Deeping St James poet’s poems with a message about learning disability care

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It is 100 years since the Mental Deficiency Act meant that people with learning difficulties were deemed imbeciles and locked up in institutions.

We like to think that we have come a long way since that time, with people with learning difficulties much more likely today to receive the support they need to live in the community .

Mike Alderson and his new book, Surviving the Institutions, Poems by Mike Alderson.

Mike Alderson and his new book, Surviving the Institutions, Poems by Mike Alderson.

But former learning disability nurse of many years Mike Alderson, who lives in Deeping St James, warns there is a danger the economic situation could herald a new era in mental health care – and not one for the better.

Mike worked from 1977 in hospitals and specialist units for people with learning difficulties, his early experience he describes as “a weird world, like walking into a completely different social system”.

At its height, 65,000 people were locked up in this way nationally.

However, the 1983 Mental Health Act resulted in most of those institutions being closed down and clients being placed in community homes and specialist units, some of which Mike went on to manage.

All through his career he wrote poems about his experiences, and some have been published individually.

However, Mike has chosen the centenary of the Mental Deficiency Act to collect some of them into a book, Surviving the Institutions, Poems by Mike Alderson.

He says: “The main reason I chose to publish now is because there is a sense in which we should be saying, ‘Never again’.

“Given the economic climate, I think we have got to be careful. I don’t think we’d go back to those kind of situations, but there is going to be more crowding, less staff and fewer activities, so the lives of people will be diminished.

“The idea they can be part of the community and can go out and do things depends a lot on being supported and if there isn’t money to support them, in terms of staffing and transport, then you are back to watching paint dry.”

Mike’s poems illustrate the vulnerable state of some of the clients he has worked with through the years, the difficulties they have experienced that have blighted emotional health, and they reveal a little of the relationship he has been able to build with individuals.

The poems are illustrated by photographs of derelict buildings that were once home to thousands of these people.

Published by Gert Macky Books, it costs £7.95 and is available from Bookmark, Spalding, from November.