Using Anne’s story to empower young people and adults with
disabilities and mental health needs

In the summer of 2019, for the first time, the Anne Frank Trust worked in partnership with New Directions – Adult Social Care, and Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS). Building on the success of our education programmes we adapted our approach to empower young people and adults with disabilities and mental health needs as part of our pledge – in the year of the 90th anniversary of Anne Frank’s birth – to work with those with highest need.

The programme took place at a unit in the Strand Shopping Centre, Bootle in Merseyside, and comprised two core elements;
An Exhibition: 12 service users were trained as peer guides to lead visitor tours of the Anne Frank: A History for Today exhibition.

A Creative Programme: 10 service users worked with two young people to develop the Imagine sculpture. This original artwork consisted of three parts: a staircase of nine steps – each representing a decade since Anne Frank’s birth – a bookcase, and Anne Frank sitting at her desk, as though pondering an entry in her beloved diary.

The sculpture was unveiled at a community event marking the end of the project where participants showcased their creative talents with poetry, music, drama and dance. 60 guests attended.

During its short summer run in Bootle over 400 people visited Anne Frank: A History for Today. They received tours of the exhibition by our newly trained guides who gained considerably from the experience in terms of improved confidence and self-esteem, as well as the opportunity to develop team-working, leadership and social skills. The response of visitors was overwhelmingly positive – 166 of them signed our visitors’ book, applauding the project and the work of the guides – and it was clear that the interaction between visitors and guides had been effective in breaking down barriers between people who have disabilities and those who do not.

Gary Mitchell, Activity Leader at New Directions said, “I have noticed big changes in the service users that others might miss. The lifting in mood, the increase in confidence, the facial expressions that prove they are engaged, taking it seriously and enjoying themselves.”

Lynne Simmonds, Deputy Manager said, “I think on day one the experience of discrimination for service users was from a personal point of view. They hadn’t really explored what other minority groups in society experience. I think they’ve been educated to realise that it’s not just people with disabilities, but people of different religions, different colour and different sexuality who also experience discrimination. And to reflect on our own actions and how we make people feel.”

Ian Stewart is a former architect, who suffered a brain haemorrhage several years ago, and now uses a wheelchair. Ian accesses the services at New Directions and became a peer guide at the summer project in Liverpool. He said, “Being a guide helps me feel like I’m back at work again. I have a purpose, a reason to get up in the morning. Something to look forward to. Lots of people have told me I can’t do certain things now that I’m disabled. I’m fed up hearing ‘can’t’. Becoming involved in this project has helped me to stop hiding behind my disability and actually do something positive.”