Proud Prestonian & Disability Equality (North West) CEO, Melanie Close, has dedicated her adult life to supporting people who live with disabilities through Preston-based charity DENW.

Additionally, she has helped other local marginalised community groups; she helped secure funding for, launched & provided office space for a Preston support group for lesbian, gay & bisexual 16-25 year olds in 2004. She also went on to support (and perform in) the Red Ribbon Cabaret – which raised funds for local HIV charities annually.  Additionally, through DENW, she has hosted & supported Preston Carers and SEED Eating disorders groups.

In 2002 she was invited to meet the Queen as an acknowledgement of her service & commitment.

Mel is the epitome of community spirit – and is, therefore, the ideal dedicatee for our Christmas edition of Podio – and we aren’t the only people who think so…

As a former service user of the LGBT youth group I can’t stress enough how much the group, and Mel in the years since, has shaped my being…”             –              Andy Neale, co-founder of Podio


“My mum has always been an inspiration to me and other people, she has dedicated most of help life to helping disabled people across Lancashire and I couldn’t have been prouder when she finally got the recognition she deserved when she was made a guild burgess in 2012″

–              Natalie Close, daughter & volunteer


“Her compassion and determination continues to inspire others. Her support is always there when needed; she is a fantastic advocate for any unrepresented groups. I am honoured to call her my friend”

–              Debs Bradshaw, local activist

To put Mel’s work into perspective, here’s a brief history of DENW, formerly Preston DISC.

After launching in July 1996 from Fishergate Hill & Mel officially starting in September 1997, they became an independent charity in ‘98 with the aim to “further the human rights of disabled people across the North West”. By ‘98, having outgrown their single room, they moved to Miller House & rebranded as Preston Disability Information Support Centre (Preston DISC). By ‘99, they were handling over 60 enquiries a month, supported by 7x volunteers.

February 2000 saw the move to their current premises on Church Street. Their volunteer numbers increased to 15 (handling 120 enquiries a month). By 2001 they gained the community legal service quality mark & the Navajo charter mark as a “lesbian & gay friendly organisation”.

2003, the European year of disabled people, and Preston DISC was almost on its knees. Thankfully, they were saved by a lottery grant to fund a volunteer co-ordinator (for their now 25+ disabled volunteers) & to run & develop a consultation strategy for Preston City Council’s governance in dealing with Disabled People. In 2005, they achieved an Investors in People award. Enquiries rose to 3057.

In 2006, their 10th birthday, they become a limited company; enquiries continued to rise (to 4,500).

In 2008 they achieved a £4.2m bid for Disability LIB (Listen, Include, Build) alliance with other disability people’s organisations. They started PACT meetings with the police (something they continue today) and they expanded from being Preston-focused to supporting the whole of the North West. In 2009, they received an award as a community group for Men & Women, nominated by Lancashire Adult Learning & they worked with VI groups to run the Rainbow Health Project. By this point, their volunteers were completing 250+ benefit forms a week (total volunteers now peaking at 30+). They’re running Disability Equality Training, influencing policy & supporting other Disabled People’s organisations & supporting learning disability groups. They developed a new vision for the future “To improve the Human Rights of disabled people across the North West of England and remove the disabling barriers put in place by society” – truly becoming a champion of the social model of disability. In doing so, they became Disability Equality North West (DENW)

2012 was the Guild year (a historic festival occurring in Preston every 20 years) where Mel was made a Guild Burgess.  2013 was their Annus Horribilis; a good friend, supporter & Chair of DENW, Lesley Finley passed away & major funding streams dried up. Preparations were made to close the doors.

They bounced back and, in 2014, ran Chorley & South Ribble REACH projects, started an annual Disability & Carer’s festival & initiated a “Lesley Finley Community award”. Their support in the local community, for the previous 20 years, resulted in the community fighting with & for them.

In 2015, they ran a “Developing from the Negatives” Disability Hate Crime project; work they continue to work closely on with communities & the police – raising awareness of Disability hate crime.

Mel continues to do great work and has, since the publication of our winter edition, also signed up as committee member to Preston’s Pride Without Prejudice group.

To learn more about Disability Equality North West, visit www.disability-equality.org.uk.

If you want to feature someone inspirational in our next edition of Podio, email a brief outline to info@podiomagazine.com.