A national project by Mencap Cymru to highlight the hidden heritage of people with a learning disability in Wales has been launched at The National Eisteddfod of Wales in Llanelli.
The Hidden Now Heard project captures the memories of former residents and staff from six of Wales’ long-stay hospitals: Hensol, Llanfrechfa Grange, Ely, St David’s, Denbigh and Bryn-y-neuadd.
This is the first national project of its kind and, working in partnership with the National History Museum in St Fagan and six regional museums, it will capture a hidden and often painful part of Wales’ history before it is lost forever.
Addressing the launch at the National Eisteddfod, Deputy Minister for Social Services, Gwenda Thomas, said: "People with a learning disability are now living their lives in the community and making a valued contribution to society. Some are in paid employment whilst others are working on a voluntary basis.
"The Hidden Now Heard project will hopefully inform the development of appropriate care and support for people with a learning disability in the future. And demonstrate that people with a learning disability can and do make a valuable contribution to society.
The project has received a £292,900 grant award by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). Mencap Cymru also raised £31,000 in match-funding for the project and has received a cheque for £5,000 from George Parker of Parker Plant Hire to contribute to the project. The Welsh Government will also supply an £18,000 grant.
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Acknowledging the support of the HLF and donors, Mencap Cymru director, Wayne Crocker, said: "This HLF grant will help us to start work on our three-year project collecting memories, collating artefacts and photographs, which will be on display in six regional museums across Wales.
"I’m thrilled that we’ll now be able to ensure that real stories of real people with a learning disability affected by this hidden history will now be told and will undoubtedly have an impact on how future generations understand the lives they lived.
"What is particularly pleasing is that the Welsh Government has agreed that the project is of national interest and have supported us with a grant of £18,000."
Using oral historical accounts, other research, artefacts and documents, six regional exhibitions will take place across the next two years beginning with stories from Hensol at Swansea Museum.
Lord Dafydd Wigley, Mencap Cmyru’s vice president, added: "Many people in Wales have a connection to this, at times, uncomfortable part our history and are aware of the stigma attached to long-stay hospitals. This project will hopefully help change perceptions and create better understanding of people with a learning disability and their families whilst also ensuring that this important part of our history is recorded and remembered."