WILL started as a company in 1999, after a group of parents whose children all had learning disabilities began meeting, with support and encouragement from Irene Kennedy, the former headteacher of Foxfield Special School. This group shared a common concern: what did the future hold for their sons and daughters, once they left school and became adults? What were the chances of getting the support they needed to live “ordinary lives”, in ways that would enable them to live as independently as possible within their local community? And how could we make sure that they were treated and valued as individuals, rather than having to be part of traditional residential and day services which catered for groups of people with disabilities?
Our thinking was shaped by the ideas and experiences of other groups and organisations who were seeking better services for people with disabilities. In particular, we were helped by the Federation of Supported Living Groups in the North West. They placed particular emphasis on Person Centred Planning when trying to understand what is most important for each individual, in order to develop the right kind of support. They also helped us to see that people with disabilities can be tenants in ordinary housing and do not have to live in residential or “special” accommodation to meet their needs.
In the year 2000, WILL was successful in its bid for initial Lottery funding, so that we could appoint a Development Worker and set up a small office. Then in May 2001, WILL started supporting its first person – an “outreach” service for a few hours a week, funded by Independent Living Fund monies. Five years later, two people were supported by WILL to move into their own home. Since then, more adults with learning disabilities have been able to fund their own support by Direct Payments or Personal Budgets, so that WILL now provides services to 44 people, either in supported tenancies or outreach support from their family homes.