The origins of Changing Our Lives started in 1996 with a small group of people with learning disabilities in Sandwell, just outside of Birmingham, who used to meet weekly to learn about their rights. At the time, all across England many groups of people with learning disabilities were talking about equality and what it meant to be a self-advocate. By 2001 Jayne Leeson MBE and CEO of Changing Our Lives was supporting group members and together, energised by national debate, they decided they wanted to develop their own independent organisation, and so the charity was born in 2002.


There were 8 founding members all with learning disabilities, who worked alongside Jayne in the early days. Some of those individuals are still around, but the driving force undoubtedly came from Frances Painter and Darren Selman, who worked alongside each other for years and eventually lived together as a couple. Sadly, both Frances and Darren passed away in the organisation’s early years. Frances Painter was a powerful woman with a learning disability who had lived most of her life in hospital settings. This made life in her own home with Darren so much more precious and her campaigning spirit second to none. Darren Selman was a man who refused to be held back and limited in any way by disability. At an early age, Darren was told he had a learning disability and was on the autistic spectrum. Darren understood this meant he struggled to do some things and needed more support, but this only made him more determined to succeed. Frances and Darren’s passion for equality, determination and drives still flows through everything we do.

Over the years Changing Our Lives’ work expanded to include not only people with learning disabilities, but all disabled people and people with experience of mental health difficulties. We also expanded geographically and by 2007, Changing Our Lives was working across many areas of England, as well as in the West Midlands.

Although the organisation has evolved, our core values and ways of working have altered little. Things that were important to us in 2002 are still important to us today: employment for disabled people and people with experience of mental health difficulties; working locally and thinking nationally; developing innovative ways to tackle injustice led by people themselves; walking a fine line between positive challenge and partnership working and people no matter what label or diagnosis having the right to an equal life where they prosper.