History project will dig deep into the past, thanks to Lottery cash


The Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded nearly £880,000 to a three-year project that will uncover disabled people’s history, through examination of eight unique buildings across England.

Accentuate’s History of Place project will focus on sites dating from the twelfth century through to the 1970s, researching the lives of their inhabitants and the social attitudes that prevailed at the time.

The sites include Maison Dieu, in Kent, the last remaining building from a medieval alms house and hospital on the pilgrimage route to Canterbury, where records of a skeleton of a disabled man have been uncovered.

Another is the pioneering Grove Road housing scheme (picture by Maggie Davis), Britain’s first integrated co-operative housing development, which was opened in 1976 in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, after being commissioned by the disabled activists Ken and Maggie Davis, and featured six flats, three of which were wheelchair-accessible.

The other sites are:

  • the Royal School for Deaf Children in Margate, the UK’s first public school for deaf children, which was founded in 1792;
  • the user-led Guild of the Brave Poor Things in Bristol, a building believed to be one of the first to be designed for disabled people, which opened in 1913 and provided social activities, apprenticeship schemes and training;
  • Liverpool School for the Indigent Blind, the country’s first school for blind children, which was founded in 1791 by Edward Rushton, who played a lead role in the abolition of slavery in Britain and campaigned for disabled people;
  • Chiswick House, a stately home and former private asylum in London;
  • Normansfield, an institution for people with learning difficulties, developed by Dr John Langdon-Down from 1868 for children of wealthy parents, but later associated (in the 1970s) with appalling neglect and abuse;
  • And St Saviours in west London, the first church designed by Deaf people, in the 1920s.

The project will hold workshops, talks and exhibitions in Liverpool, Bristol, London and Kent, and a national touring exhibition in 2018, as well as running a programme to provide advice to staff and volunteers on improving access to heritage sites and exhibitions.

The project has been developed in partnership with Historic England and will link to its Disability in Time and Place website, which features more than 200 sites of historic importance. 

Accentuate said its History of Place project would “allow the voices of disabled people from the past to tell their stories through the buildings and archive material”.

Esther Fox, programme executive for Accentuate, said: “We’re delighted that the Heritage Lottery Fund has given us this support. 

“This is the first project that will investigate the lives of the deaf and disabled people who have designed or inhabited these spaces. 

“It will inspire understanding that disabled people have been actively part of society from the medieval times to the present day. 

“We want to ensure that this relatively hidden history is known by the wider public.”

Accentuate was originally the south-east legacy programme for the Paralympics, and is part of Screen South, working to challenge perceptions of disability by creating opportunities for disabled people in the cultural sector.

Accentuate had already secured a smaller grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to help it develop the project.

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