50th anniversary celebrations: Looking back ... study tours for disabled students

50th anniversary

As May marks the first of our two birthdays, we will be taking a look back at significant events across the first five decades of our history, starting with the 1970s. Whilst our foundation is arguably the most important event, we want to talk about one of the things we are proudest of, and that is our overseas study tours for disabled students.

In 1975, a party of ten disabled students and a team of helpers set off on a study tour of Rome. The age range of the group was spread from 25 to 70, and student disabilities ranged from multiple sclerosis, to polio, to congenital disabilities, with all of them using wheelchairs most of the time. The team of helpers were drawn mainly from the student body, but we were also fortunate enough to have additional support from people outside of the University. 

Travel arrangements were made by EROS Travel, and the group stayed at Casa S. Birgitta, Piazza Farnese, which is a hospice in the centre of Rome, run by a Swedish order of nuns. The group could not have been more comfortable, more cared for or made more welcome. In Rome the group was met by James Mourton, a Youth Exchange Officer from the British Council, and representatives from other organisations they had been in touch with; through these contacts, they were loaned a special coach. 

The Association later acquired its own bus, which was donated by an anonymous donor in standard London Transport condition. The students at the Middlesex Polytechnic then converted the bus to make it suitable for use by disabled students. The bus enabled more students with disabilities to take part in regular international tours just like the one to Italy, sometimes going as far afield as Russia and Turkey!