Charity founder hopes life story will inspire people with disabilities

Arun Patel

Arun Patel, who was diagnosed with polio just after his first birthday, has written his life story - Credit: White Tusk Studios

A charity founder from Ilford has penned his life story in a bid to inspire people living with disabilities.

Arun Patel, born in 1953, was diagnosed with polio just after his first birthday but went on to a career as an accountant and award-winning philanthropist.

With his new book, Out Of My Way, Polio! How I Strived Joyfully For More Than A Normal Life, Arun is hoping to inspire others to face obstacles and disabilities with the same positive spirit which has driven him.

Polio used to be common across the globe but cases in the UK fell sharply after routine vaccination was introduced in the 1950s.

No cases of the virus, which can cause temporary or permanent paralysis, have been caught in this country since the mid-1980s.

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On the impact of polio on his life, Arun said: “I dropped self-pity from day one.

"That determination and that drive and single-purposeness in anything I do filtered on to the other facets of my life.

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“It has spurred me on to scale bigger heights than I would ever have imagined.”

Arun said he refused to let his condition hold him back in sports, academia or his professional career.

As a child, he was soon to be found embracing activities on a long “list of not-to-do things” - among them rounders, cricket, badminton and climbing trees.

Driven on by the high standards of his demanding schoolteacher father, Arun grew to enjoy the pursuit of excellence in his schoolwork too.

At 17, he was persuaded by his father to move alone to London to begin his career in accountancy.

Just two years later, his family also moved to the UK, having been driven out of Uganda by Idi Amin’s military dictatorship.

Life as an immigrant in London was not straightforward, with Arun recalling: “In the ‘70s, I was always on edge. Immigration was a very sensitive issue then.”

In 1975, Arun completed his accountancy qualifications and, after a two-year spell working for KPMG in Zambia, he returned to Ilford.

He set up a chartered accountancy practice with his friend, Barry Clayden, in 1980.

Since retiring in 2006, Arun described his life as “truly blissful” due to his spiritual activities and the joy he derives from his charity work.

In 2002, he established Polio and Children in Need, which operates in ten countries across four continents. 

Arun was also invited to carry the Paralympic Flame ahead of London 2012, an honour bestowed in recognition of his charity work.

He took the torch from Lord's Cricket Ground to Regent's Park and said: “The day was phenomenal. Everyone was up and buoyant about the Paralympics, the fact that we were hosting it.

"The atmosphere was phenomenal. I felt great, I felt totally exhilarated, the fact that I was asked to do that and represent Great Britain for this little piece of showmanship.”

In 2014, he founded the Old Kampala Alumni Scholarship Fund, which provides scholarships for his old school in Uganda.

The following year, Arun received both the British Citizenship Award and a Points of Light award, attracting praise from then prime minister, David Cameron.

He said many people had encouraged him to publish his life story since his retirement.

The “driving force” of his decision came from two fellow sufferers of polio, who told Arun he owed it to disabled people to publish his story.

He was able to complete the project when the nationwide lockdown freed up more of his time.

On his hopes for the book, Arun said: “If a few people can get some of these things on how to handle their disability or their perceived disabilities and turn a corner, I would feel that it was worth penning my memoirs.”

The book showcases a guiding principle epitomised time and again in Arun’s life: “It’s not the deal you get, it’s how you deal with it.”

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