Jennifer - My Journey So Far

Having a Learning Disability myself, I have faced many challenges in my life and have always wanted to offer my experience to others that may be facing the same challenges. That is why I enjoy working at Solihull Action through Advocacy and I am pleased I was asked to be part of the Hidden Lives Remembered project.

The project started in June 2018 and we are providing a voice for those that are no longer with us and for those that are still here from Middlefield Hospital and Hampton Manor. We are now just over halfway through the project.

I have gained a lot of experience from working on the project, and have been looking back over at everything that I have achieved by learning new skills.

Early on, Jan Walmsley came in and delivered interview training to us. Neither me nor the volunteers had any experience of interviews before the project, and I think we have grown in confidence with the more interviews that we do.

I have been looking back over at the interviews I have done to see how I have improved, and if there is anything I could be doing better. I have noticed that I pay attention to the person that I interview and my body language shows I am interested in what the person is saying. I am pleased that I am able to remember the interview skills from the training and I feel with more practice, I can get even better.

I have always been passionate about disability awareness and being a voice for others, but I must admit I never knew institutions existed till I started on the Hidden Lives Remembered project. In a way, I feel I should have known, because I love history and it’s the history of people with learning disabilities and how they have been treated over the years. In my opinion, a lot of it is still the same today, such as the way people see people with disabilities and the attitudes that they have towards them.

I can read but I prefer pictures to help me process information, whether I am at the Doctors’, work, dentist etc. but people aren’t always aware of Easy Read or how difficult certain information can be for people. I have a mild learning disability and usually understand things ok, however I sometimes have difficulties with things. For example, when I go on holiday I can’t understand the train tickets, even though it’s “simple” where you are going from and going to. But, because I normally just use my disabled bus pass, I’m not used to tickets, so I always check when going through the barrier or showing the ticket guard that I’m using the right ticket. Mom usually makes sure I get the train ok and helps me with the ticket. It can be the same with money - I can’t understand change and counting money, again I need help and either I put my trust in the shop person and ask if I have given them the correct money or if Mom there I just give her my purse for her to help me, or I just use my card.

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Turning back to Middlefield and Hampton Manor, all this makes me wonder what difficulties that they must have faced when moving out. Many had spent their whole lives in an institution and never been into the outside world, into the community. It must have been a frightening time for them to suddenly be away from an environment that they are familiar with, to being in a community and having to deal with things like money and understanding lots of different information. It makes me wonder how they were able to cope with such a big change in their lives because not only had they lost their home, a place most spent their whole lives, with many things done for them, to all of a sudden having do things for themselves.

Pauline, a former resident of Hampton Manor, in the flat she moved out to in 2007.

Pauline, a former resident of Hampton Manor, in the flat she moved out to in 2007.

We have also done archive training at the Warwickshire County Records Office. This enabled us to learn about what happens at archive and how the records are stored. We also got to look at information over the years about Middlefield, such as maps of the area and plans of the building. We also looked at the patient record books, newspaper cuttings and other documents. It made me feel sad looking at the history of Middlefield and the people that lived there, because people like myself were being put in these places just because they had a learning disability. It was almost like people were trying to hide them from the world as disability wasn’t always understood.

Watching ‘Victoria’ has made me think about that even more, as one of her sons kept finding it difficult to learn, write, read etc and today he would have been diagnosed as Dyslexic but it wasn’t recognised then. But it also made me sad and really think about life at Middlefield because some of our service users that we know and have sadly passed away will be somewhere here in the archives, in these record books. In a way, it made me realise how lucky I am to be born later on because that could have easily been me as well, being sent to Middlefield or Hampton Manor or one of the institutions in Birmingham.

We are now halfway through the project and we have already achieved so much! We have a great following on Twitter and have had a positive working relationship with several groups, including CASBA. We had a really successful Launch Event and are currently preparing for our mid-point Exhibition on the Saturday 18th May. There are lots of other exciting things in the near future too.

Our Launch Event, 21 November 2018

Our Launch Event, 21 November 2018

The journey has been positive, sad, and frustrating at times. But when I look back at everything that has been achieved since we started I think we have made great progress in making sure no one ever forgets Middlefield and Hampton Manor and those that lived there, their stories will be heard and always remembered.