On 17 January 2014, the Southampton Centre for Independent Living – SPECTRUM held an event to celebrate 30 years since John Evans left an institution and started to live independently. Numerous independent living activists, from both the UK and abroad, gathered in Southampton or sent messages, paying tribute to John and saying “thank you” for all he has done to advance independent living in the UK and Europe-wide.
John Evans left Le Court, a Leonard Cheshire institution in Liss, Hampshire in 1983, to live in his own home with the support of his Personal Assistants. This, according to SPECTRUM, “effectively marked the start of the Independent Living Movement in the UK”. Since then, John went on to chair the European Network on Independent Living (ENIL) for several years and to co-found the European Coalition for Community Living (ECCL). Throughout his career as an Independent Living activist, John has, and still is fighting for disabled people to be in control of their own lives and to be given support they need to live in their own homes, with equal opportunities as other citizens.
In Southampton, John was joined by two of his fellow members of Project 81 – the group of people that planned and negotiated the “escape” from Le Court. They spoke about the excitement of those days and the risk they took by leaving the institution. They also highlighted the crucial importance of supportive individuals in the local authority and the institution itself, who agreed to take that risk with them and support their decision to live independently. John and Philip Scott, another resident of Le Court, started by spending a week in the “Independent Living bungalow”. While not something they wanted to do, they had to prove to those who thought their experiment would never work that, given Personal Assistance, they could manage just fine. John, Philip and their fellow Project 81 members went on to become some of the first users of self-directed support in the UK, which thanks to their own efforts and those of other Independent Living activists has since been rolled out nation-wide.
John’s achievements and the significance of this anniversary are best summarised by Ian Loynes, the Chief Executive of SPECTRUM. He said: “This event is a celebration of everything that John Evans OBE and the Independent Living Movement has achieved. However, it takes place at a time when those achievements are under renewed threat as a result of severe pressures on public finances in the UK and across Europe. John and the other members of Project 81 always knew that freedom would be hard won and, once secured, involve constant struggle to keep hold of it. While the context might be different, the need to recognise their achievements is more important today than it has been for a generation”.
For more information about John’s work and the Independent Living movement, please see the book presented to John by SPECTRUM “From Le Court to Strasbourg: Fighting for Independent Living for 30 Years”. It is available here.
Please see also: http://www.spectrumcil.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/SPECTRUM-Press-Release.doc and a blog post by Jenny Morris entitled “If you don’t know your history, you’re like a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree”
Photo (from the left): John Evans, Philip Mason and Philip Scott (members of Project 81) © Lukasz Michalak Photography