Self-advocacy pioneer calls for a People First for England


A leading figure in the self-advocacy movement has called for a national user-led organisation that would represent people with learning difficulties right across England for the first time.

Gary Bourlet, who founded Britain’s first People First organisation in London in 1984, believes local and regional self-advocacy groups across England are failing to work together.

He believes that a People First England would strengthen local groups, many of which are losing funding as a result of spending cuts, and help them share ideas and information and “work together to become stronger self-advocates”.

Even though All Wales People First and People First (Scotland) are planning to launch a UK People First next year, he said, there is still no People First England.

Bourlet discussed the idea earlier this year with some of the country’s leading self-advocacy organisations, such as Central England People First, Connect in the North, and Wigan and Leigh People First.

His idea is to set up an interim organisation, with two representatives from each of nine English regions, to develop the idea further.

Now he needs other people and organisations to come forward and work on the idea with him.

He added: “It is more important now because we have got to campaign against cuts, especially when our local groups are actually struggling.”

The idea of a national People First organisation for England was last discussed seriously in the 1990s, but the idea was not taken forward because of disagreements between self-advocacy organisations.

Ian Davies, another leading self-advocate and former chair of Central England People First, said that the self-advocacy movement in England had “quite a lot of catching up to do” with Scotland and Wales.

He said: “I would like to see it work, I really would, but it is all about people who are committed and having the right support to make it work. If we don’t have the right support it won’t work.”

Bourlet can be contacted on Twitter at @GaryBourlet or on Facebook at People First the Movement.

7 November 2012