The board of Royal Mencap Society is delighted that its Chief Executive, Edel Harris, has been awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) by Her Majesty The Queen in recognition of her services to the public sector and charity.

Edel was appointed as honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire on the advice of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, as she is an Irish citizen.

Following an early career as a Metropolitan Police Officer, Edel began working in health and social care. She spent 8 years working for NHS Grampian, where she set up and led successful social enterprises and developed new social care services. She then served as Deputy Chief Executive of the homelessness charity, Aberdeen Foyer, before taking up the role of Chief Executive of Cornerstone, one of Scotland’s leading charities which supports people with a learning disability, physical disability, autism and/or dementia. In this role, Edel pioneered new ways of providing care.

Edel started her role as Chief Executive of Mencap in January 2020, just two months before the coronavirus pandemic sent the UK into lockdown. She has played a central role in steering Mencap through the pandemic. Under her leadership, the charity has continued to deliver direct support to thousands of people in exceptionally difficult circumstances, while working closely with others to secure the inclusion of people with a learning disability in priority groups for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout programme.

On receiving the honour, Edel Harris OBE, Chief Executive of Mencap, says: “I am delighted to receive this award. As an Irish citizen, I am especially pleased to have been acknowledged for my contribution to the public sector and charity in Britain, where I have lived for many years and consider my home.

“This award recognises the people with a learning disability, my colleagues over many years and those in the disability community who I have had the privilege to work alongside throughout my career. I’d particularly like to play tribute to all the hard-working support workers across the social care sector who have gone above and beyond to keep people safe during the pandemic. Together, we have helped make a difference.

“I hope this award and the subsequent attention will help raise the profile of the learning disability sector’s important work. Our vision is for the UK to be the best place in the world for people with a learning disability to live happy and healthy lives and I look forward to continuing to play a small part in helping to make that happen.”

Derek Lewis, Chair of Mencap, says: “The board is delighted that Edel’s long and distinguished contribution to public service, the charity sector and to people with a learning disability has been recognised in this way. We are particularly grateful to have the benefit of her leadership and experience in her current role as Chief Executive of Mencap as we strive to help make the UK a better place to live for people with learning disabilities, despite COVID and significant funding pressures.”

Jack Welch, Chair of Mencap’s Voices Council, a group of people with lived experience relevant to the charity who advise Mencap’s trustees and Edel’s leadership team, says: “The Voices Council are so pleased to hear Edel has been awarded an OBE. This is thoroughly deserved. Edel continues to empower us at the Voices Council to guide Mencap on future priorities and decisions. Her commitment and inclusive thinking in leadership has driven a positive change for people with a learning disability and their lives.

Until recently, Edel was a Director of the Aberdeen Football Club Community Trust and a Director of the Scottish Council for Development and Industry. She served as the first female President of Aberdeen and Grampian Chamber of Commerce. She was also one of the first Directors of Opportunity North East (ONE); former Chair of The Life Changes Trust; and former Chair of the Scottish Government's Social Investment Fund. She currently sits on the Board of the Robertson Trust which works to alleviate poverty and trauma in Scotland.

Edel is married with two sons, one of whom has a learning disability and Fragile X Syndrome.

She will be awarded her honour in person later this year.


For further information, contact Mencap’s media team on: or 020 7696 5414 (including out of hours).  

Notes to editors:   


There are approximately 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want:       

For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact Mencap’s Freephone Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (10am-3pm, Monday-Friday) or email        

What is a learning disability?    

  • A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life;    
  • Learning disability is NOT a mental illness or a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’;     
  • People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.