On 26 May 1992, in the King's Fund Centre in Camden Town, a tiny kernel of an idea was planted. 20 years later, Lynne Featherstone, Minister for Equalities, gave her strong vote to what we think is now a fine-looking sapling that is Changing Faces today.
Changing Faces came about in the aftermath of the warm reception given to a book I wrote that was, in effect, a do-it-yourself guide to living confidently after a disfigurement whatever its cause. Mine was acquired in a severe car fire 20 years earlier at the age of 18.
I was convinced by the likes of Dr (now Professor) Nichola Rumsey and Professor Gus McGrouther that there was a huge gap in the psycho-social help available and we all agreed that it was right to aspire to create a fair and non-stigmatised society for people with unusual faces.
From small beginnings, I was rapidly inundated by requests for help and over the years since, with the huge support of many donors, I am proud of what we have achieved. In 1992, before Changing Faces, people with disfigurements had no legal protection against discrimination, very little access to professional support and advice and no public advocate.
Today, people with disfigurements are protected from discrimination by the Equality Act 2010 and can access valuable psycho-social help from our website, in one-to-one support from our Changing Faces Practitioners, and skin camouflage advice from our trained volunteers. Depending on their medical condition, they can get this from the NHS too.
We have also instigated the Face Equality campaign challenging the attitudes of media, film-makers, schools, employers and the public at large about those whose faces have birthmarks, scars, skin conditions, asymmetry or paralysis. This gives a voice to people with disfigurements, enabling them to have their views represented, visibly and vocally, at the highest levels and in all areas of public debate. Recently, positive role models like Katie Piper and Adam Pearson have done some great work to raise the profile of this issue.
So, the good news is that disfigurement is being normalised. Changing Faces can now proclaim loudly, including to anyone who experiences a disfigurement today and their parents, that, contrary to popular belief, people with unusual faces live ordinary lives: they are teachers, comedians, journalists, lawyers, DIY experts, lovers, parents, stroppy teenagers, doting grandparents.
We believe that people with disfigurements of any kind and their families should have routine access to high-quality psycho-social help to enable them to adjust to their situation. We also believe that people with disfigurements should live in communities, learn in schools and work in organisations that are 'disfigurement-confident'.
So we are going to take Changing Faces closer to people all round the UK by developing a network of Centres in every region and devolved nation.
Each centre will have a small team (at least at first), consisting of our empowering Changing Faces Practitioners and our new Skin Camouflage Service Practitioners. And it will also be an agent for change in its local area with a growing band of Face Equality Champions playing a key role.
The aim is, by 2015, to raise £5m to fund the first 3 years' work of 11 regional Centres. It is a big vision and will require a major and sustained fund-raising effort across the country to make it a reality, focusing this year especially on Yorkshire and Humberside and Scotland.
If you'd like to know more or can help in any way please contact me, James Partridge, or visit the Changing Faces website.
This post forms part of the government's blog series on body confidence which runs throughout 2012.
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