Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Interview with Watford Mencap

As part of L4G SW Herts’ commitment to helping charities remove the ‘cloak of invisibility’, I have undertaken an interview with Watford Mencap and I hope that the information provided helps enlightens you about the work they do.

   1)  Can you briefly summarise the charity’s history.

Watford Mencap was started in 1951 by a group of local parents of children with learning disabilities. During the sixties we were at the forefront of actively campaigning for services nationally, while also developing services of their own. The “Stepping Stones Club” was opened in September 1956 for children aged 10 upwards and was followed by the Tuesday Club in 1960 for those aged 16 plus. In 1962 Watford Round Table agreed to raise money for the purchase of St Matthew's Church Hall (Table Hall) which enabled the organisation to use the facility for nursery groups, meetings and fundraising activities.
By the end of the 1970s the Society had purchased 2 properties with a view to providing supported accommodation for people with learning disabilities. The first play scheme for special needs children had run, along with a weekly club for older children.
The organisation grew again during the 1990’s with a small office opening in Rickmansworth, 3 more properties for supported living as well as other community services being started including the Community Support Service, Advice & Advocacy Service, Children’s Services and Leisure Together.
Change continued to be part of Watford Mencap, with another move for the Head Office to the Old Town Hall in 2009 where it continues to run from. The organisation is still at the forefront of innovation, supporting people to access Individual Budgets and personalisation.

2) Can you explain what you do as a charity, who you look to help and how?

At Watford Mencap we believe that people with learning disabilities have the right to enjoy equal opportunities and be valued as members of society, enabling them to lead the kind of life they want for themselves.  Our services support both children and adults and over the last 5 years we have developed a range of creative and innovative new services. We offer more personalised support to local people, ensuring all services are client focused and promote independence and choice for people, while balancing risk. The organisation is always open to new ideas and strives to seek out best practice, with the aim of achieving high standards in everything we do.

3)   How does the charity raise money at the moment? Is it easy to compete against the charity ‘big boys’ with large marketing budgets?

We organise a number of fundraising initiatives such as the recent Ricky Pancake Race and the Watford 10km which is being held in Cassiobury Park on 5 May.  This year we are organising some challenges such as a Snowdon Walk and two bike challenges, the London Nightrider and LondonAmsterdam.  We also run charity shops in Bushey and Watford as well as selling goods on eBay.

We are affiliated to National Mencap but we are an independent charity and are not financed by them. Each year we need to raise money to both maintain and develop our services.  As a very local charity, this can be a real challenge especially as people sometimes think we are part of the national charity and that we get funds from them.  However, because we are smaller, we can offer a more personalised service than some of the larger organisations, especially for local companies that want to support us.

4)    Are there any challenges that you as a charity suffer from?

Learning disabilities are not always the first choice of people to donate to and we are much smaller than some other local charities such as the hospices.  This makes it a challenging environment for us.  However, since I have worked for Watford Mencap, I have seen the real difference our support can make to the lives of people in the local community. If we can clearly demonstrate the value and quality of our services, I am sure we can continue to raise funds to enable us to develop our services.

5)    How can people help you as a charity in ways that may not require money? Volunteering or providing a service for example.
We are always interested to hear from people that would like to support us – we have a large number of volunteer opportunities which are posted on our website  or else you might think about donating goods to our charity shops or eBay enterprise.  If you are sporty, why not take part in one of our challenges?  If anybody would like more details on any of these opportunities, please contact Carol on 01923 713622 or at

6)    What are the future plans for the charity? Where do you want to be in 2-3 years time?
We have plenty of ideas for new creative ways of supporting people with learning disabilities and their families.  We just need to raise the funds to pay for them!  In particular, we would like to develop our support services for parents of children with learning disabilities.

What have we learnt from this interview? It is great to see that the charity is looking at all possible ways of raising the money they need to fund their projects. Ideas such as bike rides, Snowdon climb and the 10km run are great way for people to work on their fitness, keep healthy and also raise money for a charity that needs all the help from local people. With no funding coming from the national Mencap organisation, it is up to local people in Watford and SW Herts to help the charity that solely works in our area. 

I also believe that volunteering with Mencap in any of their roles can provide them with a service that needs to be done to ensure the success of the charity.  I also feel that when it comes to gaining work experience for younger people or as a way to enjoy your free time, working for a charity in any role is very rewarding and can offer you a chance to give something back to the local community.
I hope you have enjoyed this week’s charity segment and I hope to bring you one every week from one of our four remaining charities from March.

Until next time....

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