"I don’t believe in retirement, it’s all about re-fire-ment."
Born in 1947, John Flanner who lives with Abbeyfield at independent living complex, Hampton House, was the oldest of four children and spent the early part of his life as a normal teenager, enjoying a love and passion for Aston Villa Football Club and good music, as well as cherishing a desire to become a professional footballer.
“I was actually born on the same road that Aston Villa football club were formed.” John explained. "And in the later years of my life, Aston Villa FC honoured me with a pride of Aston Villa Award for my long-time positive support of the club.
“I have to say, I didn’t enjoy my school days, mainly because I struggled with my hearing and never really had the courage to say ‘Please sir, I can’t hear you!’. I only really enjoyed games day when we could get out and enjoy a bit of football or cricket. I remember the teachers used to say ‘Enjoy yourself, because your school days are the best days of your life.’ To which I thought… ‘I hope not!’ And luckily, they were wrong because I think life just gets better and better, that’s just my outlook on it.”
Career, Aspirations & Dreams
John had hopes and dreams to become a Footballer or Journalist, which seemed to have been tragically cut short when he developed Leber’s Optic Atrophy, a hereditary condition from which there is no cure, and he was forced to face the reality of being permanently blind at the tender age of 19.
“My career was certainly not one I would have chosen. John expressed. “Football, in my mind, was the only thing I was any good at, so I wanted to be a footballer. It was age eleven I was told I wasn’t good enough, which was rather devastating, it was on par with being told Father Christmas wasn’t real! Then I thought, well then I will be a journalist and report on the football, but I was told I need to go to day school…. and night school, which I didn’t want to do – I hated school! I’d given up on that career path, which wasn’t easy but I didn’t want to put myself through all that schooling again, I felt I wasn’t good at it.
“I left school without a job, but was lucky enough to get a job where my dad worked at the Dunlop Rubber Company as an Office Junior. I LOVED that job, I think it’s because I felt safe and comfortable, so much so that I ended up staying there a very long time. At age 18, the company approached me and said I was needed in the sales office, I didn’t want to go, but they said I couldn’t be an Office Junior forever, so I reluctantly moved on. I became a Sales Administrator, which I hated. It was so pressuring, but I pushed myself through it to keep my mum and dad happy.
“I was 19 years-old when I went blind, which meant I had to leave my job, I couldn’t do it anymore. It was mixed blessings really, because of course I wouldn’t have chosen to go blind, but I really disliked the job and wanted to leave anyway! Going blind set me on a completely different course in life. I had to go away to a rehab centre for assessment and a 12-week course, and at that time in my life I had so many fears, I was scared of the dark, of authoritative figures, I had a chronic fear of death, but the biggest fear I had of all, was a fear of girls. That was because of poor self-image; I’d beat myself up thinking I was ugly and that girls weren’t interested in me, or they would ridicule me, which probably wasn’t true, but that was the perception I had."
“Once I’d got through my course, I was surprised to hear the assessors say they thought I’d be able to continue working and manage ok. They sent me off to London for intense training to become an Audio Typist. I thought ‘What?!’ accompanied by my stomach dropping, because the only typists I knew when I worked at Dunlop were women, so it stuck fear through me thinking I’m going to be working with them as a typist myself – safe to say it got me over my fear.
“I ended up working in the civil service as an Audio Typist for nearly 30 years and I absolutely loved every minute of it. I worked with some fantastic people, they really looked after me. To say I was spoilt is an understatement - they would do all my shopping for me, if I needed cards for family birthdays or anniversaries, they’d take me down to the shops and read the verse to me, they were just fantastic. I have nothing but wonderful memories with them.
“After the Typist work phased out (everyone was typing their own letters on computers) I was retrained to work on tax refunds, I really loved that job too. Admittedly, I was scared to be in my 50s and having to train for another job but it actually turned out really good, and I loved sending rebates to people. When people said ‘where do you work?’ I’d reply ‘I work in the tax office’ and they said ‘oh dear, I don’t want to talk to you then’ and I said ‘well I think you do, I’m the good tax man’ they said ‘is there really such thing?’ I said ‘yes I work on the rebates!’. People used to say it’s a very mundane job, but every time I pressed send, I had great satisfaction because I knew the person receiving on the other end of it was getting a nice surprise.”
Throughout John's career he was well renowned for being an esteemed colleague, no more so than at Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) where he was encouraged by that of John Dolan, a Senior Manager at working with him at the time. Mr Dolan was inspired by John and decided to send him on a ‘Breakthrough’ course for further training.
“At 57 something remarkable happened, I was sent on this personal development programme; Breakthrough. To be honest, I wasn’t too excited about it as I wanted to retire at 60 and do some work with the local church but John (Dolan) really believed in me, which was so encouraging. The course literally changed my life, it was so empowering. At the end of the course we were asked to create a project, so I put together a presentation and called it; Fear, Fun & Faith.”
Fear, Fun & Faith
As a result of his ‘Breakthrough’ course, John delivered his personal brand of passion, humour and encouragement to many business people, the Cabinet Office and the Treasury. As well as being a highly sought-after motivational speaker, John has also held regular slots on BBC Radio, and has appeared in a ‘Fly on the Wall’ documentary on central television.
“Upon returning from the course, I sent an email to all the managers in our building to let them know I was prepared to do a 15 minute presentation in any team meetings all about how I’ve overcome my disability, and within two or three days I received at least 20 invitations to attend team meetings. To every single one I went to, there was a mixture of laughter and tears, and people were saying it was too short, that it should be available on the NHS as it’s like good medicine! That was a great feeling.
“Not long after that, I began to get floods of emails from people opening up their hearts to me, and one of the Senior Officers said to me, ‘John, your talks have transformed this whole office. The change is amazing – people are really enjoying coming to work, there’s a big smile on everyone’s faces.’ I was flattered, and he followed with, ‘I’d like you to attend our board meeting, there will be 24 Directors there that I’d like you to talk to.’ I agreed and went to speak to the Directors, from which I got a standing ovation! It all blew up (in the best way) from there, I began getting invited to all sorts of places, Peterborough, Norwich, Lincoln, Ipswich, Leeds, it was amazing. I was still being paid for my job but I was having a ball at the same time!
“My talks led to me winning the National Civil Service Outstanding Achievement Award for my services to Equality and Diversity in 2006 and for bringing outstanding change to offices across the country. That then led to me being invited to the home office (HMRC), Ministry of Defence and prestigious places like that. And then, I was awarded an MBE of all things! I was presented my MBE for bringing transformation and positivity into the workplace by The Princess Royal at Buckingham Palace on 13th February 2015. It was such an honour."
Using his motivational talks, John has since authored a book also titled, ‘Fear, Fun & Faith’ - a ‘one man mission’ to change traditional views of diversity, and inspire thousands of people across the country to take hold of their dreams and take positive steps to achieve their goals.
“I wrote my first book based on my most popular talk; Fear, Fun & Faith, which came out when I was 60. It was because of the hugely positive emails I'd received because of my talks that I decided to write the book.
“I love to encourage people – I always say, no-one ever died from an overdose of encouragement. It is so empowering and there’s unfulfilled potential in everyone, whatever age you are. I don’t believe in retirement, it’s all about re-fire-ment. We just keep living, learning and exploring new opportunities. Life has taught me that every person has a genius inside of them just waiting to be released in some way. Don’t just live for the weekend but set out to enjoy every day you are alive.
“I’ve written four books now, all of which are in a way, an autobiography, lessons learnt, sharing that faith and encouragement with others. Fun, Fear & Faith being the first, followed by Bitzaro to Buckingham, a journey of faith and celebration, my third book Beautiful Game, Beautiful Memories is all about my love for Aston Villa FC and finally my fourth book, The Well Overflows shares what started out as over 50 daily articles of positivity and hope shared on Facebook during the 2020 coronavirus lockdown, all collated into one keepsake book.” Please email John personally to purchase one of his books.
Life at Abbeyfield
John, was more than a little startled when an email popped into his inbox inviting him to view an apartment at nearby independent living complex, Hampton House. It had been just a few weeks since his beloved wife of 49 years had died, and so he was certainly not looking to move from the family home, where he had lived for 30 years.
A gut feeling encouraged john to go and have a look at the apartment, “I had a nagging feeling that I should at least go and take a look, much to the dismay of my kids.” Said John. “I duly went along with two of my daughters, met the manager and was shown around.
“To say we were gobsmacked is an understatement – we loved it. It was even better when Nicola (who is still the manager today) explained to us the kind of support that was on offer through the care team. In addition there would be optional social activities held in the lounge and all meals provided. I think both me and my daughters instinctively knew this was the right place for me.
“I moved into Hampton House on 18th February 2019 and have loved it ever since. The location is brilliant, being only a 15 minute walk from Solihull Town Centre and to be honest, I have to keep ‘pinching myself’ to actually believe I am really living in such a beautiful place. It’s so good to be able to put my head on my pillow at night and feel totally safe. The staff are truly brilliant and my family have total peace of mind that I am well cared for, well fed and as happy as one could wish to be.
“Hampton House gets a five star rating from me and I did not get paid to say that. Mind you, I might just merit a little extra custard on my apple pie!"