overall winner of this year’s Community Care Awards, which featured a record
number of entries, came from the learning difficulty category. Alison Miller
tells the story of Manchester Mencap’s Hidden Voices project, which comprises
the survivors of long-stay hospitals. The other nine category winners will be
featured in future issues.
Burton doesn’t like Christmas pudding. It’s not so much the nuts, or the
slightly cloying texture – it’s because when he was a resident at Calderstones
long-stay hospital staff would amuse themselves by force-feeding him with it.
is one of five survivors of the long-stay institutions for people with learning
difficulties who came together in the Hidden Voices project to tell their
stories of what life was like for them.
Skelton is development officer for Manchester Mencap, and the idea for the
project came from discussions he had with Burton about the cruelty and
brutality he endured while at Calderstones.
was very keen that people should know about what happened to him," Skelton
explains. "I had seen a production at the Green Room theatre that was put
together and performed by young people who had been excluded from school and,
after talking to Fred, I thought that it would be good if we could do something
with the theatre to show people what life was like for people who lived in the
secured funding, and the Green Room theatre agreed to donate rooms and
services. Burton was joined by Ian Emerson, Gregory Harewood, Margaret Heaton
and Susan Hopwood, all of whom had spent many years in institutions for people
with learning difficulties and who wanted to tell their stories.
of the common issues was the lack of privacy they all endured," Skelton
says, adding that in most cases the only thing that separated residents from
their neighbour was a curtain around the bed. The group decided they wanted to
create a room that would be decorated and furnished to show everything they
wanted and did not have in the institutions.
group met with a team of artists led by Mike Mayhew, the Green Room theatre’s
resident artist. Burton, Emerson, Harewood, Heaton and Hopwood chose fabric to
represent curtains, bedding and carpets, and symbols were drawn to represent
the things they wanted to have and experience in their room.
wanted a key. Many of the things were everyday items that most people take for
granted – a pair of slippers, a plant, a television, a tin of biscuits, a
window. Harewood wanted a view of a Manchester street.
next step was to create five life-size rooms within the theatre. "We
wanted to create an installation that people could visit, not just to look at
it," says Skelton "but to experience, to smell and feel what it must
have been like. We heated the rooms so they were very hot and stuffy, and we
put soap everywhere to recreate the smell so many institutions have."
food was another common experience everyone was keen to highlight. Cold
porridge was staple fare, usually garnished with a liberal sprinkling of
cigarette ash, and so the group used the theatre’s kitchen to recreate porridge
and to fry eggs that were then left to form a skin before cigarettes were
stubbed out in them. Photographs of these were included in the installation.
Every member of the group made a tape recording detailing their experiences and
visitors could listen to their stories through ears on the walls.
installation opened to the public for a week in May, and was very successful
attracting more than 250 visitors.
group will use some of the award money to fund an anthology of their stories.
According to Skelton: "We didn’t want it to be the end, but the beginning
of the next chapter."
overall prize winner’s money will be used to fund an arts project charting the
contribution people with learning difficulties have made to the culture and
development of our society.
Mencap is also setting up a support group for the survivors of institutional
For more information about the project contact Judd Skelton, development
officer, Manchester Mencap, Crossacres Resource Centre, 1 Peel Hall Road,
Manchester M22 5DG. Telephone: 0161 437 9465.
The learning difficulty category was sponsored by Stepping Stones.
The Community Care Awards
Community Care awards do something that doesn’t happen very often – they
recognise and reward social care professionals who work tirelessly with the
most vulnerable people in our society. Now in their ninth year, this year’s
awards attracted a record number of entries for the 10 categories. More than 40
made made it onto the shortlist and were invited to London’s Hilton Hotel in
Park Lane for the ceremony on 8 November.
stake was prize money of £4,000 for each category winner, to be used to further
the work of their project, with an additional £8,000 going to the project
judged to be the overall winner.
rights campaigner Heather Mills hosted the event and she paid tribute to the
work of everybody in the social care field. Community Care editor Polly Neate said:
"All the shortlisted projects here today demonstrate the ability to listen
to the experiences of others and support people to achieve their
"I don’t know why they were so nasty"
of Hidden Voices describe their experiences in long-stay hospitals….
Burton was sent to Calderstones hospital in Lancashire, which housed 3,000
people, when he was two. He didn’t leave until he was 17. "Calderstones
was horrible. They pulled me off the bed and broke my hand and gave me a black
eye. When my mum saw me she cried and wrote to the boss, but the beating got
worse after that." Burton was locked naked in a room for a week, and made
to have cold baths in dirty water. "They broke my arm with a brush, and
four staff kicked me on the floor. I don’t know why they were so nasty."
Heaton went to Brockhall hospital in Lancashire when she was 12 and spent the
next 20 years there. "The nurses hit me with wet towels and made me have
cold baths," she says. "The staff shouted at us all the time. I
started work in the morning scrubbing baths and windows and on the ward
cleaning. The nurses locked me inside a room with a shutter for being naughty.
They put me in a straitjacket – it used to make my arms ache."
Harewood was sent to Calderstones at the age of 16. He spent many years there
and subsequently at Summerhill hostel "It felt awful and it was
frightening. They used to give me cold baths, and give me the needle to make me
quiet. There weren’t many black people there, and I never had my birthday
celebrated. People used to shout a lot, and we were given cold porridge with
cigarette ash on it. I am glad they pulled it down."
Hopwood went to Calderstones when she was 11. "It was a dump, it was a
lock-up place. We had jobs like scrubbing the stairs and polishing wooden
floors. The staff sat down drinking tea while we did the jobs. The staff were
bossy buggers and they would hit us if we were bad and inject us."
Emerson spent 15 years in Langho and another hostel in Lancashire from the age
of 18. He is the only one of the five to have had a more positive experience.
"I enjoyed working in the gardens. I had lots of jobs to do and I liked
sweeping the drive and digging the gardens. One day two social workers came and
told me and my girlfriend that we had to leave."