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Leeds Mencap’s Timeline

  • By Abi Hart
  • 17th April 2023

Have you ever wondered how Leeds Mencap got to be where we are now?

As we mark out 70th Anniversary, we wanted to take time to recap and reflect upon our journey over the last 70 years. We’ve already delved deep into our origin story, and since then we’ve gone from strength to strength!

Let’s pick up on where we left off…The years following 1970 witnessed the introductions of new many new programmes.

1970 Playschemes started! Playschemes are holiday sessions where young people with learning disabilities get to try new skills and make friends whilst their carers receive respite. Whilst on playscheme the children get to try a wide variety of activities including riding adapted bikes, playing ping pong, doing healthy cookery, or going on external trips such as to Doncaster Dome or Yorkshire Wildlife Park.

1983 Portage and Early Years Support Started.

Portage is the home visiting educational service for preschool children with SEND and their families, where home-based, early intervention and support are provided. The three main elements of the portage are Child-led play, Family focus, and Structured teaching.

Early Years Family Support helps to support children in the crucial first few years of life to set them on the best possible track for their future. Nowadays our early years support involves one to one family support, chats and tots coffee mornings and developmental play sessions.

1992 We took part in Challenge Anneka and moved to East End Park.

Let’s make long story short and take a glimpse of what happened in 1992. By 1992 we realised that the Chapeltown Road building where we were based had become unsuitable. However, the money required to purchase a new premises was £400,000. We were stuck in a dilemma of whether to close the Nursery or to pay the astronomical price. However, miracles do happen and ours came about thanks to ‘Challenge Anneka’ a TV show.  

On Thursday, 16th September 1992 Anneka Rice came to our East End Park site and entered the old Special School,  a then dilapidated fire-damaged building. The ‘Challenge’ was “At 5pm on Saturday exhibit the winning entry of the Mencap Christmas Card Competition at a new Leeds Mencap Nursery. Print 25,000 copies in time for the exhibition”. She had three days to complete the task and present it to the country!

The vandalised school was in a terrible state of repair. Anneka immediately sprang into action and with the help of some 170 volunteers from 70 local firms it was being transformed into our new headquarters and nursery. At the same time, Anneka turned her attention to the Christmas cards. The competition was launched on the ‘Look North’ TV programme. The winner was Ben Bland who had previously attended Hawthorn (our specialist nursery) with his drawing of Father Christmas.

By 5pm on Saturday 18th September Anneka had completed her Challenge! Words cannot express our gratitude to Anneka, her team and all the local organisations for all they did for us.

Now we’ve come to a new century!

2001 Our name changed to Leeds Mencap.

2002 Our charity was registered (1091809).

2008 Our premises were refurbished by Connaught and the next few years were full of new programmes.

2009 Support groups started for parents and carers of children under 5 with a learning disability.

2010 The siblings support group, Friday Club, and the Me2 dance group began.

Our Sibling’s Group is a club for children and young people aged 8 to 16 who have a brother or sister with a learning disability. The Club gives them the opportunity to spend time with others who know what it’s like in a welcoming, supportive environment. Previous activities have included, baking, Harry Potter theme nights, sports days, slime making, games nights and talent shows. We still run our Siblings club to this day!

Friday Club is a weekly social club for people aged 18 to 25 with learning disabilities. Friday club focuses on developing skills that will help young adults to prepare for life as an adult and achieve their goals and aspirations. Through the activities the members are supported to understand money, how to make judgements about keeping themselves safe and well, for example, around drinking alcohol, how to stay safe when out and about and online and how to have healthy relationships. Again, we still run Friday club in 2023!

Me2 dance group is for young people aged 11-24 with and without disabilities. The dance group provides participants with or without previous dancing experience to learn a fun new skill, meet some new people and take part in some very exciting performances. We no longer run the Me2 dance group but it was lots of fun whilst it lasted.

2013 Stay and Play started. Our stay and play group now goes by the name chats and tots. Chats and Tots is an informal and inclusive group for parents and carers of a child aged 0-5 with additional needs. It provides the opportunity to meet other parents, share experiences and chat to our caseworkers for advice, information, and support.

2015, Young Ambassadors programme took place and our family services expanded to include over 5’s.

The Young Ambassadors programme provided fun and safe volunteering opportunities for young people aged 16-25 with a learning disability. This programme raised people’s awareness and changed their negative attitudes about learning disability. And it challenged stereotypes about what young people with a learning disability can achieve. Also, our ambassadors themselves built skills, grew in confidence, and became role models for other people with a learning disability. They volunteered their time for six months to be role models and used their life experience and talents to show the positive impact they can have.

2016 Witnessed the opening of the Vinery Centre and Jimbo’s, our community nursery.

The Vinery Centre is a welcoming space where communities come together. From our thriving community nursery, sensory room, soft play area and flexible meeting rooms, our multipurpose centre is accessible and inclusive for a variety of purposes. The warm and vibrant atmosphere is the ideal base for children and young people with learning disabilities and their families to come together to enjoy activities and get the support they need, making precious memories along the way.

Jimbo’s Community Nursery is a purpose-built nursery run by Leeds Mencap. Our nursery offers high quality care and early education for children aged 0 to 11 years, including after school and holiday childcare. Jimbo’s Nursery is unique as the mainstream nursery includes a specialist playroom for children with a range of learning disabilities and additional needs. We believe that children learn best when they feel safe, happy, and stimulated and we recognise that each child will learn in different ways and develop at their own unique pace.

2020 As the COVID 19 hit in 2020, we went through 6 months of lock-down from March 20.

Being in lockdown was difficult for many families. Some families suffered from severe emotional impacts, some were faced with financial difficulties, and some needed medical care. We didn’t want our families to suffer, particularly whilst they were facing the wider challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic and we continued to be there for them.

To help them get through the situation, we adapted our services to ensure that every family and child still got our support. We contacted service users and families proactively, arranged video conferencing (group or one-to one), and provided access to webinars. Through this support, we were helping these families to: feel less isolated, develop coping strategies to deal with isolation, be confident in using behavioural management techniques; and know where to get further help.

We also guided families with their children’s next steps of development through activities, alongside emotional support and practical advice. These activities included sending food parcels and a range of activity packs to the children, creating video content to send out to families, and helping them get access to our online system Iconnect. Through this support, we maintained the child’s development, reduced the levels of progress lost during the absence from the service, and better supported the mental well-being of the children and their parents.

During this hard time, we spared no efforts to be there for the families we support and to safeguard our staff, volunteers, and donors, facing with restricted operations.

Now we’ve reached the year 2023. It is our 70th anniversary this year! We can’t wait to celebrate with you

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