Leamington charity founder up for top award

Sheila Cunningham.
Sheila Cunningham.

A Leamington woman who has spent almost 50 years of her life supporting people with learning disabilities has been shortlisted for a national award.

Sheila Cunningham, a founder member of Mid-Warwickshire MENCAP, has been selected as one of the finalists in the Directory of Social Change Lifetime Service Award.

As a young mother of an 18-month-old with learning disabilities, Sheila’s work in the sector began in 1966, when she and a group of other parents set up a playgroup – and soon the Mid Warwickshire Society for Mentally Handicapped Children and Adults was formed.

The society set up a day centre at Warwick Hospital which provided recreational facilities for the children. In 1974 it established a special needs unit at Ridgeway School in Warwick, as well as a unit to cater for the needs of adults with severe learning disabilities with high support needs.

Working with social services, the society supported staff at these units with training programmes. Sheila had been at the heart of the change.

In the 1970s the society established respite care for children, followed by a respite facility for up to eight adults.

Sheila and her colleagues recognised that parents were becoming older and finding it more difficult to support their disabled children, so the building was adapted to become a respite facility with long stay accommodation.

In 1981 the Rotary Club of Warwick presented Sheila with the First Award for outstanding work in the community. She continues to be an active trustee of Mid-Warwickshire MENCAP, which celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.

To vote for Sheila in the Directory of Social Change award visit www.dsc.org.uk/events/lifetime-achievement-award