Professor Jim Mansell, who dedicated his lifetime to improving the lives of people with a learning disability, died in March, after losing his battle with cancer
It was a trip to a Cardiff cinema as an undergraduate, in 1970, that was to change the path of Jim Mansell’s career and transform the lives of so many people with a learning disability.
Jim had volunteered to take children with a learning disability from a local long-stay hospital to see a film and was so appalled by their poor living conditions and lack of basic freedoms that he began battling to get the institution closed down.
Soon after, he transferred from his zoology and botany degree to social administration. When he graduated in 1975, he had already set up a student charity and was living in a group home with young people he had taken out of the long-stay hospital.
Mansell went on to fight for the closure of all long-stay hospitals and became England’s leading authority on the needs of people with a learning disability who display challenging behaviour. After forging a career in lecturing, he founded the University of Kent’s Tizard Centre in 1983 – recognised as one of the world’s leading research and study centres for learning disability.
As an adviser to the government, Professor Mansell led an extensive programme of consultancy and research that focused on improving the lives of people with a learning disability. His influential report into services for people with a learning disability and challenging behaviour – known as the ‘Mansell Report’– was published in 1993 and revised in 2007 to support the Valuing Peoplestrategy. In 2010, he wrote Raising our sights, a report commissioned by the Department of Health into planning and delivering services for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD).
Last year, Mansell appeared on the BBC’s ‘Panorama’programme, to condemn the abuse that took place at the Winterbourne View residential hospital near Bristol. Along with former national director for learning disabilities Anne Williams and Mencap’s chief executive, Mark Goldring, he formed an advisory group to help the Department of Health shape its response to the abuse.
This January, despite very poor health, Mansell visited Buckingham Palace where he was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List for his services to people with a learning disability.
Beverley Dawkins, Mencap’s national officer for PMLD, studied her MA under the tutorship of Mansell at the Tizard Centre and worked closely with him over recent years. “It is really sad to lose this inspirational man, who has made an exceptional contribution to the lives of people with a learning disability,” she said.
“The work he has done, focusing on people with the most complex needs, such as those with profound and multiple learning disabilities and those with behaviour that challenges, has helped ensure that some of the most marginalised people in society are at the forefront of our thinking.
Three colleagues discuss Jim’s legacy:
Anne Williams, former national director for learning disabilities and member of the Winterbourne View advisory panel
“For 40 years, Jim devoted himself to improving the lives of people with a learning disability. So, it was no surprise that the BBC’s ‘Panorama’ approached him to review some of the scenes for their investigation into the abuse that was taking place at the Winterbourne View residential care unit.
“Jim’s reaction was immediate. He told them this was totally unacceptable, abusive practice and that they must refer the home to the local authority and the Care Quality Commission. Jim was shocked by what happened at
Winterbourne View, but not totally surprised. He knew that people whose behavior presented difficulties and were in isolated settings were especially vulnerable. He volunteered immediately to help with the Department of Health review and continued to provide input until his health deteriorated.
“He wanted to ensure that, out of this scandal, positive steps were taken to improve practice, develop better services, and safeguard and value the lives of people with learning disabilities. It will be a tribute to Jim’s great contribution if we can all work to achieve this.”
Julie Beadle-Brown, reader in intellectual and developmental disability, Tizard Centre, University of Kent
“Over the years, Jim led the Tizard Centre to become one of the top centres in intellectual and developmental disabilities and community care in the UK, and indeed the world.
“The centre’s work to improve the quality of life and social inclusion of some of the most vulnerable members of society has had far-reaching effects – in Europe and Australia, in particular.
“Jim’s students thought of him as a very down-to-earth person – surprising for one who had achieved so much – and someone willing to listen, but also able to drive them to achieve their best. His main motivation was always the work rather than personal advancement or recognition.
“We will sorely miss his leadership, experience, drive and extensive knowledge. He leaves behind an amazing legacy in an army of colleagues, students and professionals, inspired to continue the good work that he started.”
Viv Cooper, founder of the Challenging Behaviour Foundation
“Jim was a well-respected champion who spoke with knowledge and authority, driven by the desire to ensure that people with a learning disability and their families received appropriate support to lead fulfilling lives.
“His reports, such as 2010’s ‘Raising our sights’, provided clear frameworks for developing and delivering the right support and services to enable people with complex needs to remain within their communities.
“Jim also understood the importance of supporting and empowering families, and remained outraged at how so many people are continually let down when we know how best to support them.
“As he launched the revised ‘Mansell Report’ in 2007, he held it up and said: ‘Just do it!’ He will be sorely missed, but has left us an important legacy that we must build on.”