Grace Eyre’s ‘Sharing Our Voices’ Project

Grace Eyre launches ‘Sharing Our Voices’, a heritage project documenting lives and experiences of people with learning disabilities.

The Grace Eyre Foundation has been supporting people with learning disabilities for over 100 years. This year the foundation secured £49,700 of funding from The National Lottery Heritage Fund to document the charity’s rich and fascinating history in a new project ‘Sharing Our Voices’. Thanks to National Lottery players, this exciting local history project will document the life and works of the charity’s founder, Grace Eyre Woodhead, a pioneer in disability rights, and give a voice to people with learning disabilities who have been supported by the charity.

Grace Eyre Woodhead believed that:

‘Institutions should be regarded as the last option of care. The [Guardianship] Society endeavours to provide bright and healthy surroundings and to try to inculcate a feeling of happiness and a sense of usefulness and confidence in all clients; thus giving them a place in the sun’.

Grace set up the Guardianship model, now known as Shared Lives. This is a UK wide scheme where people with people with mental health issues or learning disabilities were placed in family homes rather than institutions. This has been replicated nationwide, with 150 schemes in the UK supporting 14,000 people to lead active lives in their communities.

The project will create an oral history collection of people with learning disabilities who have lived in Shared Lives arrangements from the 1950s to the present day. A really exciting aspect of the project is that 24 people with learning disabilities and 8 local volunteers will be fully integrated in the project: they will be learning key heritage skills, utilising local archives, recording oral history, and creating a dramatic performance at the high-profile Brighton Fringe Festival 2021. There will also be an Assistant Project Coordinator who has a learning disability overseeing the project: Sharing Our Voices will be a project by people with learning disabilities, for people with learning disabilities.

Stuart McLeod, Area Director London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “It’s the National Lottery’s 25th birthday this year. In the past quarter of a century, £8billion has been invested in saving, sharing and celebrating the UK’s heritage. Giving a voice to communities, charities and people and preserving their legacies is a vital part of that funding and we’re delighted to support this project.”

The launch event will take place on Monday 25 November 2019 at the Grace Eyre Foundation Head office (36 Montefiore Road, Brighton, BN3 6EP). This will be an opportunity for people to learn more about the project, the history of Grace Eyre Woodhead and find out how they can get involved. More information about the event is available at www.grace-eyre.org