On Saturday 23rd June the members of Coventry Mencap held a celebration party to reflect on decades of family carer activism in the city as they marked their merger with Midland Mencap. It was fitting that so many of the family carers were present who had campaigned and fought for theirs and their children’s rights in education, inclusion, and equality. Coventry Mencap will leave a lasting legacy, wonderfully captured in photographs, of a group of families who worked tirelessly for the inclusion of people with a learning disability in the wider community life of the city.
Martin Gallagher, Chair of Midland Mencap, took the opportunity in welcoming Coventry Mencap to Midland Mencap by saying “Coventry Mencap were one of the more active local groups in the West Midlands region, their work in providing leisure opportunities for people with a learning disability at the time”. One example of this is the long association with the Scouting movement and the opportunity every year to take part in the now legendary camps, packed with fun activities come rain or shine!
Martin went on to say “Though the world has changed the activities of Coventry Mencap provided the base for those changes, getting people with a learning disability out into the community, mixing with the community and been seen as part of the community”. These were sentiments echoed by Councillor Faye Abbott, Cabinet Lead for Social Care at Coventry Council, and by Tina Costello, CEO of Heart of England Community Foundation, both of whom have a long and very supportive relationship with Coventry Mencap. They both shared memories of working with Coventry Mencap to broaden opportunities for learning disabled citizens in the city and how they now look forward to working with Midland Mencap to do the same.
Brian Hinde, outgoing Chair of Coventry Mencap, delivered a very emotional and reflective speech charting the many successes of Coventry Mencap over the years, reasons for the merger with Midland Mencap and his hopes and aspirations for the future. Picking up on Brian’s evocative words Martin Gallagher added “This may seem as a moment of sadness for some people but I hope you won’t harbour that view for long as I like to see this as a rebirth and I hope that Coventry Mencap as is will want to work with us in the future to develop services and community activities that will extend the influence of the organisation throughout the city”.
In deciding to merge with Midland Mencap the Trustees at Coventry recognised that the world was changing rapidly and to ensure people with a learning disability in the city continued to have their voice heard merging with a larger organisation with paid staff who could work with all stakeholders in extending co-produced opportunities for people with a learning disability.
Martin picked this theme up in his closing comments “We need the members too, because parent carers and people with a learning disability who use services are the best people to consult when you’re developing services. Nobody is better placed to ask as to what they want than the person who’s receiving it, co-produced with the people and giving them something they want, it’s their life”.
The party was a wonderful occasion, perfectly bringing to a close the chapter written by the members of Coventry Mencap and turning the page to a very optimistic future as part of Midland Mencap. Martin’s final words applauded the work they did over 60 years of activism in Coventry, “It’s been a privilege to work with and support Coventry Mencap, with Brian, Jill and Clare. We had good fun and achieved some great work together”.
Congratulations to everyone involved with Coventry Mencap, lets now go forward together.