Inspiring Change: Denise Tabernacle

On the eve of International Women’s Day, it’s important to remember the women that have contributed to our charity's history, and to celebrate the untold stories of women who dedicated their lives and work to making the world a better place for everybody.

At the end of 2013, Leonard Cheshire Disability’s archivist received an email offering a donation of artworks by the Welsh artist Nathaniel Davies. What struck her as particularly unusual was that they were not of the charity's founder, Leonard Cheshire, but of another charity worker with an interesting story to tell: a woman called Denise Tabernacle.

A painted portrait and a terracotta bust of Denise
The painting and terracotta head donated by Nathaniel's family

Born in 1926 in Hampshire, Denise had been a teacher at the Newton Abbot Art School. It was there she met fellow lecturer Nathaniel and became a family friend. But towards the end of the 1950s, she gave it all up to train as a state-registered nurse, and became one of the first nurses of the fledgling Leonard Cheshire Foundation - now Leonard Cheshire Disability.

Denise on her own reading and with Nathaniel Davies
Denise at Newton Abbot, reading and with artist Nathaniel Davies

Alone and with £50 in her pocket to get things started, ‘Miss T’ as the locals called her was sent to Ethiopia to be matron and nurse at a home for disabled children in Addis Ababa. She had five years to establish the home, plan and deliver care for the children and then train local people to take over after she left. She forged links with the local community from her own hard work and contacts. Cheshire Services Ethiopia celebrated its golden jubilee in 2012 and Denise dedicated the rest of her life to disabled people. 

Denise with a group of people in Ghana
Ghana was one of the countries where Denise (third from the right) worked during her time with Leonard Cheshire

Denise died in 1987, but during her time with the Leonard Cheshire Foundation she set up services for disabled people in places including the Seychelles, Morocco, Tanzania, Sudan, Uganda and Ghana, all with the aim of making the world a better place for everyone, regardless of ability. International Women’s Day 2014 has the theme of ‘Inspiring Change’ and Denise's life is a great example of how one woman’s hard work and dedication contributed towards our ultimate aim of a society where everyone is equally valued.

Thank you to Nathaniel Davies's estate for the artworks and art school photos. Find out more about our international work. and theLeonard Cheshire Disability archive.