'WE want people to know that we're not just that little wheelchair place in the market, " says Gordon Pybus, the chairman of Darlington Association on Disability (DAD).

To those unfamiliar with DAD, the Shopmobility scheme operating from its offices on Horsemarket is perhaps the most visible aspect of the charity's work.

But it forms only a small proportion of the charity, which operates from three offices, employs 38 people, has 120 volunteers and helps support more than 3,000 disabled people and their carers across Darlington.

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A far cry from the charity's humble beginnings, operating at Walkington House, in Vane Terrace, in an office they shared with the local vicar.

"We had to put everything away when we left at the end of the day - the phone and everything. It was like Dad's Army, " says Lauren Robinson, the charity's chief executive, who joined DAD shortly after it was set up in November 1986.

The charity was started as one of eight groups set up across County Durham to help bring local disabled services together.

One of the first things it worked on was improving access for disabled people in the town - a cause which, to this day, forms a major part of DAD's work.

The need for the charity's services were evident by the way it very quickly grew, moving first to the Friends Meeting House, in Skinnergate, in 1990 and then to its current office in Horsemarket in 1993.

The services it now offers range from support sessions for carers to play sessions for young disabled and non-disabled people, and from equality training to helping people with their support budgets and even advocacy.

The wide remit of DAD's work means it is not just a passive supporter of the disabled community but also an active campaigner.

The charity recently helped a number of disabled people launch a legal case against bus operator Arriva over perceived discrimination against wheelchair users.

Mr Pybus believes that the charity's success is because it is run for disabled people by disabled people.

"Our statutes say that the chairman, the vice-chairman and either the secretary or the treasurer must be disabled people, " he says. "You can't get much more user-led than that. We get everything from the full disabled perspective.

"The old way of dealing with things was somebody looking after that person and bringing services to them. But the social model is helping people to do things for themselves, such as putting dropped kerbs in and helping with access onto buses and into shops."

Now, the charity is concerned that a lot of the work it has achieved could be undone because of cuts to both local and national budgets.

For example, there are much stricter criteria for certain benefits such as the Access to Work grants, which help disabled people into employment and many local authorities have made big cuts to services for disabled people.

While DAD will still be there to support its clients, Mr Pybus is concerned about the effect David Cameron's "Big Society" is having.

He says: "There's a big misunderstanding with the voluntary sector. Volunteers can only do so much. You need paid staff and you need property to deliver what people want and that costs money.

"You can have the best will in the world, but without resources you can't do it."

Nevertheless, he is confident that DAD has got the skills and expertise to carry on for another 25 years. It is already working to develop the skills of the next generation of young people to take the organisation forward.

For now though the group is looking forward to celebrating an important milestone in its history.

"Over the past 25 years, the thing that I'm most pleased about is that we've managed to keep our integrity, " says Mr Pybus. "We've kept true to our cause and we've got a lot of respect because we work in a professional manner. We can be a critical friend, calling the local authority to account and still work with them."

To nark its 25th anniversary, DAD is holding a celebration event at the Dolphin Centre's Central Hall on Thursday from 10am.

There will be information about the organisation's history and the work that it does and it will be officially opened by Mayor Lee Vasey at 10.30am.

All are welcome. For more information about DAD, call 01325-489999.