It is always sad when children are taken away from their mother. Amidst the fog of industrialised Leeds in the late 1940’s Mount Cross Families Lifehouse, Bramley was the home to a young woman in her 30’s and her twin daughters. Nearly sixty six years ago to the day five month old twin girls were removed from their mother, Millicent, because she was deemed by the local authority incapable of caring for either herself and her daughters. Just eighteen months later, in the aftermath of this life changing event, Millicent was admitted to Brockhall Hospital, the largest women’s asylum in Europe, labeled a ‘moral defective’. Meanwhile, the baby girls were placed in Greenbanks children’s home before Isabel arrived and gave them a loving foster home that would last a life-time.
Last night my family went to see my son, Sam, perform at the London Palladium in Music is Magic: Asylum to the Palladium.
The stage was crammed to the wings with performers of every age, each with some form of physical or learning difficulty. The second half of the show opened with Jenny Hitchcock, Regional Director of Southend Music Man project, wearing a brown smock and singing of the brokenness and indignity of living in an Asylum prevalent in our country fifty years ago.
Her voice swept through the Palladium as she pleaded with anyone willing to listen to,
“Look it’s still me,
inside you’re breaking me…
Please see me.”
As the curtain rose I saw my son, like all the other performers, dressed in the same brown smock. My heart was one of a thousand in the auditorium that broke at the realisation of what life was once like. The vision of my fragile son’s beautiful smile locked away in an Asylum simply took my breath away.
The musical continued to tell the story of the amazing work of Joe Dorardo with Southend Mencap as he fought to change the perceptions and experiences of those with Learning Difficulties. Stuart Woolner’s vibrant portrayal of Joe brought home the shocking indignities of not even owning your own underwear with his fun and cheeky rendition of “Would you wear someone else’s knickers?’.
Soon the words “Everyone deserves to be Happy” were echoing around the ornate Palladium while the audience longed and wished for life to be different as the smocks were gleefully removed from the stage.
The whole evening was truly magical and a poignant marker in my family’s history.
Exactly sixty six years to the day after my Mum was taken out of my Grandmother Millicent’s care her Great Grandson Sam was performing at the London Palladium. Millicent sadly spent the rest of her life in an Asylum, institutionalised until her death aged seventy six. In the past seventy years, with much love, nurturing and transformation my family has literally gone from the Asylum to the Palladium.
On the days when I am exasperated by how far away the destination of inclusion and value is, it is good to look back and remember how far we have come. The spectacular London Palladium theatre however isn’t the goal, nor is it our final destination. Rather last night marks another milestone in our journey of embracing and recognising the gifts and worth of EVERYONE in our society.
Last night my heart broke for my Grandmother and the life she lived, yet filled with hope at all that children like Sam might achieve with the care and vision of amazing people.
Thank you David Stanley and all those at The Mencap Music Man Project for reminding us of our past and inspiring us into a brighter future together.