Tod U3A: Members support guest speaker

Sunshine and Tod Market could not stop 102 U3A members turning out to welcome Hamish Willis and Penny Dean OBE to our monthly meeting.

First, Hamish Willis from Rossendale gave us an enthusiastic talk and video presentation about the merits of Nordic Walking, an activity only three members of the audience admitted to having tried.

For anyone interested in taking up the Nordic challenge under Hamish’s instruction, a list will be available to sign up to at our April meeting.

Ernie Rogan, officiating in the absence of our regular chairman, Keith Coates, introduced Penny Dean, our main speaker.

Even though her siblings are all over 6ft tall, Penny was born with achondroplasia – dwarfism - and she was careful to explain that this is not actually unusual.

It also explained for us why there were two screens: Penny was being filmed so everyone could see her on a screen.

As a youngster, Penny found herself troubled by her smallness until her elder sister took her to the circus when she was 14.

There she met Arthur who was both a clown and her size and they exchanged addresses on a hotdog paper.

Subsequently, it was not long before they were boyfriend and girlfriend, and, when Penny was 16, husband and wife.

They were married in Portsmouth, blessed by the actors’ chaplain, and were taken to their reception on an elephant.

Their early married life was spent in Stockport, and they worked in panto and at Butlins.

Then they decided to start a family.

At this point, Penny explained that small people can give birth to tall people and tall people to small people.

In her case, she had some difficulty carrying a child to full term, but in 1986 she gave birth to Kimberley who is now the only dwarf physiotherapist in England.

But Penny and Arthur also adopted two small babies, Nicola and Matthew.

Nicola is a married documentary maker and has two children, one of whom is tall; Matthew is a social media consultant.

Penny is now the adoption co-Ordinator for Little People UK. So far she has placed 15 children with new parents.

But more than that, she and Arthur started the Dwarf Athletics Association UK which in 2011 became the Dwarf Sports Association UK which hosts the annual National Games with the intention of preparing athletes for the Dwarf World Games and the Paralympics.

Penny told us with great pride that Ellie Simmonds OBE, the paralympian swimmer, came up through the opportunities.

We would like to thank Penny for the richness of her presentation.

She will be well remembered in Todmorden.

We had a brief heartfelt talk from Age UK Todmorden inviting us to consider becoming trustees for this well known and important local charity that promises work that is ‘rewarding and fun’.

Enquiries should be made to Age UK Todmorden directly.

Our next speaker is Jane Shepherd whose talk on Thursday, April 21 is titled My life as a cabbage – from polio to TV presenting and beyond.