A FORMER special school teacher who re-mortgaged her house to co-establish a Barry-based charity for adults with learning disabilities, retires today, July 31.

Melanie Carter, who taught in Barry’s Ysgol Maes Dyfan, will step down from her role as co-director of High Street-based charity, ValePlus - handing over responsibility to co-director and fellow founder Steve Thomas, 54, while bidding an emotional farewell to all the service users who have a send-off planned.

58-year-old Mel, of Dinas Powys, said fellow teacher Steve and herself felt that there was a need for addressing the requirements of adults with moderate to severe learning difficulties, and any associated health problems, following their departure from the school system.

And when her husband Ian encouraged her to “go for it”, she did just that – acquiring the High Street church that became, and still is, the charity’s base which has since led to its own training charity shop Nova and Cafe No5, also all on High Street.

The charity has seen hundreds of service users, aged from 18 to 65, up to 100 at any one time, since it was established in 2002.

Mel said: “We knew there was a need for a different sort of service for adults with learning disabilities. We re-mortgaged the house to buy the building. Ian said go for it. It was quite brave of my husband. We managed for about a year and then got charity status. The charity then bought the building and we got what we paid for it. People say ‘you managed for a year?’ How stupid is that? It was quite scary. That was 12 years ago. We had the building and no service users. It took us about a month and we got referrals, but Steve and I didn’t earn any money for the first three months. We lived off fresh air. In this current climate, we would never have done it. But we knew what we wanted to do and we knew it would work.”

ValePlus now provides education, employment, training, and social and leisure opportunities for those who walk through its doors.

Mel added: “I created my own job. We had a vision of what we wanted ValePlus to be and this vision has changed over the years as have the needs of the service users.”

Mel said she was going to spend her retirement gardening and flower arranging, already volunteering at Dyffryn House and Gardens, and doing 12 years of housework.

And she added she hopes to walk the Wales Coastal Path in aid of ValePlus in October.

Mel said: “I’m going to miss Steve, the staff and the service users. Looking back to then it seemed like a big adventure. We never thought it would fail, but I’m so glad we jumped when we did.”