Scarborough charity DAG celebrates 30 years at the heart of the disabled community

Ian Whitfield and Tim Vasey celebrate DAGs milestone anniversary. Picture by Richard Ponter 193135.
Ian Whitfield and Tim Vasey celebrate DAGs milestone anniversary. Picture by Richard Ponter 193135.

A charity supporting disabled people in Scarborough and beyond has reached its 30th anniversary milestone.

DAG, which stands for Disability Action Group, was set up in 1989 to provide information and advice to people with mental and physical disabilities.

Fast forward three decades and the charity has grown into a much-supported community group with more than 60 members helping disabled people socialise, make new friends and crucially, deal with everyday challenges including benefits.

Paul Marr, 70, is one of the founding members. At the time, Paul worked for North Yorkshire County Council’s social services and had just moved up from Derbyshire.

“In Derbyshire they had a centre for integrated living which was run by disabled people, for disabled people and that was the inspiration for DAG,” he said.

“We wanted it to be about disabled people, not about non-disabled people telling disabled people what to do, and we’ve carried that ethos right to the present day.”

After organising a public meeting and forming a committee, DAG started out from a small antiques shop on Queen Street owned by one of its supporters.

It then moved to Elder's Street and more recently, The Street.

To start with, the charity’s main job was to provide telephone information and advice, however, from the mid ’90s information started to become more easily accessible and the group’s aims quickly changed to reflect new demands.

This saw the introduction of a new service, funded by the National Lottery and run by manager Tim Vasey, to help disabled people deal with the benefit system and go through appeals – a service that goes hand in hand with DAG’s fight to change society’s negative perception of disabilities.

“When we started it was much more positive, services were trying to adapt to disabled people, their rights were becoming more known, awareness was growing, you could see more disabled people in town going out socially, but in the last few years there’s been a cultural shift, discrimation seems to be okay again,” said Paul.

This shift, according to Tim, is largely due to a change in the benefits culture. “If you’re not working you’re not a worthy citizen and obviously some disabled people can’t work. We’re here to show that that’s not the case and to fight for people’s rights.

“I’m a big believer that benefits can actually bring economic growth; once people have got their finances sorted they feel more confident, they can start looking outwards and have an active role in society.”

Over the years, the charity “has gone up and down according to the money”. It went from being able to employ five staff to being “virtually homeless” but while other groups were left unable to stand due to funding cuts, DAG has survived thanks to the hard work and loyalty of its 20 volunteers and its inclusive constitution.

Paul said: “Our chairperson is a disabled person and 60% of our committee is made of disabled people so we haven’t got retired bankers, lawyers or people like that, it’s just ordinary folk.

“DAG may stay small or the size it is now but it’s found a way to keep going.”

'My experience as a DAG volunteer'

To celebrate their milestone anniversary DAG organised a Wellbeing Day on Yorkshire Day.

This was the brainchild of chair Ian Whitfield who joined the charity at the end of a work placement.

“I was only meant to stay for six weeks and I’ve been here 12 years. I like meeting lots of different people and meeting other community groups, find out who’s doing what and what activities people can join in. When I first joined I wouldn't say boo to a goose, now I’m outgoing and I’m finding people more approachable.”

What kept him here all this time, he said, is finding a good support network and people “who don’t look down on you”.

Ian is also an active participant of TREATS, a scheme started three years ago giving disabled people the opportunity to take part in various activities.

These include zumba, tai chi, accessible cycling and, thanks to some recently secured funding, trips on Wetwheels.

“The other day we went on the speedboat and had fish and chips in Whitby. Everyone joins together and looks after each other.”