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  • Writer's pictureThe British Polio Fellowship

The British Polio Fellowship celebrates its 85th anniversary

The British Polio Fellowship (BPF) is celebrating its anniversary today, Monday 29 January with a host of events taking place throughout the year.

People affected by polio were invited to attend a virtual meeting a few days before the anniversary to kick off celebrations. The virtual (Zoom) Cafe was an open forum for anyone to attend and speak openly about their polio and the problems they face.

In March, polio survivors from across the UK will join the BPF for its National Indoor Games at a hotel in Leicester (15 - 17 March). Everyone will be encouraged to share memories and take part in sports and games that mark the 85th celebrations.

Kripen Dhrona, Chief Executive of the BPF since 2022, commented: "We want polio survivors everywhere to be able to join in on the British Polio Fellowship 85th Anniversary festivities this year. We have lots of exciting opportunities that will allow those affected by polio to ‘join the party’ and have a memorable experience.”

An overview of our story so far

1939: On 29 January, The British Polio Fellowship which, back then, was called The Infantile Paralysis Fellowship, was founded by Frederic Morena and Patricia Carey. Frederic Morena, contracted the disease at the age of 42 and Patricia who had contracted polio aged eight, created the charity as a self-help and mutual aid society for those affected by polio.

Membership grew quickly and meetings of around 30 people in London soon grew to almost 400 people going along to the Tea House in Kensington Gardens.

During the war years: The Chair, Roby Spence wrote a letter to Ernest Bevan MP, then Employment Secretary, and pointed out that people with polio had functioning brains as well as problems with their limbs, so why couldn’t they work? Bevan replied that the Government would henceforth adopt a strategy of employing people with disabilities.

1945: The Fellowship arranged activities for members around London and member, Michael Flanders successfully mounted a campaign which changed legislation so that cinemas became wheelchair accessible.

A London-based Christmas party, attended by people from around the country, sparked the idea that the Fellowship should be local as well as national. From this moment, branches were established throughout the UK. The first branch was in Reading.

1947: The Constitution was formally adopted, and the Fellowship moved in to its first office in Tavistock Place, London. There were now 2,000 members.

1955: The polio vaccine was deemed successful and exported to the UK.

1956: The Newcastle branch opened a hostel; a place where people with polio could live and work.

1959: Some 9 million Christmas cards and 80,000 advent calendars were produced by the Fellowship to both raise funds and employ members.

Early 1960s: The cosmetic calliper became available. People with polio could now wear everyday shoes, rather than thick soles.

1960: Frederic Morena was the subject of “This is Your Life”. Patricia Carey flew in from Zimbabwe to appear on the show. Frederic died at the end of the year.

End of the 60s: The first National Sports Day took place on a rainy day in Birmingham in 1968 and the Fellowship decided to change course and concentrate on helping people with polio to live fulfilled lives.

1973: The National Sports Day and Swimming Gala took place on the same day, at Stoke Mandeville Sports Stadium in Buckinghamshire.

1983: The first National Indoor Games was held at Birmingham University, an annual event which continues to this day.

1985: The Fellowship donated £100,000 towards the cost of opening a new unit at Guys and St.Thomas’ Hospital in London, The Lane Fox Unit. This provided therapy for people with Post-Polio Syndrome.

1998: The Fellowship produced a video about Post-Polio Syndrome.

2005: The British Polio Fellowship became incorporated as a company limited by guarantee.

2007: The Fellowship now had 8,000 members. The European Polio Union (EPU) was formed, and the Fellowship was chosen to co-ordinate events. The first Members’ Handbook was produced.

2013: The first Post-Polio Syndrome Day was celebrated and became an annual event.

2016: Dr Robin Luff and Trustee, Frances Quinn launched the much-respected publication Post-Polio Syndrome (PPS) Management Guide for Healthcare Professionals.

2017: The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) introduced a training module to educate GPs on PPS.

2018: This was the start of a difficult financial period for the Fellowship when regretfully, a compulsory membership fee had to be introduced. The Central Office team reduced to six people and membership fell, but member services were largely unaffected by the changes.

2020: The COVID pandemic resulted in a national lockdown. Fellowship staff worked from home and continued to support members. The National Lottery funding was secured for emergency Covid relief efforts.

2022: Kripen Dhrona was appointed Chief Executive Officer. The Board introduced a new 10-year strategy to guide the Fellowship into the next decade. The Board introduced a new membership policy to make membership fees voluntary.

2023: The Fellowship began work on developing an Optimal Clinical Pathway for people affected by polio (including late effect of polio and Post-Polio Syndrome). The project involved clinicians and healthcare professionals from multiple disciplines across the UK.

2024: The British Polio Fellowship will mark its 85th anniversary with events across the UK.

Photo: Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

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