Two leading disabled campaigners have joined forces to set up England’s first national user-led organisation for people with learning difficulties.
Gary Bourlet, who founded Britain’s first People First organisation in London in 1984, has linked up with Kaliya Franklin, best known as a blogger and campaigner for exposing the flaws and injustices of the work capability assessment.
They start this month as part-time development workers on the People First England project, which they hope will eventually develop into a loose umbrella organisation for self-advocacy groups across the country.
They hope to raise an initial £50,000 for the project, but in the first few weeks it has already brought in almost £30,000, both from organisations and individuals.
Even though there is an All Wales People First and a People First (Scotland), there has never been a People First England.
Bourlet has believed for many years that there is a need for such an organisation, which he hopes will strengthen self-advocacy groups, and help them share ideas and information.
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.
Bourlet said he and Franklin would work well together because they had different skills and experience, and added: “I do a lot of training and conference speaking and helping people speak up, but she knows all the politics.”
He said he hoped the new organisation would help local self-advocacy groups become self-sufficient.
Bourlet said: “It is so we can be stronger and be able to work together and be able to communicate together and to get all our groups in England more recognised, to help them in any way we can.”
A longer-term target is to help re-launch some of the self-advocacy groups that have been forced to close after having their funding withdrawn.
Bourlet said: “That is a big target but a lot of this is not going to happen this year. It is going to happen over a number of years. It all depends on the amount of funding we get.”
Franklin added: “This is about trying to put power over their own lives in the hands of ordinary disabled people, because that is what self-advocacy is supposed to be about.
“We are going to have to talk to all the local groups and find out what their priorities are and what support they need.
“The idea is to empower people with learning disabilities to say for themselves what they want and not have someone else say it for them.”
Although some of those supporting the project are non-disabled people – with backing from prominent organisations such as Choice Support, The Centre for Welfare Reform, and the Housing and Support Alliance – the project is being led by Bourlet and Franklin.
Franklin said the idea of disabled people like her supporting people with learning difficulties like Bourlet in self-advocacy organisations was “really exciting”, as they are usually supported by non-disabled people.
She said: “You get a different result when disabled people support disabled people.
“I think we have a moral obligation to people with learning disabilities as physically disabled people because we are all one group of people and we know how it feels to be excluded and have our independence taken away.”
Gary Bourlet can be contacted on Twitter at @GaryBourlet, and Kaliya Franklin at @BendyGirl. The People First England project is on Facebook at People First the Movement.
The Housing and Support Alliance has set up a fundraising page for those who would like to contribute.
8 January 2014