Celebrating Elizabeth FitzRoy on International Women’s Day
8th March 2019
Today we celebrate the inspirational tenacity of our pioneering founder Elizabeth FitzRoy.
Imagine a time when people with learning disabilities were expected to live in institutions, isolated from love, independence and choice. When Elizabeth FitzRoy adopted a young boy, Michael, who had Down’s Syndrome she was horrified to be told that he would fare better in an institution. This was the care typical of the time, but Elizabeth was strongly against forcing people to live in a prison-like way with little independence. It was clear that the best care and support came from living in a safe, loving and supportive home.
Worried about the lack of understanding, respect and support that Michael received, Elizabeth joined forces with other parents of children with learning disabilities. She was determined that Michael should get the education and choices that other children had. She campaigned up and down the country, passionate in her belief that people with learning disabilities should lead ordinary lives and have the support they need to fulfil their potential.
As Michael got older and flourished, Elizabeth decided to do something about the institutions where so many people with learning disabilities were expected to live. She pioneered the idea of family-sized homes that enabled people with learning disabilities to receive individual support in a comfortable environment. In 1962 her dream became a reality when Donec, a small children’s home on the Hampshire-Surrey border, came up for sale. Undaunted by the cost of the house and the scale of the project, Elizabeth raised the money through contacts and fundraising, and Donec became FitzRoy’s first ever service.
Today, more than 50 years on, demand for these homes and services is bigger than ever, and FitzRoy now support more than 800 people with learning disabilities across England. The values shown by Elizabeth FitzRoy remain the values of FitzRoy today – we see the person not the disability, we are brave and we are creative, and this threads through everything we do.
Cissie, the first matron of Donec said about Elizabeth:
She was strong-willed. A wonderful person. I used to go…taking food over because they hadn’t got anything! She sold her furniture to make money for Donec. She gave everything.