1 A history of Bedfordshire Mencap
Mencap (ENABLE in Scotland) is one of the UK's largest and best-known voluntary organisations. It was founded in 1946, when Judy Fryd, the mother of a daughter with learning difficulties, wrote to the magazine Nursery World, asking other parents of children with learning difficulties to write to her (Shennan, 1980). They did, in large numbers. One parent, Rene Harris, recalled the impact Judy Fryd had on her:
Yes, yes she was the founder of the movement. Wonderful woman. I was absolutely inspired by her. I was so moved because she said everything that was on my mind. Until I read her article ‘4,000 lame chicks’ in the Sunday People, the only other people that I knew were Mr and Mrs R. who were friendly with my sister-in-law. They had a Downs boy, Alan. I didn't know it happened to anyone else.
(Quoted in Walmsley, 2000, p. 117)
From that very simple act by one individual sprang a major national pressure group. Rene herself went on to found the Luton branch of what was then called the National Association of Parents of Backward Children in 1955, and this was but one of 200 branches with 12,000 members founded in the decade 1946–56 (Walmsley, 2000, p. 117).
You might ask, as one of our testers did, why it was at this time that parents began to present a united front. This is a difficult question to answer – however, you might get some ideas from listening to three generations of parents from Bedford Mencap, reflecting on the way things have changed since the founding of the local society there in 1955. You will be asked to listen to these clips in Section 3.