Started the Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) Campaign to improve
the service for deaf children.
2011 Organised inaugural parent meeting with SALT and within two weeks
more SALT hours temporarily awarded to deaf children.
2012 Funding of £244,000 approved for SALT for disabled pre-school children.
Took 2 years from start to finish. See the separate article on our website
of Shirley’s campaign for this.
2014 Organised the Plane Pull team raising over £4875 for DDCS
2016 Helped to set up new website and hand over website to another Trustee.
2017 Became Vice-Chairperson
This is only some of the work that Shirley has done for DDCS there are just too many to list but one important role she does is being the go to person for help, advice and reassurance for parents, carers, grandparents when they are going through difficult times.