Once a year, the board of trustees come together alongside the executive team of Mencap in somewhere outside of London for its annual away days. As Chair of the Voices Council , alongside the Vice Chair (Sam Jefferies), we are invited to attend and participate in these important discussions

In the previous couple of years, we have been present at these events in Leeds and Belfast, with this year’s held in Cardiff. Unlike board meetings, the agenda for the discussions are not about making big decisions but exploring issues that are affecting Mencap and people with a learning disability across the UK.

Two men stand outside the Wales Millennium Centre

This year has seen some significant changes in Mencap and its leadership, so the days spent in Cardiff were used as a time to reset the priorities and evaluate how we do when it comes to Quality and the support it offers to people. We were treated to a very broad presentation from the Mencap Cymru team, led by Wayne Crocker, whose team are engaged in personal support, influencing decision makers and capturing the stories of people with lived experience – known as storytelling.

Sam and I enjoyed a discussion on that first day focused on leadership and the culture of Mencap. While the things said in the room are private among those who were there, we emphasised the importance of Mencap listening to its colleagues and being in the corner of people with learning disabilities when decisions/policies impact our lives. 

When we visited the Chepstow Mencap oral history exhibition in the evening and listening to Welsh Parliament member, Julie Moragn, who is the Deputy Minister for Social Services, it was clear that there was a strong connection to improving the lives of people with a learning disability. There were a number of challenging questions, including the pace of change on improving services and cutbacks to local transport that were having a severe impact on those with learning disabilities being able to participate in their communities. 

On the second day, Sam and I were fortunate enough to be invited to a special media workshop hosted at the offices of ITV Wales, where alongside some other people supported by Mencap we got a taste into the word of news and weather presenting.

Unsurprisingly, Sam and I had travelled the furthest in this case! Led by one of their presenters, Rob Osbone and Elin Llŷr, Public Affairs Manager for ITV Wales, we experienced what it was like to face questions when on camera. We were also joined by their weather forecaster, Ruth Dodsworth, who explained that telling people about the weather is much more difficult and skilled when we practiced at the green screen.

A woman and two men standing in front of a green screen in a TV studio

It was a hugely enjoyable morning and a big achievement for the Mencap Cymru team who have been working closely with the ITV team over the last year to bring more representation of people with a learning disability on camera.

The days in Cardiff were, sadly, the last where Sam and I will be Chair and Vice Chair of the Voices Council. We look forward to passing the torch to our successors (more on that soon!) in the next year and also hearing the voices of two new trustees with a leaning disability to contribute their lived experience to the decision making of the charity. Whatever else happens at Mencap, that is always essential.

- Jack Welch