Pennine Mencap

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Pennine Mencap's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Pennine Mencap is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Highlighting best practice
Founders Elliot Sparks and Claire
Our office frontage
Pennine Mencap is a grassroots charity, based in Greater
Manchester, that develops innovative ways to support
isolated adults with learning disabilities, autism and
complex needs. They specialise in providing a community hub
for vulnerable adults who do not meet the criteria to receive
statutory funding, and those who do not comfortably fit the
mould of conventional disability services. Founders Elliot Sparks
and Claire Jepson explain how their creative approach to helping
adults with complex needs has allowed a number of individuals
to achieve things many would have thought impossible.
An open door for adults with disabilities
Pennine Mencap operates a policy of welcoming adults who identify as having a
learning disability, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, complex multiple disabilities or
long-term mental health conditions. This simple but broad remit means our doors
in Oldham are open to an extraordinary demographic, made up of a diverse group
of individuals from around Greater Manchester.
We do not require our beneficiaries to complete an assessment, to be clinically referred,
to receive statutory funding or even to live in a particular locality. The key purpose of
the charity’s existence is to provide imaginative, therapeutic and educational activities
for disabled adults – without unnecessary barriers or limitations. The organisation’s
services are equally accessible to anyone over 18 who identifies with its work.
This puts us in a quite unique position. There are many organisations – statutory,
charitable, religious and commercial – offering services to adults who live with
»Founders: Elliot Sparks and
Claire Jepson
»Established in 2012
»Based in Oldham and
»No. of employees: 1, who
manages a large team of
»Services: Support for over
80 disabled individuals from
around Greater Manchester,
providing more than 300
group activity sessions per year
»Operates on an annual budget
of less than £50,000, raised
through donations and small
Pennine Mencap
some, or all, of these challenging
disabilities and conditions; however,
the majority of these services have
entry criteria, capped periods of access
or funding requirements. This means
that numerous vulnerable adults do
not qualify to receive an equal, full
range of services on an ongoing basis.
We are proudly committed to an
approach that ensures our core service
users are adults whose needs are not
met by mainstream provisions. This is
not so much an operating policy as a
principle by which we stand. While we
are advocates for the interests of our
service users and campaign locally for
positive changes to commissioning and
public services, we will always be there
for those who fall through the gaps in
current mainstream offerings.
Creativity at its core
Creativity is running through our
core. Our principal activities are
designed to challenge participants to
produce work, including scripted and
improvised dramatic performances,
self-produced short films, radio plays,
choir performances and works of
physical art, which may at first seem
daunting or improbable. To this
end, we operate two distinguished
performing arts groups, a community
choir and a film and media production
group, complemented by diverse
activities such as a supported reading
group, a games club, cookery sessions
and a popular weekly social gathering.
The arts-based aspects of our services
are driven by a desire to playfully test
the perceptions and expectations of
both service users and the general
public in respect of learning disabilities
and autism. These groups regularly
exhibit live performances at our
premises, local festivals, theatres and
other public events and via weekly
Go Live videos on social media. This
degree of artistic exposure is a clear
indication of the confidence that the
arts programme instils. The work of
a community of adults with complex
disabilities can, given the right
direction and intense support, attain
a high standard that will more than
withstand public scrutiny.
Our Stage Right performing arts group
has undertaken 43 performances in six
years. Past productions have included
well-received interpretations of classics
such as
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
An Inspector Calls
A Christmas
. This group has also self-written
plays including a surrealist drama
How Modern Technology
Ruined Your Life
, and musical theatre
pieces with a cultural emphasis, such
Women Behind the War
– the
latter celebrating the centenary of the
women’s vote and the end of the First
World War.
We will continue to build on this unique
portfolio of work. By raising awareness
of the skill-developing, confidence-
building and emotional benefits of
its patient, intensive and frequently
challenging approach, we hope it can
become an innovative model of good
practice. Lives have not just been
transformed but saved as a result of our
group work and direct interventions
with crisis situations where statutory
services have comprehensively failed.
Caring and comforting
Past productions
have included
interpretations of
classics such as A
Night’s Dream,
An Inspector
Calls and A
Christmas Carol
Highlighting best practice
If a small, independent organisation
like ours can devise imaginative ways
to engage with at-risk disabled adults –
often those with complicated secondary
needs, such as alcohol or substance
addiction, unhealthy relationships,
aggressive behaviours and fluctuating
mental health – hopefully larger
regional and national bodies can adopt
a similarly committed, forward-thinking
mentality. It highlights how much we
could achieve if we began to receive
more recognition and support.
Facing a financial challenge
The most difficult aspect of our existence
is how we reconcile the huge scope and
ambition of our current projects and
proposed activities, with the lack of
funding our open-door approach allows
for. Through the gradual marketisation
of learning disability services, many
registered charities have moved their
emphasis towards supporting individuals
who have personal budgets or
commissioned care packages. We intend
to remain focused on the marginalised
individuals who receive minimal benefits
and no statutoryfunding.
In 2015 we received the freehold
donation of Rhodes Bank Chambers.
Under our stewardship this derelict,
four-storey Victorian property in
Oldham town centre has become a
hive of activity. Over the last three
years we have tirelessly worked to
renovate much of this 28-room
building, creating a drama studio,
meeting room, kitchens and a modern
disabled toilet. Service users are
encouraged to view the building as
their “home away from home” – a
safe place where the facilities, activities
and volunteers are suited to their taste.
A huge amount of accessibility and
modernisation work is still required to
fully breathe life back into these historic
premises, which was formerly Oldham’s
YMCA. Importantly, a platform lift is
needed to open up the entirety of the
premises to service users and volunteers
who are affected by physical disabilities.
This would also give us the opportunity
to multiply our vital work and improve
the charity’s sustainability. For this
reason, while reflecting positively on
the achievements of Pennine Mencap
thus far, we will continue to appeal
for the financial support needed to
make our £250,000 vision into a life-
It highlights
how much we
could achieve
if we began to
receive more
and support
Having fun and keeping

This article was sponsored by Pennine Mencap. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from The Rt Hon Theresa May MP.

The Rt Hon Theresa May MP's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By The Rt Hon Theresa May MP

This foreword from the then Prime Minister appeared in the 2018/19 Parliamentary Review.

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review. For Her Majesty’s Government, our task in the year ahead is clear: to achieve the best Brexit deal for Britain and to carry on our work to build a more prosperous and united country – one that truly works for everyone. 

The right Brexit deal will not be sufficient on its own to secure a more prosperous future for Britain. We also need to ensure that our economy is ready for what tomorrow will bring. Our Modern Industrial Strategy is our plan to do that. It means Government stepping up to secure the foundations of our productivity: providing an education system that delivers the skills our economy needs, improving school standards and transforming technical education; delivering infrastructure for growth; ensuring people have the homes they need in the places they want to live. It is all about taking action for the long-term that will pay dividends in the future.

But it also goes beyond that. Government, the private sector and academia working together as strategic partners achieve far more than we could separately. That is why we have set an ambitious goal of lifting UK public and private research and development investment to 2.4 per cent of GDP by 2027. It is why we are developing four Grand Challenges, the big drivers of social and economic change in the world today: harnessing artificial intelligence and the data revolution; leading in changes to the future of mobility; meeting the challenges of our ageing society; and driving ahead the revolution in clean growth. By focusing our efforts on making the most of these areas of enormous potential, we can develop new exports, grow new industries and create more good jobs in every part of our country.

Years of hard work and sacrifice from the British people have got our deficit down by over three quarters. We are building on this success by taking a balanced approach to public spending. We are continuing to deal with our debts, so that our economy can remain strong and we can protect people’s jobs, and at the same time we are investing in vital public services, like our NHS. We have set out plans to increase NHS funding annually by an average by 3.4 percent in real terms: that is £394 million a week more. In return, the NHS will produce a ten-year plan, led by doctors and nurses, to eliminate waste and improve patient care.

I believe that Britain can look to the future with confidence. We are leaving the EU and setting a new course for prosperity as a global trading nation. We have a Modern Industrial Strategy that is strengthening the foundations of our economy and helping us to seize the opportunities of the future. We are investing in the public services we all rely on and helping them to grow and improve. Building on our country’s great strengths – our world-class universities and researchers, our excellent services sector, our cutting edge manufacturers, our vibrant creative industries, our dedicated public servants – we can look towards a new decade that is ripe with possibility. The government I lead is doing all it can to make that brighter future a reality for everyone in our country. 

British politics provides ample material for analysis in the pages of The Parliamentary Review 
The Rt Hon Theresa May MP
Prime Minister