Framework sections highlighted: Action, Change, Leadership, Listening, Organise, Power

Mencap’s community organisers take the lead

19th October 2018

Wirral Mencap is a local, independent charity that promotes equality for people with learning disabilities. Community organiser Eve had been working with them outside of her organiser role for a while when she saw an opportunity for some organising work to be done with its members:

“I was teaching personal development and wellbeing, and a lot of what was coming out was them saying, ‘well, I don’t get to make decisions for myself, I’m told what to wear in the morning, I’m told what time to have a shower, my dinner is cooked for me.’   There was no space in their lives for decision making really.  And I came away from that thinking, actually, there’s something we could do here.”

The people who come to Mencap are at a heart of everything they do – they are on the board and the fundraising team, but the members still felt they didn’t have the opportunity to make decisions and exercise their power in a meaningful way.

So Eve began running community organising training with Mencap members over a number of weeks, and the group decided to focus their learning on some concrete action – holding a fun day to raise funds for Wirral Mencap.

The group had to do everything from finding a venue to arranging food and activities to deciding how much to charge.

“They seem like very small decisions, but actually within each of those decisions they had to start by listening to the other members at Mencap, asking: what do people like to see at a fun day?” explained Eve.

As part of their wider research, the group reached out to a number of other fun days taking place in the area and conducted listenings there.  They then considered who they had met at the events and the different ways they could help the group.

They also thought about their preexisting networks, as well as the resources they already had in the group, for example, one member of the group is a singer and signer, so she had the idea of teaming up with a local band for the fun day.

Eve explained that a lot of the work the group was doing, just in the process of planning the event, was changing people’s perceptions.

When they were asking other people for help, you could see people making an assumption. Then you could see people kind of going: “Oh, actually they know what they’re talking about.” People’s whole body language changes, everything changes. So I think it’s been amazing that it’s challenged other people’s perceptions.

As part of this aim of changing perceptions, the group chose to hold their event at St James’s Centre, where Eve works, rather than in Mencap’s building, where previous events had been held.

“A big part of the reason they wanted to do a big family fun day, was to get kids and ordinary families along and build those bridges – to be somewhere visible and seen.”

The fundraiser took place in September and was a great success.  One member of the group conducted listenings with attendees, using cake as a way to hook people into the conversation, others sold baby clothes as a way to chat with Mums.  The event also saw performances from local sing and sign group Riversign, as well as some impromptu ukulele lessons.

Eve reflects that even her assumptions about the group have been challenged, saying:

“Having done this has given them the space to recognise their own abilities, which has made them feel powerful.  They’ve been amazing, they’ve blown my perceptions out of the water completely.”


If you've got a great story about community organising and the positive impact it is having in your community we would love to hear from you.