Hello! My name is Paul Harris and I'm the chairman of the charity Computers for the Disabled. This is my short biography.
I was born in the East End Maternity Hospital on Commercial Road, East London in 1950. We moved to Forest Gate which was a very deprived area while I was still young. We were very poor, Mum and Dad had nothing, just like most of the East End people back in the early 50s. It was a just few years after the war after all.
Most kids grew up wanting to be film stars or footballers, but I wanted to be a gangster. I was often in trouble with the police so by the time I was 15 my Mum was sick of it and kicked me out.
I had a good voice and with the help from a cousin I started singing in pubs, clubs and theatres. Eventually I became the warm-up act for some big stars. I was going places but I didn’t want to wait for the fame and money. I wanted it now. So, I threw it all away and became the getaway car driver for some of my villain friends.
My flash lifestyle didn’t last, and I spent most of the 70’s in prisons and secure mental hospitals. Most of my family had disowned me. I knew I had to change and then in 1980 I met Karen. We got married August 1982 in Stratford registry office.
But life had a terrible surprise in store for me.
In 1990 when I was just 40 years old, I suffered a stroke that left me with hardly any use of my left hand and leg and my speech was impaired. I needed a long stay in Orsett Stroke Unit in Essex and I was in a wheelchair. Why did this happen to me? Was this punishment for my old life?
My disability forced us to move from London to a village in Essex called Noak Bridge. I felt so angry and frustrated. I began to suffer from anxiety and had suicidal thoughts. I had 3 young kids and a wife, how could I enjoy my life with them now? Was this the end of Paul Harris?
I knew I needed help, so I contacted the UK disabled support group D.I.A.L. They convinced me to find something to occupy my days. It was suggested that I try my hand at computers. I thought it was a joke.
After some months of persuasion, D.I.A.L got me a place at a learning centre and I took up the challenge. Since the first day I enrolled in the Centre my life changed. I found an outlet for my aggression and depression and I started to enjoy what I was doing. I was learning about computers and meeting lovely people with similar disabilities. After a while I had built some small low spec PC's for disabled friends I had met and then for local disabled groups. I felt like I had a purpose and I decided that no matter what life threw at me I would still do what I could to help others with disabilities, those on a low income and the elderly.
I went on to do further courses to get more knowledge. I passed exams and gained huge amounts of PC know how. Eventually I contacted the voluntary services sector and they suggested that I should apply for Charity Status as they felt I was doing a fantastic job and offered a wonderful service. Jill Martin and Chris Watson of the CVS and myself had a meeting to get things started. Mr Peter Woods a retired bank manager offered to do the accounts and books. Lots of others offered to help us get started. We filled in all the required paperwork to apply for charity status and was told it would be around 6 months before we got a reply. In only 6 weeks we had the amazing news that we had become a government registered charity.
In 2004 I was rushed into Basildon hospital Essex as my intestines had pushed through my stomach wall. I was then transferred to Homerton Hospital in Hackney where I underwent major stomach surgery. When I got home, I had daily visits from district nurses to attend to my massive stomach wounds that for some unknown reason were not healing up. After many swab and blood tests I was diagnosed with the wonderful disease known as MRSA. For the next 10 months I had a drain bottle attached to my stomach, day and night.
In July 2009 I was diagnosed with a non-curable muscle and nerve wasting disease called ‘peripheral neuropathy'.
In 2015 I had to have my prostate removed. In 2018 I had two more operations, then two cancer scares on my lung and left kidney. Thank God I don’t have cancer. In 2019 I had heart issues and needed to have stents fitted.
I’ve got COPD, kidney problems, bronchitis for life and have to take steroids. I’ve developed sleep apnoea and have to use a breathing machine at night.
But I refuse to let any of that beat me, I still try and work 7 days a week. I am going to fight any illness that is thrown at me because I want to be here for my wife, my 3 grown up children and my 7 grandchildren. That’s without all the disabled people around the country that need my help. It’s knowing this that helps to keep me going.
It's a truly fantastic feeling being the chairman of a charity. I have a great team around me helping people across the UK. We all pull together to help keep our organisation running smoothly. I have met some fantastic people in the last 25 years, from film and TV soap stars to people from the sporting world, but the people that I’ve met that I admire the most are the disabled people themselves.
I couldn’t do any of this without the wonderful support of my wife Karen. She’s my "fetch and carry lady" and she’s the backbone of our charity, as well as running our home. She is also the secretary of Berry Boys Amateur Boxing Club and spends 3 evenings a week there. Our hope is that places like this will keep many boys off the streets and stop them from ending up like me. It's worked for my boys.
I am passionate about helping people with disabilities and elderly people, it’s such a major part of my life. We work from our hearts, not for our pockets.
If you want to talk to me to find out more, if you have any questions at all please give myself or my wife a call and we will be happy to answer any queries. You’ll find all of our contact details at the bottom of the page.
Thanks for reading,