Founded in the living rooms of a group of parents in the London Borough of Camden in 1966, the Camden Society began life as a campaigning organisation.
Initially coming together to offer one another emotional and practical support, the Camden parents soon began to campaign for a more inclusive society for people with learning disabilities.
In social context
At that time, children with learning disabilities were often sent away from their families, to be 'cared for' in long-stay institutions, sometimes for life. Others were excluded from the education system and were isolated from their communities. A number of reports and books had highlighted the emotional and social impoverishment, and the denial of the civil liberties, of children in institutions across Britain.
The 1970 Education Act strengthened the case for change as it enshrined the idea that all children had a right to an education. Previously, children with learning disabilities had been judged as 'ineducable'
Bringing people home
Throughout the next two decades, the momentum towards care in the community gathered, and the Camden Society was one of the first organisations to bring people home from long-stay institutions.
The effect on people's lives cannot be overestimated. As Carol who lived in St Lawrence's Hospital for 30 years says:
"I’m telling you that place was like a prison. You could not do what you wanted... You were not allowed to choose what you want to eat. If you didn’t eat up you were given a sop like a baby, a milk sop. You had to work whether you wanted to or not. Because otherwise you’d lose everything, no pleasures, nothing. You had to keep your hair tidy or they’d cut it, into a fringe… That’s if you were ‘in disgrace’."
Growing into a service provider
|By the mid-1980s, the Camden Society had become a registered charity, offering supported living, leisure and training for work services to people with learning disabilities.
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Where we are today
Since then, we have expanded these services and widened our remit to include people with physical disabilities, people with mental health needs, and people who need additional support to maintain their independence. We now work across London and Oxfordshire, running supported living, training, employment and leisure services.
Today, we support over 600 people every week and employ 200 permanent staff with around 50 volunteers and an annual income of £9 million.
What is left to be done
Whilst the lives of people with disabilities have been significantly improved over the last four decades, there is still much work to be done.
Today only 10% of people with a learning disability are in paid employment due to negative discrimination from employers, low expectations from staff, and a lack of opportunity to train for, and enter, jobs.
The health needs of many people are left unmet while the choice to live independently in housing that meet people's needs, culture and lifestyle is too often non-existent.
Most people with learning disabilities continue to spend their days in segregated, Government-funded day centres or attend colleges, enrolling onto the same courses year after year, with little support to progress.
The hospitals and segregation have largely gone but until all people with disabilities have the support and freedom to develop their lives in whatever ways they choose, the Camden Society's work will continue.
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