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  4. Past in my present - uncovering our social history

Past in my present - uncovering our social history

Rachel Barker, Emily Moorhouse, Vicky Ackroyd and Helen Atherton

Past in my Present

Purple Patch Arts is an organisation based in Bradford. They work to improve the lives and life chances of people with learning disabilities by delivering inclusive arts education across the Yorkshire region. In 2014 they were awarded a grant from the Heritage Lottery Commission to research the social history of learning disabilities. Working with Helen Atherton from the University of Leeds, Rachel Barker, Emily Moorhouse and Vicky Ackroyd set off on an exciting journey that started in ancient times and took them through to the present day. Using a range of resources they discovered how changing attitudes towards people with learning disabilities has affected the way in which this group has been treated. Some of the material covered was difficult and very sad but everyone agreed that it was important that the story was told. During the project Rachel and Emily got the opportunity to visit Normansfield Hospital in Teddington and to interview a learning disability nurse about their time working in a long stay hospital in Leeds. Rachel and Emily's journey has now been made into an animation that will be used to teach other people about this history.

View the PowerPoint presentation


Rachel Barker - Rachel studied Skills for Living and Performing Arts at college and went on to do placements at both Interplay Theatre and the West Yorkshire Playhouse. She was one of the first crew members when the inclusive club night – the Beautiful Octopus Club – was launched in Leeds and continues to play a major part. Rachel has performed in 'A Touch of Frost' with David Jason and at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in 'Once Upon a Quarry Hill'. She has volunteered with the British Heart Foundation and at a community centre in Bramley, helping to serve meals to older people. Rachel is currently participating in Purple Patch Arts programmes in Bradford and Halifax and is one of two 'Fun-raisers' working in the PPA office one day a week.

Emily Moorhouse - Emily studied theatre at the Laurence Batley theatre in Huddersfield and at Mind the Gap theatre in Bradford. She has also been a peer mentor with Huddersfield's University of the First Age and has volunteered at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary and at a special needs school in Dewsbury. Emily is currently participating in Purple Patch Arts programmes in Bradford and Ilkley, and is the other 'Fun-raiser' working in the PPA office one day a week. She also works at Outside the Box, a cafe run by adults with learning disabilities.

Vicky Ackroyd - Vicky initially trained and worked in theatre, then spent 10 years with the BBC before moving into teaching at an FE college in Leeds where her interest in working with people with learning disabilities began. She subsequently worked at Mind the Gap theatre company prior to co-founding Purple Patch Arts and is now their Director of Creative Learning.

Helen Atherton - Helen registered as a nurse for people with learning disabilities at University of Hull in 1997. She currently works as a Lecturer in Nursing at the University of Leeds. Helen has a long-standing interest in the history of learning disabilities, particularly the area of eugenics. She has recently finished a small European project that explores how the history of eugenics is taught in education and training programmes preparing people to work in services for those with learning disabilities.

Contact us

About the Group

If you woud like to get in touch with the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group, please contact:

Liz Tilley 
Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes

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