Bethphage celebrates 20 years in 2014

A Shropshire organisation providing support and services for adults with learning disabilities to help them live independently, celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2014.

Bethphage (pronounced ‘beth-fu-gee’), which has its HQ in Shrewsbury and offices in Walsall, Whitchurch and Telford, was set up in 1994 when Nebraskan based Bethphage USA successfully tendered for work with Shropshire Council.

Its initial contract was to run three small-group homes in Shrewsbury, Telford and Whitchurch for people coming out of the larger hospital based institutions that predominated at the time.  Very quickly, Bethphage in the UK established itself as a charity, with its own constitution, board of trustees, HR function and operating systems. It now employs 230 staff, supporting nearly 80 people across five local authority areas. It holds Investors in People silver status and is regularly commended for its work by the Care Quality Commission. In 2002 Bethphage started working with affiliates and local partners in Africa, eastern Europe, India, Russia and central America, providing finance and training to support disabled and orphaned children, and employment and skills development programmes for disabled young adults.

Rob Tovey was appointed CEO at Bethphage in 2004. He holds over 30 years’ experience in the social care sector, which has included posts in residential child care, a regional manager with crime reduction charity Nacro and as a fundraising manager at Acorns Children’s Hospice. He also currently chairs Shropshire Partners in Care. Reflecting on changes over the past two decades and looking to the future, he said: “The most exciting change has been the rise in expectations of people with learning disabilities. Just like anyone else they want to have control over the key decisions affecting their lives – where to live, who to live with and how to spend their money. As an organisation we have responded to these needs by moving away from what is now seen as an outdated residential care home model to a more individualised, supported living, community based provision. Although wholly funded though service contracts, we are also a registered charity and 2014 will see more fund raising activity to support projects and initiatives such as our Creative Days service, successfully launched in Walsall at the end of last year.”

Like any other industry technology has its role to play and we’re embracing the changes that it continues to bring, from simple electronic communications, a move towards a paperless office, more efficient IT systems and using the internet as a marketing tool, to assistive technologies aimed at improving our service users’ independence, for example, in and around the home.”

One of the most important ways to measure quality is to ask the service users and their families what they think of Bethphage. In its latest survey from October 2013, 95 percent of the people who responded rated Bethphage as excellent or good. In addition, there is now a team of people in place who evaluate the work it carries out.  Called Q Team Checkers, they are all people who use its services, so not only can they provide invaluable feedback on areas requiring improvement, the process offers them a sense of empowerment and self-worth. While there is a long way to go before Bethphage’s original vision can be fulfilled, Rob Tovey believes that the first 20 years have laid a solid foundation to long-term sustainability, providing that the progress made by society as a whole remains positive.

He continues: “People with learning disabilities have consistently been underestimated or ignored and recent headline-grabbing events show that some of those attitudes still persist. Challenging this prejudice is the key to a successful future for everyone.”

To mark its 20th anniversary Bethphage has a number of events planned throughout the year, one of which will be a party in the summer, where representatives from the original founding organisation, now called Mosaic, along with other special guests, staff, families and Bethphage service users, will be able to celebrate.

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Pete White Pete White

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