Thera Trust is a leading UK charity that provides care, support and services for people with learning disabilities. This year, the charity is celebrating 25 years of supporting people with learning disabilities to live the life they choose as equal and valued citizens in their local communities.

We spoke to Matthew Smith, Group Director - Learning Disability Leadership - at Thera Trust to find out more about its history, current work and plans for the future.

How and why did Thera Trust come about?

Historically, many people with a learning disability have lived as inpatients at institutions and long-stay hospitals. This restricted people's choices and the ability to lead their own lives as equal citizens in their local communities. Thera Trust was set up in 1998 to support people with a learning disability to move on from institutional care, integrate into wider society, and have more control over their lives.

Service user carefully rolling pastry in an industrial kitchen
Thera Trust ensures that the people it supports can take part in activities which they enjoy and enrich their skill-sets. Credit: Thera Trust.

We wanted to empower people to make important decisions, such as where and who they live with, and who supports them. Part of our mission is also helping people with a learning disability to be part of the many communities within which they do and could belong.

We started supporting five people in Cambridgeshire in their own home, and now support over 3,000 people across England and Scotland.

Can you explain more about the different approach Thera Trust takes in support of people with a learning disability?

We employ people with lived experience of a learning disability in director positions across the Trust. This ensures that everything we do is focused on the needs of people with a learning disability. It also aligns with our vision: to show that people with a learning disability can be leaders in our society.

Thera was the first company in the country, that we know of, to employ someone as a paid director who has a learning disability. We now employ 12 paid leaders with a lived experience.

In addition to our unique leadership model, we offer more than just care and support; our specialist companies help people to have control in other areas of their lives, including housing, relationships, employment, and finances.

Triodos has raised funds for Thera before, what have those funds helped achieve?

Man looking out to sea on Mersea Island (Essex)
Enjoying the view at a Mersea Island as part of a celebration event for Thera East. Credit: Thera Trust.

Money raised through the Triodos Crowdfunding platform is used to support the continued growth of the charity, enabling it to continue to provide high-quality bespoke support.

There are so many inspiring stories of where we’ve helped change the lives of people we support. For example, in 2021, Alison was looking to move out of her family home and Chloe was living in a shared house that was no longer working for her. Their parents knew each other and got talking about a house move for their daughters. Both women were in their twenties, used a wheelchair and had a variety of health and care needs.

Chloe, Alison, and their parents worked with us to find the right house, which was made possible by the funds raised through Triodos. In Autumn 2021, they found a bungalow in a quiet area with ready access to local transport and shops. The inside layout needed redesigning to meet their individual needs, which was achieved with input from the women, their families, and the staff team with the expertise of Forward Housing and Occupational Therapy Services.

The house was ready a few months later and Chloe and Alison moved in at the beginning of April 2022. Both women now enjoy spending time in the garden, using the hot tub and socialising with friends and family. They love living in their home – as they’ve helped choose it and it’s designed with their individual needs in mind.

People enjoying themselves at Gig Buddies. Credit: Thera Trust.

For more inspiring stories, visit the Thera Trust website.

What are your hopes for the future of Thera Trust’s important work?

We aim to continue demonstrating our vision – that people with a learning disability can be leaders in society. Through developing the support we offer to people with a learning disability, and expanding our offering to more areas, we can enable people to be leaders both in their own lives and in their local communities.