In 1980 Kensington and Chelsea was one of the very few London Boroughs without a Disability Association, in spite of the efforts of the Greater London Association of the Disabled (GLAD) to get one off the ground. The problem seemed to be that in a Borough with a small population, the number of people with any particular disability was low, groups supporting them had therefore not formed and there were almost no organisations to ‘associate’ and form a Borough Association.
In the Winter of 1979/80, the Volunteer Bureau and the Chelsea and Notting Hill Social Councils got together to explore how this lack could be supplied. Rapid progress was made when in the following Autumn the Borough, as part of a programme of working groups looking at areas of special need, brought forward a Working Group on Disability consisting of Councillors, Council Officers, disabled individuals and representatives of voluntary organisations; its belief was to take evidence from disabled people and those working with them on their views of the problems which they faced and the ways in which these might be met.
The Working Group reported in the Spring of 1981-the International Year of Disabled People-and its findings were quite clear: that in order to tackle the problems which disabled people of all ages had identified, a Borough Association was urgently needed. When the findings were presented at a public meeting on 5th March 1981, convened by the Social Councils to mark IYDP, Councillor Joan Hanham, then Deputy Leader of the Council, called for the formation of an Association and a steering group was set up, drawn from disabled individuals and voluntary organisations. The new initiative had the charitable sponsorship of Chelsea Social Council and the group was chaired by its Administrator, Anne Scott, who had also chaired the Working Group.
Eight months of fundraising followed. The Royal Borough, facing cuts in central government funding and having to implement cuts in its own and voluntary sector services, could only offer a token grant and commended the project to the Health Authority. Meanwhile, the Steering Group resolved to go ahead anyway, raise the funds it could from a number of sources and appoint a development worker as soon as a year’s salary and some running costs had been raised. This moment came in September 1981 and soon afterwards the joint Co-ordinating Committee of the Health Authority agreed to funding for three years. Marianne Rice took up her post as Development Worker, and later as Organiser, shortly before the Inaugural Meeting of the Association on 12th November 1981.
Four months later, on 9th March 1982, the first General Meeting was held to approve a Constitution and to elect a Council of Management to replace the Steering Group. The decision was taken to call the new organisation Action for the Disabled Kensington and Chelsea (later changed to Action Disability), since we were not a Borough Association according to GLAD definition of an association of disabled organisations. Instead, we had to be an association of disabled individuals and their supporters; we have never regretted this-it has been a strength rather than a weakness.