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Empowering group goes from strength to strength
6:00pm Friday 1st November 2013 in News
Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld, back, third from left, visited the My Life My Choice StigRadio team this summer.
AMBITIONS, opinions, dislikes, and frustrations are things most people have and express each day.
But imagine if you felt all these things, but couldn’t put them into the right words.
Worse still, imagine people thought you were incapable of making your own choices, and made decisions for you.
In 1988, three men with learning and physical disabilities, Tony Thorpe, Michael Edwards and the late Raymond Metcalf, decided they wanted more control over their lives.
Seizing the considerable challenge ahead of them, they managed to get council funding and set up My Life My Choice (MLMC), a self-advocacy project for people with learning disabilities.
Today the registered charity has more than 500 members and groups in Oxford, Abingdon, Wantage, Banbury and Henley.
It has its own travel scheme – Travel Buddies – which has helped guide 55 young people through the use of public transport until they have felt confident enough to use it alone.
And recently MLMC increased the number of monthly group meetings around the county from 10 to 13. From January next year it plans to run a group for younger people from 16 to 25 once a month in the Blackbird Leys community centre, after receiving funding from Oxford City Council.
Unique in the sense that it is run for and by people with learning disabilities, MLMC offers a packed programme of activities and events, from meet-ups to nightclubs.
And it is making such an impact that Prime Minister David Cameron has given it a Big Society Award, created to recognise groups and individuals which are improving lives in their community.
Big Society Awards are judged every three months by a panel including previous winners.
Mr Cameron chooses a final 12 winners who each receive a plaque, a signed certificate, copies of the award logos to use in their publicity and an invitation to a twice-yearly reception at 10 Downing Street.
Previous winners include the Oxford-based homeless project Paths, which won a Big Society Award in June.
Mr Cameron said: “I’ve seen at first hand the great work this organisation does.
“From support using public transport to club nights, it empowers people with learning difficulties to design and run the services they want to see.
“This Big Society Award recognises the huge difference everyone involved in the charity is making.”
MLMC co-founder Michael Edwards, 59, got the news about the Big Society award via text, which is kind of funny, he points out, because he is registered blind.
He said: “I got my niece to read it out to me and I was pretty gobsmacked.
“Hopefully it will raise our profile and some of us will get to go to Number 10 and pick the award up. I’d like to thank Mr Cameron and also take the chance to tell him even more about our group.”
Mr Edwards was born in Bicester, the eldest of five children, and after contracting jaundice as a baby gradually lost most of his sight.
As was the custom, most of his early life into adulthood was spent at a ‘special’ boarding school out of the county.
He said: “The problem then was that social services got to make all the decisions, but having learning disabilities doesn’t mean you don’t have opinions. And that’s why we set up My Life My Choice, to make people understand that – and us.”
MLMC co-ordinator Bryan Michell said: “The Big Society award is crucial in helping our members work towards improving things.”
One of the charity’s trustees, Dawn Wiltshire, agreed. She said: “We are so glad that the Prime Minister has recognised a charity where people with learning disabilities are doing things and changing things for themselves.
“This award will help our members and volunteers with learning disabilities to continue making a positive and valuable contribution to their communities on a daily basis.”
- For more information on My Life My Choice phone 01865 204214 or visit www.mylifemychoice.org.uk
Nightclubs get cash boost to expand further
In March this year MLMC received a £5,000 Diamond Grant from Oxfordshire Community Foundation to expand its popular nightclubs – Stingray and StingTeens.
StingTeens, aimed at 14- to
19-year-olds, and its adult equivalent, the Stingray Club, take place one evening a month at the Plush Lounge, Park End Street, Oxford and are the only nightclubs in the county for people with special needs.
Entrants pay on the door and they can also DJ or become rappers or breakdancers for the night.
MLMC co-ordinator Bryan Michell said: “The club DJs are always people with learning disabilities and the selection of music is always eclectic.
“But funding all our projects is very difficult in the current economic climate.
“Our main funder is Oxfordshire County Council, along with Oxford City Council, the Co-op, Oxfordshire Community Council and OCVA, but we are hoping the Big Society Award gives us greater exposure and credibility which will hopefully lead to increased funding.”
Team of trainers give agencies insider’s guidance
Power Up! is the charity’s team of ‘super trainers’ with learning disabilities who go into businesses, hospitals, GP surgeries and even prisons, and train people on how to best serve people with disabilities.
Highlighting the difficulties people can have in dealing with organisations like the NHS, Power Up! also sends people to inspect social and healthcare services in partnership with the Care Quality Commission and its work earns money for MLMC.
Pam Beddington, 44, from Banbury, has been a member of MLMC for four years and has trained Oxford Brookes social work students and student nurses on how to better serve people with learning disabilities.
She said: “Being involved with things like Power Up! has improved my confidence – now, instead of being too scared to speak up I can’t stop talking!
“I’m proud to be part of a charity which is really changing the way people see those with learning disabilities.”
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