First Minister Arlene Foster, deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Simon Hamilton, Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety, officially opened the new £4.6 million Mencap Centre in Belfast recently. The first of its kind for Mencap, the opening of the new centre is a radical step for the future of children and young people with a learning disability and their families across Northern Ireland.
The state-of-the-art centre will serve as a new model for early intervention services across the UK and Ireland and provide much needed support services for families and young adults with a learning disability. At the heart of the new building is the Children’s Centre, a nursery for 2-4-year-old children with a learning disability, autism or developmental delay, many of whom have multiple, profound and complex needs.
Following the ribbon cutting ceremony where the ministers were joined by Luca Heron (3), a child who attends Mencap’s Children’s Centre, Margaret Kelly, Director, Mencap in Northern Ireland, explained that the opening of the innovative centre is just the start of what’s to come for Mencap.
The Mencap Centre will take a unique approach to the health care and education provision it offers by housing therapists from the Belfast Health and Social Care Trust on site. This means children and young people will have access to the variety of therapies and support services they need all under one roof, providing huge benefits to them and their families who would have otherwise experienced time and cost pressures incurred by the travel to and from hospital appointments.
“Our new centre will allow us to develop and grow our early years and early intervention services and help us accomplish our vision of reaching more children and young people with a learning disability across Northern Ireland,” Margaret said. “We will then use this experience and body of evidence to develop further programmes and explore how best these techniques can be successfully implemented beyond our Mencap Centre.”
“We will also continue to support adults with a learning disability to ensure they are valued, listened to and included through our extensive employment service which works with over 600 young people and adults every year. The Mencap Centre will also act as a base for our exciting plans around developing more and better housing to allow our young people and adults to lead independent and fulfilling lives. At the same time we will invest in a new range of out-reach family support services that help parents develop the skills they need to support their child’s development.
"We are delighted to officially open our doors today and make this important step for both Mencap and the learning disability community across these islands.”
Following a tour of the new building, First Minister, Arlene Foster said:
“It is an honour to open this new £4.6million purpose built centre which will support those with a learning disability and their families right across Northern Ireland.
"The Northern Ireland Executive’s Disability strategy acknowledges that people with disabilities deserve to be treated equally alongside those without disabilities."
"The opening of this state of the art centre today reaffirms our commitment to addressing and removing the obstacles that people with disabilities face to ensure they have the same equality of opportunity and equality of treatment enjoyed by others in society."
“I am immensely proud of Northern Ireland and I want to ensure that our young people and adults with a learning disability receive the support they need to reach their full potential and to live the life they want to lead.”
The deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness said: “One person in five is affected by a disability and one in four families will be affected at some stage in their life time by a disability. Disability impacts not just upon the individual, but upon the family, the carers, the friends and co-workers.
“This £4.6million state of the art facility is a major asset that will transform and improve the lives of everyone who comes through the door. It’s a game changer for the Learning Disability community and everyone who avails of their services.
“The Department of Health contributed £2.5 million to the financing of this project. This financial backing combined with resolve and relentless drive of Mencap has resulted in this first class facility.
“It’s an incredible place and one I feel will become the template for developments of this type in the future. It is much more than a new building as it will support outreach services across the north.”
The Mencap Centre cost £4.6 million to build, with the majority of the funding coming from the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Local organisations, businesses and individuals also contributed more than £1.7 million through the Big Step Forward Appeal, the charity’s largest fundraising campaign to date. Major donors included the Rory Foundation, Ulster Garden Villages, the ARN Foundation and Paul and Margaret Fraser, owners of Fraser Homes.
The Centre was partly funded by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) through a £2.5 million capital grant. Speaking at the official opening, Health Minister Simon Hamilton said: “I am delighted to jointly open this impressive new building. The work and vision of Mencap in developing this inspirational facility, generously supported by all sectors, and the Northern Ireland public, is to be commended. I am pleased that my Department was able to provide the initial £2.5m of funding, which has been fundamental, in making it a reality.
"Facilities such as these offer real opportunities and support for people with learning disabilities. The Centre will enable Mencap to deliver existing, new and enhanced services to children; young people and adults with a learning disability and their families."
"My Department is committed to ensuring the best services for children with a learning disability and their families. The new building, and the activities which will take place here, should also enhance joint working between the HSC and voluntary sector, and will be a marvellous resource in the years ahead – in the continued development of new and innovative approaches, that will ensure more children can meet their full potential."