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History

Bedford Mencap was founded in 1955 as a branch of the National Association for Parents of Backward Children.

When the branch was founded there was no provision for families other than the advice to put their children into a hospital for mental handicap. There was no respite care, leisure activities or access to contact with parents in similar situations.

Mental “handicap” or “deficiency” was treated as a problem to be controlled and not as an issue of how to support those parents bringing up children with learning disabilities.

Local parents felt the serious need for support and better knowledge in the medical profession. Their children were “invisible” to the community: kept sheltered at home or sent often, unwillingly, to the local mental handicap hospital – such as Bromham Hospital.

Early days

In the early days local parents set up their own services including; a holiday chalet, swimming sessions, a social club and the Welfare Visitor Scheme  – now known as the Signpost Volunteers.

The local group campaigned for services in the community as an alternative to long term hospital admission. Individual parents working together have made very real changes to Government and local authority attitudes and services over the last fifty years both locally and nationally.

1971 Education Act

In 1971 the Education Act gave children with learning disabilities the right to an education and in the early 1970’s Special Schools were opened in Bedford. At last children were more visible as they travelled to and from school and enjoyed leisure activities in the community.

Bedford Mencap has given and continues to provide parents with a focus for campaigning and an opportunity to lessen the isolation they often feel from not knowing other families in the same situation.

The present and future aspirations of Bedford Mencap include the development of independent living, work and training opportunities and fully inclusive education for all people with learning difficulties.