Why is it still important to study the history of long-stay institutions for people with learning disabilities? Does it matter?
[[[image-1 small right]]]In our paper, while touching upon other studies, we discuss this question by looking at a history project started in the last few months in North West England. Pathways Associates Community Interest Company has a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund to find out about the history of Calderstones and Brockhall. These two large institutions in the Ribble Valley of Lancashire were open from the early years of the twentieth century to the late 1990s.
[[[image-2 left]]]When Calderstones and Brockhall were at their biggest in the 1960s there were about 2,000 people with learning disabilities living in each of them.
[[[image-3 right]]]This history project includes interviews with people who lived in Calderstones and Brockhall, their families, along with staff who worked there as well. We are also collecting photographs and documents to help explain what the institutions were like when they were open.
[[[image-4 left]]][[[image-5 left]]]On this and other history projects it is clear that many people who lived and worked in the institutions want to tell their stories. It is part of their lives and they want to share this history. They want to be heard. At the same time, many people with learning disabilities, as well as people who support them with little connection to institutions want to know about the history of these places.
[[[image-6 right]]]We discuss how learning about this history of institutions does matter because we can still learn from this past.
[[[image-7 left]]][[[image-8 right]]]We can find out why institutions were built, and why they became so large. This is very important at a time when 3,000 people with learning disabilities in England are living in assessment and treatment units, many of them a long way from their homes.
[[[image-9 right]]]There is another institution called Calderstones still on the site of the old long stay hospital. An announcement has been made that it is going to close. This has given the history project a bit of a twist as many people want to know whether this will really happen.
[[[image-10 left]]]We will ask whether things are the same between the long-stay institutions of the past and the present day assessment and treatment units. We will talk about the very different and rich stories that have emerged about the institutions. We suggest that listening to these histories can help us understand some of the varied standards of care that we see today.
Nigel Ingham is a Research Associate with the Faculty of Health and Social Care at The Open University. Nigel is a community oral historian, with a strong and long-standing interest in the social history of learning disability. He is part of the research team on the Living Archive Project.
Duncan Mitchell is a Professor of Health and Disability at Manchester Metropolitan University.
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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
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