BRIL’s first year… what’s next?

Daphne Branchflower, seated in wheelchair wearing red jumper. Ellen Clifford holding Microphone. Mark Williams speaking into microphone.
Photograph courtesy of John Pring, Disability News Service

In 2019, a group of people in Bristol got together to talk about what the idea of ‘Independent Living’ means.

Independent Living can mean different things, to different people.

But the group agreed it should include:

● Having equal choices and decisions,

● Having support that meets our needs,

● Being fully included in the community.

We also agreed that Independent living does not mean being in institutions, being left your own, or having to fend for yourself. In other words, the ideals fought for by Disabled people over the last 50 years.

However, some of us felt that these ideas were being taken over, and being mis-used to mean something totally different.

Disabled people in the group had faced cuts to their support, and then been told that this would ‘encourage independence.’ We knew people in supported living, Disabled school children, asylum seekers and people in the mental health system that were having their support taken away. Again, the excuse from authorities was that this would ‘teach’ them to not need any support.

In the summer of 2019, Daphne Branchflower, one of founders of the group that became BRIL, died. Daphne had been part of the Disabled people’s movement for many years, fighting for our rights until the very end.

The group felt that we needed to do something.

At an event called ‘Untold Stories’ about Disability history at the Arnolfini in Bristol, Mark Williams talked about these ideas and whether a new group might be needed. After a few months of planning, BRIL was launched in September 2019.

Since then, BRIL has grown into a Disabled People’s Organisation (DPO), run by and for Disabled people, autistics, people with chronic illness and people who experience mental illness / distress.

Some of us have been involved in campaigning for many years, while others are new to disability groups. But what we all share is a commitment to changing things, to being honest and to making decisions as a group.

However, the Covid-19 Pandemic hit us, and some of plans had to be postponed… So we agreed straight away to focus on:
● Holding regular online peer-support meetings,
● Making accessible and EasyRead information,
● Fundraising so we can help isolated Disabled people including asylum seekers and older people to get access to the internet,
● Campaigning for our rights during Covid.

One of BRIL’s main wins, so far, has been getting NHS England to change their hospital visiting policy, by working alongside Disabled writer Fleur Perry and human rights layers from Rook Irwin Sweeney.

Where to next? A Disabled People’s Commission for Bristol...

BRIL is, and will always be, about working together. At BRIL’s first meetings, we were joined by people from groups including Bristol Disability Equality Forum, the Carers Support Centre, the Social Work Action Network, WECIL and Wiltshire CIL.

Along the way we have worked with arts groups including the Arkbound Foundation, Misfits Theatre Company and the Urban Word Collective.

We have been in contact with Disabled people’s organisations, user-led groups and migrants rights groups in Bristol, the South West and across the country.

We have also joined two national networks who have supported us to grow: ROFA (Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance) and NSUN (National Survivors and Users Network.) It was through NSUN that we secured funding to build this website and expand our online peer-support meetings.

For many years, people in Bristol have discussed different ways of bringing together the different Deaf, Disabled and mental health user-led groups in our area.

Since Covid-19, the need for this is ever more urgent. The pandemic has revealed the inequality and discrimination that Deaf people, Disabled people and mental health users/survivors face.  It was with this in mind that BRIL met recenty with members of Greater Manchester Disabled People’s Panel, to learn from their experiences.

We were then very pleased to hear at WECIL’s annual general meeting the Deputy Mayor for Bristol, Councillor Asher Craig, give her support for the idea of a Disabled People’s Commission for Bristol. This is something that many of us have talked about, and we know that people really want this to happen.

Until then, BRIL will carry on campaigning for our rights, being a place to share experiences and ideas… and reminding everyone that we all depend on each other!