DigiFest 2020 will celebrate anniversary of Alf Morris’ disability act

The Labour/Co-op MP – later Lord Morris – pushed through the pioneering legislation in a private members' bill in 1970

A pioneering law brought in by Lord Morris of Manchester, a co-operative champion and activist for disabled rights, is to be celebrated in a two-day event next month.

DigiFest 2020 will be held on Friday-Saturday 4-5 September with its creative focus on the 50th anniversary of the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act.

The law was brought through in a private member’s bill by Alf Morris (1928-2012) – one of the key figures in Co-op Party history.

Alf Morris was the Labour/Co-op MP for Wythenshawe, Manchester, from 1964 until 1997. He became a Labour/Co-op peer in 1997 and continued to be an active backbencher on disabled and co-operative issues. His work on the disability legislation saw him made the UK’s first minister for the disabled in 1974.

Before his law came into place even simple measures such as the provision of disabled access to public places was unheard of. The Act’s 29 sections also recognised for the first time that hitherto ignored conditions such as dyslexia and autism existed and that provision should be made for those who had them.

The legislation would lay the foundations for the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) and the Equality Act (2010).

The DigiFest event will broadcast from a pop-up studio with a programme of short films, discussions, speeches, digital art, music, comedy and song.

Led by Manchester Histories and its partners, the programme has been created by organisations and individuals from the disabled community: it will explore the legacy of the act, celebrating talent and creativity, and prompting conversations and discussion.

Related: Lord Graham’s tribute in 2012 to his Co-op Party colleague Alf Morris

The event will be hosted by award-winning artist and educator Jackie Hagan, who said: “As an amputee with a disease no one’s heard of I love this project. Society doesn’t want to talk about being sick or disabled so this is a place where you can be honest about our lives and champion the often unseen effort and achievement of disabled and sick people.

“Alf Morris was brilliant, he was working class and grew up in Ancoats, and he was basically the first person to say that disabled people should have any rights.”

Three short films will premiere at DigiFest that explore Lord Morris’ story: looking at what drove him to be a tireless campaigner, his dedication, his legacy and a view of where things are now. Made alongside his family, the first of the films will include a narration by his wife Irene and daughter Gill and all will feature activists, academics, politicians and allies.

The films are made in collaboration with independent film-makers Brazen Productions.

DigiFest 2020 is collaborating with Drake Music, a nationwide charity that uses new technologies and ideas to open up access to music for all. Three young disabled artists – Lucy Bale, James Holt, and Olly Hyland – will respond to the themes of the festival, producing new work to form part of the content for the festival.

DIY Theatre Company will produce film work that tells the stories of ‘Following Patient 36’ a performance piece exploring Learning Disability History and the resilience of people with learning disabilities in Salford and Greater Manchester.

There will also be visual art created in partnership with Venture Arts. This includes the work of George Parker-Conway, a young artist from Wythenshawe, who is working on a portrait of Lord Morris, using as inspiration a photograph taken of him by the first Earl of Snowdon to mark the 25th anniversary of Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act (1970). George’s graphical visuals will also be appearing throughout the broadcast of DigiFest 2020 and he has worked alongside Manchester design studio Imagine to produce the visual identity and online festival programme.

Karen Shannon, CEO of Manchester Histories, said: “The success of what we are hoping to achieve through DigiFest 2020 is thanks to the collaboration of all the organisations, institutions and individuals who have wanted to join in a celebration of the achievements of Lord Alf Morris. The challenges faced at this time by disabled people also remind us why the spirit of campaigning continues, and so as well as remembering Alf’s story we’ll be looking forward to the future to ask what’s next.”

The event has taken some of the ideas planned for the Manchester Histories Festival 2020 – which would have been held in June – and adapted them so they can be shared and interacted with online.

DigiFest 2020 is collaboration between The University of Manchester and its Disabled Staff Network, the family of the late Lord Morris of Manchester, Manchester Metropolitan University, University of Manchester’s Students’ Union, TUC (Manchester), Manchester City Council and the Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People. It is funded by Manchester City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, Granada Foundation, Wellcome Trust and Historic England.

People’s History Museum is working towards a series of exhibitions, events and learning sessions exploring the theme of disabled people’s rights and activism in 2022. Manchester Histories DigiFest 2020 will mark the start of this exciting programme of activity.

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