Disabled Lauderdale House volunteer donates benefits money to restoration campaign

When Jane Clarke was suddenly struck with a rare neurological condition three years ago, she was left partially paralysed and feeling as if someone else’s legs were attached to her body.

Forced to give up work, she began a life on disability benefit – but despite her constraints, she has decided to give all that she can to help historic Lauderdale House in Highgate become fully accessible for the first time in its history.

“I lived in South Africa for many years and there’s a great word – ‘ubuntu’, which means ‘I am because you are’,” said Ms Clarke, of Parkhill Road, Belsize Park. “No one is so badly off that they cannot help. It doesn’t have to be much.”

The former solicitors’ receptionist signed up as a volunteer at the house 16 years ago while in recovery from breast cancer.

The mansion has remained close to her heart ever since, despite not being able to travel there as often as she would like due to rare inflammatory disease, transverse myelitus.

So when she heard the house desperately needed funds to restore it to its former glory, she decided to give whatever she could towards the Lauderdale Transformed fundraising campaign to raise £2.1million for its refurbishment.

The house’s newly launched crowdfunding project to raise an additional £125,000 to transform the two upper-floor galleries has hit particularly close to home for Ms Clarke.

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The Lauderdale Transformed: The Historic Galleries project will fit the galleries with a lift and an induction loop for the hard of hearing to ensure everyone can access the whole house.

“I have to cling onto stairs with both hands,” she said. “The building isn’t very accessible and upstairs is impossible for scooter and wheelchair users.” She added: “The project will mean I might be able to take my scooter up there.”

Ms Clarke, who grew up in Kenya, was recovering from a series of viruses three years ago when she very suddenly lost the use of her legs.

Her condition initially perplexed doctors, but she was eventually diagnosed with transverse myelitus, which affects about 1,400 people a year and causes severe damage to the spinal cord.

In one third of cases, patients make no recovery and are left severely disabled.

Ms Clarke, who uses crutches and a mobility scooter, hopes she will be able to return as an occasional volunteer at Lauderdale once the house is fully accessible.

“I really believe in what they are doing. The building has a really lovely atmosphere,” she said. “The big charities have enough, so it’s the little charities like Lauderdale House that need help.”

Donate to the crowdfunding campaign online or by paying at the house with cheques, cash and credit cards.