Judy was a really lovely person, inside and out.

I am biased as she was my Grandma and I loved her to bits, but as a person, she was really was one of life’s genuine selfless people whom everyone loved. Fate led her to use her unique zest for life, determination, compassion and tenacious campaigning in a really amazing way which has led to the Mencap you see today.

Here’s a bit about her life…

Judy was born in 1909, and lived through two World Wars. In 1936 she married John Fryd, whom she had met at Ruskin College in Oxford, and had four children, Felicity, who had a learning disability , Patricia, Peter and Linda (my Mother). 

Both Judy and John were socialists and very active in the Labour Party, an interest which continued all their lives. Everything they both did was in the social interest of others, so it’s no surprise that Judy campaigned so hard throughout her life for Mencap, as well as other charities and organisations.

I'm pleased to be following in my Grandma's footsteps, now that I am a Learning Support Assistant in the Special Educational Needs department of a local mainstream school.

The early years of Mencap

Felicity was the apple of John and Judy’s eye, a beautiful baby and they were overwhelmed with love for her, their first born (pictured below). When Felicity was about four years old she started showing signs of slow development. Judy and John sought help but found that their requests for support and information met constant obstacles and ignorant attitudes.

Parents by the bed of their newborn baby who is looking up at them

After just a day at mainstream primary school, Judy was called to collect Felicity and was told “we can’t cope with your daughter’s behaviour”. They then sent her to a ‘special school’, but her place was withdrawn within 24 hours due to her challenging behaviour . Judy and John wept when they heard this news.

Judy and John were deeply angered and frustrated by the lack of support and provision available to them.

So, in 1946 Judy wrote a letter to Nursery World magazine, asking that other parents of children with a learning disability, who found themselves in a similar situation, contact her.

More than 1,000 parents responded and Judy went on to suggest they should join forces and plead their cause with their local health and education authorities.  Mencap was born!

I am typing this blog on the same dining room table that my Grandma worked so tirelessly on all those years ago, albeit now on a laptop, not the heavy typewriter she used in those days.

Judy’s legacy

The legacy which my Grandma left fills me with so much pride, gratitude and humbleness.

Had she not had the strength and determination to do what she did, children, young people and adults with a learning disability would not have the part in society that they have today. Judy fought for Felicity (they are both pictured below together) and changed the future for people with a learning disability across the country.

Two women sat outside at a table

The work Judy did has led to acceptance of differences, but also to the shared understanding that having these differences do not mean that people with a learning disability cannot access education, live independently or work. Judy also worked to ensure families and carers have respite breaks, and the abuse of people with a learning disability was tackled in hospitals and other care institutions.

So many opportunities have been opened up and so many parents now have the courage to fight for the rights of their children.

In honour of Judy

Last year, Mencap’s FamilyHub was launched in honour of Judy 70 years after it was founded. This online community is for parents of children with a learning disability. FamilyHub allows parents to share experiences, triumphs and challenges and offers support and guidance to others whose family situation is similar to theirs.

I think FamilyHub provides the most amazing resource for parents, like Judy, who are seeking support from, or would like to make contact with other parents like them.

I see it almost as going ‘back to basics’ where Judy started, but with the added tool of the fantastic internet, saving time, money, anxiety and delays the old postal service and distance between people brought.  It is an any-time any-place approach available to access 24/7!  It is a parent-led and peer-led support group recognising that it is the parents who are the real experts by experience. FamilyHub simply facilitates this community.

FamilyHub feels like a fitting tribute

Judy’s family and I were delighted that Judy has been honoured in such a way which will extend her legacy well into the 21st Century.

I am so impressed with this resource and feel it is without a doubt a fitting tribute to what Judy started.

I’m sure if she was alive today she’s embrace the technology and want to learn all about it and I’m sure she would have something to add, constructive criticism and new ideas. Thank you Mencap!

Two women stood together outside holding a box with a medal in it

Here we are at Buckingham Palace in 1997 after Judy was awarded her CBE.

Life is different for people with a learning disability

After 70 years so much has changed for people with a learning disability. There are now even more opportunities for parents to find out more about how they can help and support their loved ones and what resources are available out there, as well as making new contacts and friends.

Knowing there are others in the same situation is half the battle, no one ever needs to be alone.

Differences are also much more embraced now and within education children are taught a lot more about respecting others whoever they are and however they may differ from themselves and be kind, courteous and understanding to others. Working within the SEN department of a mainstream school, I can see how much support there now is out there for children with a learning disability and their parents.

There has also been a lot in the media, eg with the Paralympics in 2012 in London, the Invictus Games and other high profile events, showing people that everyone can play a part in the society we live in and achieve.

There are, however, huge pressures on the funding within the NHS and Social Care resources, so now charities have an even bigger part to play in providing support where it is desperately needed.

Looking to the future

I hope that one day we can find another word to replace ‘disability’, like ‘special learning and social support needs’. There is still a stigma around the word ‘disability’ but time will tell. We have moved away from words such as ‘mental handicap’, so maybe it is time again to evolve.

I also think connecting more families locally is the key. When sitting at home alone I can imagine it can be very lonely sometimes.  The local Mencap societies, such as Harpenden, which was the first local society my Grandma also founded, are all very well, and I think some new blood and young ideas would be good to develop these resources. Social media could play a key part in this.

Judy changed the lives of people with a learning disabiliy, and today feels like the perfect chance to say Happy Birthday FamilyHub, and #ThanksJudy!