Disability Awareness Day ("DAD") is the world's largest 'not for profit' voluntary-led disability exhibition, held annually since 1992 in a huge tented village within the grounds of Walton Hall Gardens in Warrington.
Visitors to the live show can expect to find around 260 exhibitors, equipment suppliers, transport, holidays, leisure, employment, support groups and services.
Complimented by a Sports Zone including a wide range of inclusive sports and hobbies, an Arts Marquee with some of the UK’s leading disabled artists, a Centre Arena with entertainment provided by inclusive organisations, a Silent Disco and a mini funfair.
The main DAD event is extended by a week of complimentary seminars, workshops and events.
DAD is a pan disability event which promotes a can do culture focusing on what disabled people can do throughout life and work. The show has three main aims:
To provide a platform for statutory, private or voluntary sector organisations to share information, advice and guidance that enable disabled people to stay independent.
To promote mobility and independent equipment that can help to maintain or improve independence, not just what is offered by statutory service providers, but also the best and/or latest designs.
To provide an opportunity to showcase what disabled people can do, in the field of Sport, Arts and Entertainment.
As well as fulfilling all these aims every year the show also gives all visitors a really good day out filled with interest, fun and entertainment!
DAD was founded and is managed by Warrington Disability Partnership (WDP), a user led charity founded in 1991. WDP is based at the Centre for Independent Living, Evelyn Street, Warrington, Cheshire, UK.
A volunteer senior management team leads on various aspects of DAD including planning, administration, logistics and promotions. Work at the event site at Walton Hall and Gardens involves various members volunteering over 140 hours in 10 days.
With over 100 more volunteers providing stewarding and assistance on the day to over 24,000 visitors, it is easy to understand why DAD is recognised internationally as the world’s largest volunteer led, pan disability event.
Visitors to our live DAD events can expect to find inclusion at the heart of everything: with a free accessible bus service, free accessible park and ride service, additional accessible toilets, BSL interpreters, trained assistants, wheelchair and mobility scooter loans.
Due to the COVID-19, our 2020 live events planned for July had to be cancelled. In response, we have launched DAD Virtual, our online events that will include a main DAD Virtual event on Sunday 25th October followed by a week of complimentary workshops, seminars and events that will be held on Zoom between Monday 26th till Friday 30th October.
From a vision to reality, the secret is simply ‘team work’. Anyone can dream, but how many dreams come true, and how many realities exceed your dreams? Dave Thompson explains how DAD started as a foggy dream and became a vibrant reality.
One morning in February 1992 I lay thinking about the question Nick White (Head Ranger at Walton Hall Gardens) had asked the day before, namely, what could we do with a couple of thousand pounds he had left in his budget. Nick said that he would like to use it for a disability scheme, but I'm sure he was thinking about an information brochure on accessible paths. My colleagues and I at WDP, then known as Warrington Information Group for the Disabled, were thinking about something a little bit different.
Being frustrated by the professionally focused Independent Living Exhibitions and the exclusive atmosphere that surrounded Disability Sports festivals our small team of Social Services Day Centre service users namely Eric James, Allan Shaw, Annette Clemo, Ethlyn Whitaker and myself, wanted an event that had as its main focus "Information, Advice and Guidance", promoting what was available to enable disabled people to live more independently. We wanted an event that highlighted support groups, services, equipment, holidays, benefits, concessions, and much more. The event also had to offer disabled people a chance to try out sports activities, catering for all levels of interest and ability, including competitors, and those with recreational and social interests.
From our very small office in the Social Services run Dallam Day Centre we put together the foundations of what has become the World’s largest voluntary led, pan disability annual event which has encouraged and empowered other like-minded people to establish similar events in places as far away as Cornwall, Rotherham, Wigan, Rhyl, Knowsley, Crewe, Gibraltar, Demark, Sweden, India, Cameroon, Thailand and Uganda. During 2007 we established a working relationship as far afield as Osaka in Japan which led to Scott Barron and the International Arts Collaborative exhibiting at DAD 2008. During 2008 and 2009 we had ongoing communications with Hilden in Germany and Nachod in the Czech Republic. In 2010 we received enquiries from South Africa and Australia, and in 2011 we received enquiries from New Zealand and three days after our event we received confirmation that the MESSAGE Institute in India had successfully ran their first Disability Awareness Day and in 2013 the Closing the Gap organisation ran their first event in Cameroon.
Our continuing success has only been possible through sheer hard work, determination and a willingness to work in partnership with hundreds of organisations and individuals who have shared in the vision. What’s more interesting is that we were told initially by a senior manager from a local service:
It will never work!
Walton Hall Gardens owned by Warrington Borough Council has been the home for all 28 of our live annual events. I would like to acknowledge the continuing support we receive from the management and staff at Walton Hall and Gardens, and the fantastic support from our sponsors, and exhibitors, but the most praise must go to the management and support team, aptly named ‘Dads Army’, who together continues to make our vision become a reality.
DAD has become an annual event, and for everyone concerned it has become part of our lives and that of our families and friends. During this journey I have witnessed the development of small family-run charities and an ever increasing willingness of statutory service providers to be more proactive in promoting their services, and I can see and feel a greater acceptance for people to use equipment that can aid and enhance their independence.
I feel that society is becoming more aware of the needs of disabled people, but most importantly disabled people are becoming more accepted for what we can do and not what we can't do. I know that we have a long way to go, but events like DAD can help to break down the barriers, dispel the myths and misconceptions, especially the stigma of using aides and equipment, and the fear of being seen with people who might look or act differently. DAD is a great leveller, it provides the platform to promote information and provide opportunities to see, or have a go at new ideas.
As a by-product DAD has been the vehicle to raise over £1million supporting the work of local and regional organisations. DAD has been featured on TV (BBC and ITV), and covered by radio and newspapers at home and abroad. Being involved in the event has provided everyone with a sense of pride that we have been a part of making a difference, especially when in 2006 we were presented the Queens Award for Voluntary Services. Most of all it has provided something for every one of our 600,000 visitors who have attended DAD events during the past twenty four years.
In 2011 we welcomed Her Royal Highness, the Countess of Wessex and in 1998, 2001, 2006 and 2013 we were joined by the Minister for Disabled People. Cheshire's Lord Lieutenant David Briggs MBE represented the Royal Family at our 25th Anniversary event in 2016 and again in 2019 when he presented the Queens Award for Volunteering to ELLA Performance Group, live on stage in our Arts Marquee. Other special guests include Thailand’s Minister for Health and Social Care, RAF Red Arrows, RAF WW2 Dakota and over a dozen European delegates.
Well as you can see, our dream has certainly become a reality, in fact; DAD has and continues to exceed our wildest expectations. We will continue to run DAD events as long as the need is there and as long as we can financially afford to deliver a safe and effective event. I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in DAD over the years, and finally I would like to thank you for taking an interest in reading about our journey so far.
In 2020, COVID-19 caused the cancellation of our annual live events. But undeterred, we launched DAD Virtual, on online event that we know will make DAD accessible to disabled people directly to their homes, not just here in Warrington or across the UK, but worldwide on Sunday 25th October.Dave Thompson MBE DL
When we started out we had two large tents and four guys to put them up.
The packed and popular Arts Marquee had to start somewhere!