The history of people with learning difficulties, and those involved in their lives, is one which is often hidden away and forgotten.

Yet for most of the twentieth century, this part of Lancashire had two of the largest long-stay hospitals for people with learning difficulties in the United Kingdom. Calderstones and Brockhall were closely linked and sited within a couple of miles of each other in the Blackburn area. Both opened in the early twentieth century as part of a nationwide institutional building programme. Around the turn of the century long-stay hospitals across the country closed, and so did Brockhall and Calderstones. (Although, Calderstones Partnership NHS Foundation Trust retains a small scale specialist presence on the original site.) Literally thousands of individuals, whether as residents or staff, had passed through the respective doors of these local institutions during the twentieth century. What life was like for these people, as well as families, is largely under-recorded with the existing heritage landscape dominated by the official records.

We at Pathways Associates, a learning disability community interest company based in Accrington, are applying to the Heritage Lottery Fund to help set some of the record straight. We want funding for a project which will create an archive of a selection of everyday personal histories, along with photographs and documents relating to the lived experience of Calderstones and Brockhall. This social history will be available through a website, also providing a one stop shop for references to currently dispersed public and private collections of Calderstones and Brockhall historical data. In addition, we aim to produce an exhibition and a booklet recounting the histories of people associated with these two large long stay institutions.

Groundwork already carried out on this proposal indicates a significant interest from key agencies, such as Lancashire County Council museums, archives, libraries, universities in the north west as well as former staff, residents and their families linked to these institutions.

What are your views on this idea for a history project? Would you be interested in hearing more about these institutions? If you could spare a minute or two to answer a few questions that would be great. Please use the link below to be directed to a very short survey. Many thanks.