“I’ll always remember my mum saying to me:
‘You know, it’s hard today but tomorrow you’re going to get on with this and this kid will give you more than you could ever imagine.’
“She was right.”
Sometimes moments and words just stick with you. This was one of those moments. Natalie, a bright young mum, looked unflinchingly into the camera. Something about her quietness and her fierce pride for her little boy, who has profound and multiple learning disabilities, made the room run still and deep. It is these moments, these real life ambassadors that have been the driving force of Hear My Voice, Mencap’s general election campaign.
We didn’t want the campaign to be something glib, inaccessible and full of complicated policy. We wanted to hear from families and let them speak for themselves.
By early 2014, the Hear my Voice campaign had started to take shape. We had identified six key priority areas for people with a learning disability and their families, namely health, social care, early years, education and hate crime. Our next task was to find the real life stories to bring these areas to life. This involved collaborating with colleagues across the organisation to ensure that our stories covered our three operating countries – England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and that our storytellers had a powerful and relevant story and were willing to ‘go the whole way’ with us, ie right up until the 2015 election.
We also were faced with the rather wonderful, and rather rare phenomenon in charity of having time and budget to devote to our stories because of the high priority given to the campaign. Once we had identified the stories, involving a unique makeup of people with a learning disability their parents and siblings, we enlisted the services of a professional photographer and videographer and arranged to spend a day with each person or family.
Even then, I don’t think we could have envisioned quite how far this content would stretch. The photos and words became the main sections of the manifesto document. The videos were posted online and linked to blogs. Our storytellers became media spokespeople enabling us to highlight different areas of the campaign at pertinent points both proactively and reactively. The stories also became the catalyst on our Hear My Voice microsite, encouraging others to share their story in order to target their local MP who could then choose to respond publicly saying ‘I’m listening.’ To date, over 1,600 people have taken the action and over 400 candidates, including the leaders of the three main political parties, have responded that they are ‘listening.’
What have we learnt from this? Well, it has certainly reinforced the power of personal stories and has definitely seen us use stories more and more at Mencap. It has shown us the value of time and financial investment in stories. More than anything it has been humbling to meet and hear from such inspirational people. There are 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK and many more who love and support them. If this campaign goes some way to encouraging more people to vote and more policy makers to listen, then we will have made start in ensuring that learning disability issues are firmly on the agenda.
To add your voice to the campaign, go to: http://www.hear-my-voice.org.uk/