Remploy: The Changing Face of Disability Employment in Britain 1944-2014.

Andy Holroyde, photo by Angie Fryers

Andy Holroyde, photo by Angie Fryers

The Disabled Persons’ Employment Corporation was established on 7 April 1945 and would adopt the name Remploy in July 1946. This government-subsidised company was initially designed to provide sheltered employment for workers with severe disabilities, with those returning veterans of the Second World War particularly in mind. Under this remit Remploy grew rapidly and by 1950 was operating 84 factories and workshops. The company reached its height in the late 1980s when it employed over 10,000 people across 94 sites around the United Kingdom. Over the course of the latter part of the twentieth century, Remploy moved from providing sheltered employment to a role supporting those with disabilities and health conditions into mainstream employment. The last Remploy factory finally closed its doors on 31 October 2013, and Remploy itself became fully privatised in March 2015. Both of these events gained national media coverage and provoked fierce debate.

My research seeks to evaluate the development of Remploy, from its origins in 1944 through to the announcement of its privatisation in 2014, considering developments from the point of view of government, Parliament, Remploy, and the media. Using a range of archival materials, previously unexamined materials from Remploy itself and oral testimonies, it will analyse the evolution of Remploy’s role and explore why and how this occurred, what impact it had, and what this reveals about Britain’s changing social and disability policy. The history of disability and of disabled people has only recently begun to receive serious attention from academics. In the main such research has focused on the provision of institutional and community care, welfare in terms of those unable to work, and charitable and political pressure groups. Though my research will also relate to the history of social policy and the welfare state, it will contribute to the emerging field of disability history substantially. Given its place as a pioneer of employment provision, a study of Remploy is a vital component to our understanding of disability in Britain.

For too long disability has been absent from much of the representation of our history and heritage. Remploy has been a major British institution and an international exemplar for disability employment. As such, I am interested in how the heritage of Remploy, and of disabled people in general, can be presented, explored and preserved. This is important not only in terms of revealing the generally ‘hidden’ history of disabled people, but also for our shared heritage, since disability is a shared human experience that will touch many, if not all, of us at some point in our lives.  As such I will be working with Remploy to help present elements of my research, whether this is online or through exhibition space. Engagement beyond academia is a key aspect of this project. As well as working with Remploy I will be seeking to share my research with relevant interest groups. These are expected to include disability organisations, charities, and parliamentary groups. In so doing I intend to add a historical perspective to current understanding of issues around social policy, welfare and disability.


I am currently an AHRC-funded PhD Student with the Heritage Consortium, based at the University of Huddersfield.

I graduated in 2011 with a BA Hons in History from the University of Huddersfield. Focusing on medieval history in my dissertation, I received a first-class grade and won the prize for ‘Best Medieval Performance’. I was then awarded the 2012 School of History MA Studentship and returned to Huddersfield to do an MA in History for which I gained a Distinction. During the MA I focused on the early-modern period with a dissertation on prophecy in the fall of Anne Boleyn. Following this I undertook a PGCE in Primary Education at the University of Leeds, graduating in 2015.

Outside of academia I have worked in a variety of roles within the financial, retail and recruitment sectors. This has included a period of work with Remploy as an Employment Advisor which has given me an insight into the issues and challenges around contemporary disability employment.

Supervisors: Dr Rob Ellis, University of Huddersfield and Dr Charlie McGuire, Teesside University.

Twitter: @AndyHolroyde