Disability Equality (North West) are celebrating our 20th year in existence this year, 2016. We were both humbled
and delighted to be shortlisted for the Excellence in Diversity award as “Diverse Company for the Charity Sector” on May 12th 2016 and National Diversity Award “Community Organisation Award for Disability” on 16 September 2016.
We started out in 1994, from a humble group consisting of a range of disabled people and professionals in Preston that demonstrated there was a need for a Disability Information Service, supported by Lancashire Disability Information Federation, the Community Voluntary service and social services. We tried to get information and couldn’t, so we thought “We NEED to do something about
this”. We got what was then called “Joint finance funding” and a development worker was employed to get the project off the ground. We opened up one room in Moor Lane Resource centre and never looked back.
By 1995 we had achieved 3 years of funding to create Preston Information Project. Melanie Close became co-ordinator of PIP (as it was then – and no relation to the current PIP benefits we hasten to add!) in 1996.
We gained charitable status in 1997 and the aim was to “Further the human rights of disabled people across the North West” and in recognition of that, by 1998 we had outgrown the single room at Moor Lane, where we had 92 enquiries and no space. We held a competition to come up with a name, which became Preston Disability Information Support Centre namely Preston DISC.
In 1998 we moved to Miller House and that was, the start of a really big development for us because once we had bigger premises we could recruit volunteers and could start to look for funding.
By 1999, we sent out our first newsletter, and took over 60 calls a month, supported by 7 volunteers and dealt with 533 enquiries. Things were looking up
In 2000, we moved to our current premises based in Church Street, Presto
n and our funding increased to £140K. Our volunteer base also increased, we were now running with 15 volunteers, taking on 120 calls a month dealing with 1299 enquiries. So we had a training and meeting room, we could start doing peer support forums, we could expand our information service, and because we had the premises to do it; the more you do the more you have consultations to show what people want from you and the more you get funding to do it. Clearly we were doing something right.
By 2001 we had gained the community legal service quality mark, and the Navajo charter mark s a “lesbian and gay friendly organisation”.
Keeping up with technology, our website, www.disability-equality.org.uk was launched in 2002, we established women’s and men’s groups and our CEO met the Queen.
2003 was the European year of disabled people, and Preston DISC was almost at it’s knees when we were saved by a £300K lottery grant to fund a volunteer co-ordinator for our growing band of over 25 disabled volunteers and to run and develop a consultation strategy for Preston City council’s governance in dealing with Disabled People.
In 2005, we achieved our Investors in people award and took over the first floor offices of our building in Church street for our staff. We started to reward our volunteers with trips to Blackpool Zoo, Brecon Fell and some outdoor activities at the Calvert trust. The number of enquiries continued to raise to 3057.
We celebrated our 10th year birthday in 2006, by becoming a limited company with lots of cake and enquiries continued to increase to 4,500. In December the Disability Equality Duty came into force.
In 2007, Preston LGBT centre and Preston PCT asked us to host a young people’s LGBT group. This was the start of our involvement in the Red ribbon cabaret. Preston LGBT centre have held a desk at our offices ever since.
From 2008 onwards, we were extremely busy, working in the local community and were successful in achieving a £4.2m bid for Disability LIB (Listen, Include, Build) alliance with other disability people’s organisations. Disabled people began to come out into the community and be counted, we started PACT meetings with the police, something we continue to this day with our flagship “Developing from the Negatives” project tackling Disability Hate crime. We expanded from being focused on Preston to supporting the whole of the North West of England.
A lot of what we did then was around short-term project funding. That is a real shame because we have grown some really good projects around getting people into employment, disability awareness projects and supporting other organisations. We ran a really Big Lottery project to support other organisation to develop but again it’s all about project funding. The thing that has been consistent of the last 20 years is that regardless of all the projects we run, we’ll always deliver that support service around benefits and independent living because that is the key, a core of who we are because, that is what people need most.
In 2009, we received an award as a community group for Men and Women, nominated by Lancashire Adult Learning, we worked with VI groups to run the Rainbow Health Project, our Information service is now running with a team of trained volunteer advisors, completing over 250 benefit forms a week for disabled people. Our total number of volunteers has risen to over 30, providing our services. We run Disability Equality Training, influence policy and support other Disabled People’s organisations. We expand to include Chorley and South Ribble and support learning disability groups. We developed our vision for the future “To improve the Human Rights of disabled people across the North West of England and remove the disabling barriers put in place by society” truly becoming a champion of the social model of disability. In doing so, we became Disability Equality North West, dropping the Preston DISC label, although we are still fondly remembered as Preston DISC.
By 2011, the Disability LIB project came to an end, but we weren’t finished there. 2012 was the Guild year in Preston (Preston Guild happens every 20 years) and we were delighted to see our chief executive, Melanie Close – a proud and staunch Prestonian, become a Guild Burgess. A worthy honour! We put on our very own variety show to a sell-out audience.
2013 was our “Annus Horribilis” – we lost our chair, a good friend and supporter, Lesley Finley. Major funding streams dried up due to budget cuts across all sectors, and we really thought we would have to close.
We picked ourselves up in 2014, ran Chorley and South Ribble REACH projects, started our annual Disability and Carer’s festivals, public fundraising and initiated our “Lesley Finley Community award”. Preston did not give up it’s valuable centre so easily. Our support in the local community for the last 20 years resulted in the community fighting with and for us and our survival.
In 2015 we were successful in our lottery bid to run our “Developing from the Negatives” Disability Hate crime project of which we are very proud. We continue to work closely on this project with our communities and local police, raising awareness of what is Disability hate crime.
Now it’s 2016, we have been shortlisted twice this year, and we have now taken on a new strategic plan, a new service based around independent living, working with Cheshire CIL.
Where do we go from here? Who knows? We would like to thank everyone who has given their time to vote and volunteer for us, and our local communities for supporting us and we would like to thank the Diversity Awards for recognising us.
Disabled people have a voice, because of organisations like us, we are part of society, we deserve our place in it too.
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