Mencap Celebrate 25 Years Thanks to Melba Pitt

South Oxfordshire Mencap celebrated their 25th anniversary on Saturday with a party at the YMCA Pavilion.  Special guest was the charity’s Honorary President Melba Pitt MBE whose vision it was to start the charity 25 years ago.

One of our main activities of the charity is The Meteor Club which meets every week for social activities.  The charity also hold four 4 discos a year, swimming sessions, a summer picnic or barbecue, a Christmas Party as well as organising trips to the pantomime and the theatre.  They also take part in the Lions Swimarathon every year.  During Covid they continued their meet-ups on Zoom including an online disco which everybody loved.

Chair of South Oxfordshire Mencap Paul Barrett said, “I’d like to thank Marie Byrne who has organised today who is taking over from me in November.  It is absolutely lovely to have Melba here today whose vision meant that from that acorn this tree has grown.  Part of this 25th celebration is also to really honour those unsung heroes who have contributed to making South Oxfordshire Mencap what it is.  When Liz Butler started the Meteor Club, with 6 people, it was her vision that all those young people should be doing everything that able young people should be doing at the time like going restaurants, discos, cinema etc.  This has now grown to 40-50 people.  It has become more difficult to manage with this number but we do – we’re a victim of our own success.  They all still love going to musicals, the panto and having Ken Fitt to come and play.  Highlights have include the barbecues we ran with Lions at Upper Thames RC, the recent decision to have a Bellboating team at the Regatta for Disabled and the three pantomimes that we put on at Greys Village Hall that Melba wrote.   We also helped save The Chiltern Centre by getting 20,000 signatures and we organised people to go to the Ways & Means Trust after the Donkin Hill day centre in Caversham closed.”

Geoff Walsh, Worshipful Master at the Thames Lodge Freemasons presented a cheque for £1,000 to the charity.  Lynnie Jane Connelly met Geoff at Hot Gossip cafe where he asked who supported her and then agreed that the Lodge would support the charity.   After presenting the cheque Geoff said, “I’m delighted to be here today on behalf of the Thames Lodge.  As my colleague and I, Mike Prior came through that door we were hit by friendship and emotion from everyone. We’re so very happy to help in any way we can with funds to help this fantastic organisation established by this wonderful lady.  I hope you have wonderful celebration today.”

Henley Mayor, Councillor Rory Hunt said, “Thank you for inviting me along. It is absolutely delightful to be here and I can’t tell you how much the town appreciates what you do for our community.  The most heart-warming part of being a Councillor is when we get to give grants throughout the year but also one of the difficult parts due to the sheer number of excellent causes and community groups.  We were pleased to be able to support you and hope to do that for the next 25 years.”

Katie and Kirsty made Libby Meachin The Meteor Club Leader a birthday card.  Inside it said, “Thank you for looking after everyone, especially me for 31 years!”

Melba Pitt

Melba, aged 99 (100 in November) was given an MBE in 2003 for her charitable work.

Melba, married to David moved to Henley in 1960 for David’s job of Principal at the old Henley Technical College. They have four children, Frances, Martin, Nicky and Robert.

Melba’s daughter, Frances used to work at Townlands Hospital where there was a ward devoted to young children and adolescents with special needs which is where the idea started. Her other daughter Nicky also worked there in her gap year.  Melba said, “I knew lots of children with disabilities and it wasn’t talked about.  Back then these young people never met other people.”

“I started the toy library at the Baptist Church on a Saturday morning for 2 hours where people could come with their families and play with the toys and equipment and we’d loan them out to them too.  It grew from there.  Parents started to ask advice and needed a voice in the right quarters to get things moving.  There was a Toy Association newspaper which gave advice on what toys to buy.  The children all had different special needs and talents; I remember one girl could do a jigsaw the wrong way round.  We also had a pianist (Hedley Roberts) who used to come and play.  My husband David was involved too, he used go and collect some of the children from West Street.”

Melba said that the Mayor 25 years ago was very supportive, along with the Round Table and Inner Wheel charity in the early years who helped with fundraising.

Melba added, “Lots of good things came out of the toy library.  We then started special swimming sessions at Henley Leisure Centre once a month; the Manager there at the time was very supportive. It then grew and we created the Meteor Club where we put on four pantomimes which I wrote, discos, Christmas parties, barbecues, cinema visits and suppers out. It was important for them to meet normal people and make friends.  It is as important now as it was back when I started the toy library.”



Leave a Comment

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *