Conference Blog (by Jennifer)

On Tuesday 16th July 2019 Kathy, Colom, Claire and I met at the train station to travel down to Milton Keynes for the Open University’s Social History of Learning Disability Conference. We had another run through of our presentation on the train, and we were really looking forward to the day.

When we arrived, we registered and as I was getting a cup tea I saw Jan Walmsley. It was lovely seeing her again, she gave me a hug and I was talking to her and Mary Langan all about our project, the exhibition, the memory tree etc. They were so pleased that the project is doing well and I let Mary know about our Hidden Lives Remembered website and blogs.

There were a few technical issues but it worked out okay, although we had to skip some of our presentation but we didn’t mind as we knew had to stay on timing and was understanding of the technical issues. Kathy, Colom, Claire and I all spoke.

Speaking at the Conference (photo by Charlotte Haith)

The Social History of Learning Disability Research Group, Dr Liz Tilley, Jan Walmsley, Dorothy Atkinson, Craig Hart and Ian Davies introduced the conference and did a presentation on a space for belonging. This was followed by our Hidden Lives Remembered presentation. Then throughout the day we had presentations from BAROD, Beth Richards, Building Bridges, Simon Jarrett, David O’Driscoll and Nigel Ingham. Teresa Hillier did a presentation about the Legacy of Longfields project and mother and daughter Sue and Lyn Dumbleton did a presentation on choosing to belong about their community life in Stirling. Also before lunch we paused to remember Johanna de Haas who was part of the SHLD group and her mother was at the conference. We also discussed how it is the 100th year anniversary of Learning Disability nursing.

The programme for Tuesday 16th July

The Longfields presentation upset me but I didn’t let it show. When the picture appeared I said to Claire that the children were wearing what I wore and then as it went on the videos, pictures etc. really got to me. Although their parents set up Longfields so that they could have an education they were still not able to go to school with other children at that time. It just made me think about my life with Cerebral Palsy and the fight that my parents had for me, just why am I like this? Why isn’t my Cerebral Palsy like theirs? It has upset me all my life the way my Cerebral Palsy is, I had a very dear friend in Bishop Walsh RC Secondary School. Her CP was much worse than mine and we shared a taxi to school her daily struggles and battles were much greater than mine but she was always independent, she could walk but was limited in ability. She sadly passed away August 10th 2016 aged 32 years - the same age as me at the time.

The first group of children to attend what became Longfields, from the project’s Facebook page (

I went to Wilson Stuart School but my dad was caretaker at Christ the King RC School and I got a place at the school, I can’t remember how old I was. I can’t remember my feelings but I would say I felt sad as my brother went to Priestly Smith school which was on the same site as Wilson Stuart school and we used to share the same bus to school as we both had a bus guide, the bus would come and collect us from home and bring us back again. I made friends at Christ The King, Mark and Luke who are brothers and were in different classes and Samantha, who we have lost touch with and I often wonder what they are doing now and where they are they are now. I remember in the summer holidays Dad would allow us into the nursery garden, I think it was and we would run around in our swimwear and go down the slide.

All my life my parents have fought for me, through my schooling, to give me opportunities in life. They fought for me to walk and be in a mainstream school. The doctors told my parents I would never be able to walk but they refused to just accept this. I remember feeling scared when making my First Holy Communion, I had only just started getting used to walking and my balance wasn’t very good. We had to walk with a candle from the altar to the back church with our partners and hand it to the teacher to put on the table. I kept thinking “don’t drop it” and I just couldn’t wait for the teacher to get the candle from me, I made my first Holy Communion with Mark and Samantha and then my confirmation. I can walk and be independent with thanks to my parents. The life I have today is because of them, and I want to be inspiration to anyone regardless of disability. I go on day trips and holidays on my own, I go to the Severn Valley Railway and meet other steam enthusiasts. I sometimes struggle to get on and off the steam trains depending on how high the step is but everyone, passengers and volunteers, are so friendly and helpful and help you without asking. I have been going since I was about 4. It is my happy place to go to and I feel a million miles away from the struggles of life. I have a Hearing Impairment, Learning Disability and Cerebral Palsy but I want inspire others that you can do things on your own. I use Johnson’s when I go on holiday and day trips as I feel comfortable with them. I do now use a stick due to a bad fall and I find stairs difficult if I can’t use a lift or ramp - but I just use my own technique and go up and down stairs sideways because it makes me feel safe if I fall or lose my balance.

Kathy, Colom, me (Jennifer), Claire and Dr Liz Tilley at the Conference (photo by Jan Walmsley)

Anyway back to the conference Kathy and Colom did a brilliant job with the presentation, they represented SAtA and the project really well. When we were on tea break and throughout the day people kept coming up to us saying how well we did the presentation and how good it was, which gave us a nice feeling for all our hard work we have done on the project.

Beth Richards talked about do people with learning disabilities belonging on TV. I found this really inspiring as I feel more disabled people should be on TV especially if it is to play a disabled character because and I think Beth said it herself as well that only people with a disability truly knows how it feels. I found it interesting that 1 in 5 of the UK population has a disability, but only 1 in 20 people on TV have a disability.

Beth Richards presenting

Dr Simon Jarrett’s presentation

I also found the history presentations really interesting, such as Simon Jarrett’s about the 18th century and the experiences of people with learning disabilities through time. It was really interesting to hear that there were no institutions in the 18th century, people were just out and about like everyone else.

BAROD was launched on 3rd December 2019 and were talking about setting up businesses and a new pack that is being created to help people.

Everyone’s presentation was brilliant and interesting, well done everyone you all worked really hard and I enjoyed meeting you all.

Thank you to everyone on the Social History of Learning Disability group for selecting our presentation to be part of this year’s “Belonging and Not Belonging” conference. I look forward to seeing you in the future and thank you for all your support.


Claire, me, Kathy and Colom at the Open University