An exhibition – A hidden and often painful part of Wales’ history

To read on Wales online website:

Note: In the UK, the term of ‘Learning disability’ is used instead of ‘Intellectual disability’.

Meet the men and women ‘hidden away’ at a South Wales institution who now take centre stage in a new exhibition

  • By Liz Day
Wales’ history

The first pan-Wales project of its kind will show a hidden and often painful part of Welsh history from six of Wales’s long-stay hospitals which closed in 2006

An exhibition which has taken 10 years to complete has shone new light on what life was like for patients with learning difficulties at a hospital in South Wales.

According to charity Mencap Cymru, adults and children with conditions such as Down’s Syndrome and autism were “hidden away” at a large institution in the Vale of Glamorgan.

The charity, which curated the project says it will capture “a hidden and often painful part of Wales’ history.”

Research has shown that many people living in these institutions, dubbed “colonies”, were misdiagnosed and became isolated from society.

(To view gallery, go on the site of the article and click on the picture.)

A spokesman said: “The story of people in Wales with a learning disability has mostly remained hidden, reflecting the isolation and marginalisation of this group in society.”

The exhibition, called Hidden Now Heard, focuses on Hensol Hospital in Pendoylan, which was opened in 1930 as a “colony” for 100 men with learning disabilities.

Patients were branded “mental defectives” by the Mental Deficiency Act 1913, which called on local authorities to establish long-stay institutions for them.

New blocks were built in the grounds in 1935 to accommodate up to 460 patients and the facility was opened to women and children.

Phyllis Jones was a patient at Hensol Hospital for 40 years, before it closed in 2003, but now lives in her own home.

“I wanted to tell everyone about Hensol – the good times and bad,” she said.

“They had good staff but overall, I didn’t like living there. I prefer living in my own house.”

Sue Goddard used to work at the hospital as a ward sister.

She said: “I wanted to take part because it is important that people shouldn’t be forgotten. Hensol was home for lots of staff and patients.”

The charity estimates that 65,000 people currently living in Wales have a learning disability.

Mencap Cymru director Wayne Crocker first had the idea for the exhibition about 10 years ago, when he realised former patients may become unable to share their memories.

“I felt that if the stories weren’t recorded now, the unique perspective of the patients would be lost forever,” he explained.

The charity played a significant role in the closure of six long-stay institutions in Wales, as part of a campaign called The Longest Waiting List.

Mr Crocker added: “I am pleased the exhibition will pay tribute to the many people with a learning disability who took part in this campaign and who have sadly now passed away.

“I very much hope that those who visit will be impressed by the stories, but more importantly, will see the amazing contributions people with a learning disability make to our communities in Wales.”

The exhibition has been based on interviews with patients and staff who used to live and work at Hensol Hospital.

Project manager Paul Hunt said: “The project team often found it difficult to find staff and relatives of patients to come forward to share their stories, perhaps feeling unsure or a sense of shame about the hospital.”

Visitors will get a glimpse what it was like to grow up in the institution, with photographs showing the patients eating, sleeping and playing.

Historical documents and artefacts donated by staff and patients will also be on display.  (…) Read full article.


Thanks to @mencap_charity to have drawn my attention on this exhibition.

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