One of the founding directors of the learning disability charity, Linkage Community Trust, psychologist Don MacKenzie from Louth retires from his role at the end of 2013.
He said he had been one of life’s lucky people, someone who had a dream and over about 40 years shared in turning this dream into a reality.
The Aberdeen-born father of three has also paid tribute to his wife Eileen who supported him in the vision of creating a charity which put meeting the needs of learning disabled people first. Eileen was one of the founding committee, one of the first catering tutors and later a curriculum manager.
Don, who trained as a teacher and psychologist, says the Linkage idea initially grew from talking to parents who wanted better provision for their son after he had left special school when there was nothing available.
The charity was founded in 1976 with George Bateman, the local brewer as Chairman of the Trust.
The first Linkage College opened at Toynton Hall near Spilsby in 1979. Success from the start led in 1982 to Weelsby Hall in Grimsby becoming the second Linkage College site.
“We were very much ahead of our time in the 1970s and were mentioned in the Government’s Warnock Report on the future of care for disabled people. Above all else, we wanted to give better opportunities and choices for the young people we cared for, treating them as adults, involving them in reviews about themselves, helping them to similar opportunities as their brothers and sisters; at the time this was ground-breaking. I’d like to thank all of the employers who’ve given our students and service users a chance - working helps them to develop as adults. Our students also show visitors round the campuses - they are our ambassadors.”
The College needed follow-on and Residential Services developed, now providing housing, and community support services throughout the county and beyond. New activity such as the big development at Boultham Park in Lincoln are continuing. Supported employment followed.
“There have been real highlights - winning National Training Awards and the Secretary of State’s Special Award, getting a grade 1 in Ofsted inspections, and particularly for me, Linkage deciding to name the new purpose-built Weelsby campus building in Grimsby, the Mackenzie Building in 2007. I was moved by this decision. I don’t know any other psychologist who has been fortunate enough to have a building named after them while they are still alive, let alone then to have it opened by the Princess Royal!”
Don, who is reluctant to shout about his achievements and contributions, has decided to retire at 68 after devoting his working life to psychology and disability.
He has said that retiring will not be easy from a job which he has loved and looked forward to every day He plans now to take a break, do more travelling, painting and fishing as well as keep on following Grimsby Town FC. There is work to be done towards a book on disability. He will not lose touch with Linkage, which is in his blood.
He added: “I would like to thank all the staff who now and in the past have made Linkage what it is today. We started with six staff and have now more than 600. We started with four students and now have more than 300 people receiving our care. It is in the staff, the students and the service-users, Linkage people, that the spirit and future of Linkage lie.
“Linkage is not in the buildings - it’s passed on from person to person. My satisfaction is in knowing we have changed the lives of learning disabled people around the country and made things happen which people said could not be done. We have shown dreams can become reality.”
Chief Executive Ges Roulstone said: “Don’s record and commitment speak for themselves. The vision of a small group of people in the early 1970s continues to flourish in the 21st century and Don has helped generations of young learning disabled people. We wish Don and Eileen well as they enjoy retirement together.”