Brendan Magill, who recently passed away, had a long, full life of helping others with barriers to employment find work or get into self-employment. While he worked with people with additional needs across the board, he was especially known, well liked, and respected within the community of visually impaired people, as he had a visual impairment himself.
Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 27 June, 1945, he attended New College Worcester for the blind and partially sighted in what must have been his formative years, where it’s thought he continued to called Worcester his home. I was first introduced to Brendan in about 2013 when I was a new entrepreneur, and someone referred me to the forums he had set up some years before: UK Visually Impaired self employed (UKVISE) and UK Visually Impaired Employed (UKVIEM). These have both been long term networks for mainly people with a visual impairment, seeking self-employment; navigating the many procedures and pitfalls of setting up in business, such as HMRC, business plans or just supporting each other through the additional hoops to dance through with having a visual impairment in the business world. Likewise, navigating the often-harsh environment of accessing work and the barriers faced in having additional needs; coupled with the attitudes of employers in an often-discriminating atmosphere, UKVIEM has been significant in supporting VIPs into employment.
For both arenas, self-employment or employment respectively, has meant Brendan played a key role in assisting the Access to Work scheme – a strand of DWP meant to help people with additional needs access the job market, with either assistive technology, personal assistants and so on. Yet with any government initiative, it often lacks in the specialist input, which is where Brendan came in – often to challenge a one-size-fits-all approach to people’s individual needs. Not only was he a pragmatist, often saying not everyone was cut out for self-employment, but always encouraged people to fulfil their potential in whatever way possible. He wasn’t just about business or the often-stuffy nature of professionalism, a man of integrity – always trying to defuse a conflict on forums with diplomacy, yet favouring a forthright approach.
He was someone to have a good conversation about everyday life with, the hassles and hardships which made work life that much more of a struggle – at least that was my experience. He was a good listener, personable and surprisingly approachable. I had a good few phone chats with him about personal family situations and he told me of his late wife and how he would never leave the home they shared after she had sadly passed away, because there were reminders of her everywhere in his house – I felt honoured for him to have shared this. He was a kind and considerate soul and even knew when there was space for humour. He used to say statistics were like a bikini, because they show you what they want you to see and hid the rest… Even if you disagreed with him, it was impossible to dislike him – he would always say, if everyone agreed the world would be a boring place.
Terry Robinson, a long-time friend from his Worcester College days and fellow amateur radio enthusiast, had decided to take up self-employment with Brendan’s encouragement and advice, as his career floundered and was coming to an end. With just an idea one day while waiting in Hereford train station with Brendan, terry eventually founded Describe Online, as an information provider – making it possible for people with a visual impairment to access and navigate train stations. For his own long work life, Brendan worked as an early computer programmer before going self-employed. He did a stint at the Royal National College for the Blind, Hereford, and from memory the role he held there was teaching students interview skills and how to get into employment, but details here are patchy. As a new entrepreneur, student and then trying again in self-employment, I always felt empathy from Brendan where others within the forums offered little or no support, but he was like this with everyone.
For those who knew him well, Brendan was known to have a heart condition. After a long stint in hospital last year, he returned home to recover with carers provided. However, he returned to hospital care in February after once again becoming ill.
Ann Linehan, a long-standing personal friend of Brendan, says he caught covid from a carer who caught the virus and returned to work possibly too early. She writes: “I miss you, Brendan. We will doubtless meet again on the other side of starlight, the enigmatic majesty of moonlight and the subtlety of sunshine.”
Describing Brendan as a friend, mentor and role model in his own right, Terry said: “I feel a great sense of loss. He was always available for a chat about business or the World in general, even after I’d retired and had no further interest in Business or Employment. He was a long-standing friend. I don’t think many of us can honestly claim to have a large stock of these.”
Although I didn’t know him well, from what I did, I think he would have made a good boss – fair, realistic expectations and always down-to-earth. R.I.P. Mr. Magill. Brendan passed away on 16th February.