A Brief History of the Society

In the early years after World War II, care of the (then called) mentally handicapped was largely in outdated, overcrowded, large Institutions. At that time a group of concerned parents were starting a movement which would develop as The National Society for Mentally Handicapped Children, which has now become the very influential Royal Mencap. In Exeter, in the late 1950’s, in a house in Well Street, some local parents were starting Exeter and District Society for Children and Adults with a Learning Disability and their Carers, which is now called Exeter and District Mencap Society.

The Society recently published a History of its 40 years 1963- 2003. It is a story of considerable achievement. In advocacy, on behalf of our very helpless group, it advises, pleads with, and pressurises Councils and Health Authorities so that the learning disabled, and their care, come high on many an official agenda. Councillors and Health Authority members give a sympathetic hearing to Exeter Mencap representatives, help when they can, and sometimes invite Society members to join official committees.

Advocacy has always been a high priority for the Society, but so has the provision of facilities that could not be afforded within Council and Health Authority budgets. Fund raising through collections, auctions, fetes, sponsored sporting events, appeals to Charitable Trusts, and gaining support from many local groups has, over the years, been a way of life for more enthusiastic members. The funds raised enabled Exeter Mencap to:
  • in 1967, build a Swimming Pool at Ellen Tinkham House (now called Ellen Tinkham School),
  • in 1972 build the “Treetops” Day Centre,
  • in 1976 build a 6 bedded Respite Centre extension, and various other additions to “Treetops”. The Society provided the buildings. Social Services took over the responsibility for running and maintenance.
  • in January 1996 open a Social Centre for Adults with a wide range of learning disabilities.With a substantial grant from the Lottery Board the Society financed the project which ran for 8 years.
Currently, thanks largely to the initiative and energy of one member, the impressive Inclusive Play Park at King George V Playing Fields (www.theplaypark.co.uk) is another testimony to Exeter Mencap, and the objective of encouraging disabled and non-disabled children to play together.

There have been two highly acclaimed Clubs, the Friday and the Horizon, both due to the vision and energy of inspired members. These have won great respect and popularity. For over 40 years the Friday evening Social Club provided a meeting point for indoor activities, organised outings, and booked all the seats for one special night at the local Pantomime. Its originator also organised inter Day Centre sports days for the County. The Horizon Club (1974 first meeting) for more active disabled adults , provided weekly indoor activities, found its new horizons on Dartmoor walks, had short overnight stays at Pixies Holt, entered Teams in national sporting events for the learning disabled, and put groups in the special section of the Ten Tors. They also enjoyed weekly swimming evenings at the Police Headquarters Swimming Pool, and even on a special annual occasion, entertained the Mayor at a “Black Tie” dinner. Another member organised special classes for young mothers of learning disabled babies.

Sometimes the question is asked - “What does Exeter Mencap do?” There is a great story to tell!

- The President, Exeter Mencap