When Janet Brown married husband Peter 52-years-ago she got more than she bargained for.

She says she also married Braintree Mencap, where Peter has volunteered for more than 60 years.

Both have devoted almost all of their lives to the charity and its cause, and for their efforts were recognised with a prestigious Pride of Essex award last week.

For Peter, 81, his passion for helping people with learning difficulties began at age 11, when he became a big brother to sister Jean, who had down syndrome.

“At that time there was very little knowledge or information for families about how to cope with the situation,” he said.

“I recall to this day my parents were told my sister would never go to school.”

Although a young man at the time, Peter felt a burning sense of injustice and set out to do all he could to change things.

He said: “I felt quite aggrieved at this unfair situation and I joined the newly formed society, which at the time was called the National Association for Parents of Backward Children, at the age of 21 when I finished my National Service.”

He threw himself into all of the organisation’s campaigns and inspired by Jean, worked tirelessly to help stop those with learning difficulties being deprived the chance of an education.

After years of hard work, the campaign eventually led to the creation of Braintree’s Edith Borthwick School.

Peter, who was a governor of the school for 20 years, said: “It wasn’t a one man campaign but I took a vigorous role in it.

“I was also heavily involved in a campaign to have a day centre facility for adults who have learning difficulties set up in the area which led to the creation of the Diana Golding Centre.

“Mencap ran the centre for 11 years before the numbers outgrew the capacity and Essex County Council build a brand new centre.”

Changing peoples attitudes on learning difficulties was difficult, but luckily he didn’t have to do it alone.

Janet, 77, was behind him every step of the way, and in fact took the cause to her heart as much as her husband.

Until last month she was branch chairman and has also chaired Essex Mencap and been a Trustee of the Royal Mencap Society.

She said: “I always say I married Mencap as well as Peter, it is a bit of a family joke. But I have loved every minute of it.

“I am a great believer in equality for everybody. One of Mencap’s values is about challenging attitudes so that people have a better life.

“I have met some amazing people, both volunteers and people with learning difficulties.”

None more so than Jean herself, who Peter described as a “trailblazer”.

In order to get the education she deserved, she attended St Christopher’s School in Bristol, one of just two special schools in the country at the time.

And upon her return to Braintree she was able to live independently in her own home, something unheard of at the time.

Peter said: “She went from strength to strength and demonstrated you do not have to live in an institution just because you have a learning difficulty.

“We were very proud of her because she paved the way towards independence.

“In the past there was a tendency for carers to speak for people with a disability, but I feel our role should be to help them to speak for themselves.”