6:30am Saturday 7th December 2013
IT was praised by Prime Minister David Cameron just a few weeks ago for its service to people with learning disabilities.
But now charity My Life My Choice (MLMC) would be at risk of closing if it had its budget cut by Oxfordshire County Council.
The self-advocacy project for people with learning disabilities, based at the Jam Factory in Oxford, won the Witney MP’s Big Society Award last month.
Mr Cameron previously praised the charity and said: “I’ve seen at first-hand the great work this organisation does. From support using public transport to club nights, it empowers people with learning difficulties to design and run the services they want to see.”
But its future is now unclear following the council’s decision to slash £7.1m from adult social care.
Charity co-ordinator Bryan Michell said: “It costs about £200,000 to run the charity, and £75,000 of that comes from the council. That gives us a platform to go and get other forms of fundraising. Without that, it puts us in jeopardy.
“The money from the county council gives us a huge amount of credibility when we try to get other fundraising.
“We have a non-statutory contract with the council which will expire in April 2015 and the proposal is that they will cut all non-statutory services.”
MLMC was set up in 1988 by three men with learning disabilities – Tony Thorpe, Michael Edwards and the late Raymond Metcalf – who decided they wanted more control over their lives.
Today the charity has more than 500 members and groups in Oxford, Abingdon, Wantage, Banbury and Henley and runs a monthly nightclub in the Jam Factory, Oxford, a transport buddy scheme, a fortnightly radio show and monthly group meetings.
Mr Michell said: “The real question now is how people with learning disabilities in Oxfordshire can get their voice heard.
“People with learning disabilities are the most vulnerable in society and should be supported.”
Tracey Taylor, 45, from Banbury, is helped by the charity.
She said: Before I went to the charity, I had clinical depression and I was self-harming. If I didn’t have My Life My Choice, I wouldn’t know what to do.
“They keep me happy so I don’t have problems anymore.
“They have helped me deal with my husband, Nigel Taylor, 54, who has a more severe learning disability, more easily.
“My nephew, Thomas Green, has a learning disability and he also gets support there, which he didn’t have before. I just don’t know what will happen to us.
“It helps us socialise and Thomas actually met my niece [from a different side of the family], Anita Green, at the charity ball and they married two years ago.”
Pamela Bebbington, 44, from Banbury, has been a member of MLMC for four years and has trained Oxford Brookes Univeristy social work students and student nurses on how to better serve people with learning disabilities.
She said: “It’s a great charity and they help us speak up and it would be a shame to lose them.
“Before I joined the charity, I was depressed and didn’t know where I was and didn’t know what I was going to do.
“But I have met lots of friends at the charity and now run my own radio show. I think they should cut other departments instead.”
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