Introduction to the 1980s

The Eighties saw profound changes across the globe, such as the end of Apartheid in South Africa, and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 signalling the end of the Cold War. In Britain, the decade was marked by the Miner’s Strike, and a waning of trade union influence. There was increasing unemployment as heavy industry, like coal mining and steel making went into sharp decline. It also saw the birth of a new entrepreneurialism and the beginning of a new era of computing, which had been inaugurated with the first Sinclair home computers going on sale in 1980 and culminated with Tim Berners-Lee creating the World Wide Web in 1989.

The decade brought significant developments affecting people with learning disabilities. Closure of hospitals gathered pace, helped by considerable extra revenue and capital funding.. The shocking scenes in the controversial 1981 TV documentary Silent Minority gave greater momentum to the closure process. Ideas such as normalisation[i] and, increasingly, its North American variant, social role valorisation,(SRV)[ii] increasingly underpinned the philosophy of learning disability services. SRV laid greater emphasis on people occupying ‘valued roles’, such as householder or paid worker, going beyond normalisation’s ‘normal patterns of living’. Normalisation and srv ideas were spread by a comprehensive programme of staff training, known as PASS (Programme Analysis of Service Systems)[iii]. In the UK ‘An Ordinary Life’ published by the Kings Fund in 1980, argued for a life like any other, and advocated ordinary housing in ordinary streets to promote integration of people in the community. It offered a clearer route for improvement of learning disability services.

Care in the community, which had started in the previous decade, was developing a stronger emphasis on the role of the family and other informal carers, at the same time that it paved the way to a mixed provision of care services, pushing the rapid growth of organisations, from both voluntary and private sectors, providing support and care. This growth was determined also by the publication of the Caring for People White Paper that emphasised the need for “public agencies to tailor services to individuals’ needs”, alongside the NHS White Paper, which proposed that it was imperative to “give people a greater say in how they live their lives and the services they need to help them do so” (Department of Health, 1989).

The idea that people with a learning disability could participate as active members of society was consolidated by the formation of the first self-advocacy group for people with learning disabilities in the UK in 1984. This urge for participation also prompted the citizen advocacy[iv] movement, the recruitment of volunteers as allies of people with learning disabilities to help them to pursue their rights and a better quality of life.

MacIntyre as a leading charity influenced and was influenced by wider developments, especially the closure of hospitals, Care in the Community, and the increasing demand for education for people with learning disabilities. The shift from the state monopoly of provision of care services to commissioning from businesses and not for profit organisations led to considerable growth at MacIntyre. . It was at this time John Thorne became the new CEO of MacIntyre. At the start of the decade, MacIntyre provided support through two services: Westoning Manor and Wingrave School. By the end of the eighties, a variety of support services were established in different locations including: Aspley Guise, Chester, Flackwell Heath, Leighton Buzzard, Maidstone, Maldon, Milton Keynes, Mottingham, Newham, Shipton under Wychwood, Warrington and another school in Womaston, Powys. MacIntyre was a rapidly growing organisation, now supporting 208 people with learning disabilities, including an innovative support programme, at Shipton under Wychwood, for people who had been in secure units in long stay hospitals.

MacIntyre had consolidated its offer of opportunities to children and adults to develop skills, obtain knowledge, and learn to lead an independent life resonating with then current governmental policies and discourse, while sustaining the original MacIntyre vision to meet individual needs, and put the residents’ wellbeing at the centre of the organization’s development.

[i] Normalisation was the idea that people with learning disabilities should have the right to experience the same patterns and conditions of life as everyone else.

[ii] Social role valorisation was the idea that disabled people must be given opportunities to play social roles that are valued by society as a way to overcome the stigma they experienced

[iii] PASS was an evaluation tool that included a manual with guidelines for judging the quality of community services, based on a rating system.

[iv] Citizen Advocacy was part of the movement for valuing people and against discrimination in society.


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