Meet Mike Huddart, Mencap Co-ordinator for Croydon

By - Tuesday 22nd October, 2013

In the latest of her series on people making a positive difference in Croydon, Liz Sheppard-Jones meets Mike Huddart of the learning disabilities charity Mencap

August 19th-25th 2013 was National Learning Disability Week in the UK. It was a national celebration organised by Mencap, the UK’s leading charity held for people with learning disabilities and their families. It’s during that week that I meet up with Mike Hubbart, Mencap’s Croydon’s Co-ordinator.

Mike’s a newcomer to both his job and the area, having lived and worked here only since May. He’s twenty-three years old and has been fast-tracked by Mencap within its Top Talent programme to receive training and professional development. Croydon is therefore fortunate enough to have a potentially senior figure in the organisation delivering local services, and it’s likely that the issues Mike encounters here will inform his future decision-making.

He’s clearly inspired by what the work he does – indeed, at risk of embarrassing him, his ability to communicate his values and priorities is charismatic. Our interview, for all the difficulties and challenges we discuss, becomes an uplifting experience.

Mencap works with people with learning disabilities and their families, supporting and valuing them and encouraging wider society to do so. It provides housing, education and learning, leisure services, practical assistance as and where needed, and training and help into the workplace.  Right now, Mencap has  5,400 clients in Croydon.

Success for clients lies in the gaining of life-skills and hence the ability to integrate more fully into their community

Mencap’s Croydon Me Time Service, where Mike is based,  is 100% funded by Croydon Council via funding packages to individual clients who apply by completing a assessment form which ascertains their requirements for medical care, support for daily living, education and training and cultural requirements. An agreement is then reached with each on the level of  support which the Council can fund.

Out and about – a group of Mencap Me-Timers

Me Time addresses the needs of those who are unlikely ever to enter the workforce, encouraging the development of skills which foster personal independence. ‘Me Time’ is a community-based 12-week programme in which each learning-disabled person can participate as they choose and according to their level of ability. Success for clients lies in the gaining of life-skills and hence the ability to integrate more fully into their community: a person might learn to use public transport, handle money, or manage a shopping trip for personal necessities.  Mike also works on the development of personal and social skills, allowing people to get more out of personal relationships and create their own friendships.

Since nationwide just 1 in 3 people with a learning disability take part in some form of education or training*, many more individuals, along with their families and communities, could get more out of life if such support were more widely provided. In the words of Karen Hayes, Surrey and Sussex Service Manager for Mencap: ‘We would benefit from additional funding from other local sources and grants as this would enable us to extend our services to a wider range of people with a learning disability living in Croydon’.

The bigger picture demonstrates the wisdom of fostering people’s independence

At present Mike’s youngest client is 35 – which is not particularly young, and he comments that in Croydon, younger learning disabled adults are not coming  into Mencap’s residential housing in the numbers once seen. Living away from carers, in many cases parents, is obviously not always possible but the future implications of this reduction concern Mike Huddart. Nationwide, 29,000 adults with a learning disability currently live with parents aged 70 or over, increasing numbers of whom are too old or frail to continue in their caring role much longer, and in only 1 in 4 of these cases have local authorities planned alternative housing.  This caring gap is set to widen  – by 2030 the number of adults aged 70+ using social care services for people with learning disabilities is set to more than double. (Source: Report – Estimating Future Need for Social Care among Adults with Learning Disabilities in England).

Mike therefore explains his belief that skill-building and increasing the independence of the young learning-disabled are cost-effective strategies in the long-term, with many positive implications both for individuals’ quality of life and for the costs of supporting them to their families and to wider society.  The bigger picture demonstrates the wisdom of fostering people’s independence.

Developing the skills that foster independence – Mike Huddart working with Me Time clients

Independence is a strong focus for Mike not just because it saves money, but because of the personal dignity it gives. His present clients are unlikely to move into work although Mencap also works with those who will. Higher-ability clients progress to the ‘Employ Me’ programme and eventually to ‘Work Choice’, both of which concentrate on the younger and lower-support end of the learning disability spectrum, offering training and work placements and advice for those looking for jobs. The programmes  also aim to create awareness among employers of the potential of younger learning disabled adults to contribute to their businesses. Nationally employment rates for the learning disabled are low, at just 1 in 5,  but encouragingly the Employ Me programme is active in Croydon, currently involving Sainsburys, the Co-op and JD Wetherspoons.  Mencap wants to work with more local businesses in the our area in order to support people with a learning disability to gain sustainable employment. The charity offers  disability awareness training and ongoing support to potential employers in the Croydon area and welcomes all expressions of interest.

According to the 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey, attitudes to those less than 100% equipped for the fray of economic contribution are hardening

Interestingly, Mike Hubbart’s own career working with the learning disabled began through a workplace meeting while he was employed at Waitrose, uncertain at that point what direction his career should take. Required to mentor a fellow-employee with Aspergers, Mike realised quickly that this role gave him great fulfilment. Acting on his instincts, he took the decision to study Heath and Social Care, and from this he progressed into his current role with Mencap.

Mike is a member of Generation Y, those born in the 1980s and 90s. As the offspring of the baby-boom generation, they are sometimes rather poetically known as ‘echo-boomers’, although if surveys are reliable  some of their views are not particularly poetic. According to the 2012 British Social Attitudes Survey, attitudes to those less than 100% equipped for the fray of economic contribution are hardening, particularly and most alarmingly among the young Y-ers.

It’s possible their negativity is explained to some extent by press coverage of welfare which focusses excessively on fraud, particularly in some newspapers, giving the impression that the ‘undeserving’ often pocket public funds. Whatever the reasons, support for extra spending on benefits for disabled people who cannot work has fallen by 21 percentage points since 1998. Nationally the government is reducing support for people who represent a welfare cost, most conspicuously by replacing Disability Living Allowance with the Personal Independence Payment, while campaigners for disability groups struggle to oppose this.

In any civilised society, those unable to play a role in wealth creation or limited in their ability to participate will be supported

On 29th of August 2012, Darren Couchman, a 31 year old learning disabled man from Purley, was attacked while he waited for a bus in Croydon High Street and required stitches to his head. It’s just one upsetting case, but attacks on the disabled are rising – according to the Papworth Trust, more than 20% of all disabled people have suffered harassment in public in public because of their disability. 8% of disabled people in London suffered an attack in 2012, while 4% of the non-disabled did so. These figures must alarm those who work with those whose difficulties are conspicuous, as those of Croydon Mencap’s clients frequently are. (I meet Mike with two of his ‘Me Time’ clients, one using a wheelchair and the other clearly a vulnerable individual requiring Mike’s guidance to manage in a public place). Increases like this should, I believe,  worry all of us.

Our treatment of the most vulnerable bears witness to our values, of course – in any civilised society, those unable to play a role in wealth creation or limited in their ability to participate will be supported and given opportunities to live the richest, most fulfilling lives possible. It’s about treating all human beings with equal value and respect, and the urgency of this gives a real political edge to Mencap’s work both in Croydon and nationally.

Mike Huddart isn’t setting out to be a spokesman for what’s best in a generation, but in his role in Croydon and his commitment to his vulnerable clients make him a fine one. I can honestly say that meeting him has made a difference to me,  raising my awareness of the needs and vulnerabilities of the learning disabled in my community. As the kind of person who’s always in a hurry, I’m too inclined to sigh and tut when someone holds up the queue. Next time I meet a Me Time group out shopping, practising their lifeskills, I’ll remember to respond differently.

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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  • Susan Oliver

    It’s so refreshing to read an article that has compassion at its heart. Thank you.