BLANCHE Nicolson makes an admission and it is the kind of moment that sums up what Hansel is all about.

The organisation, which works with people who have support needs, is planning a £1.5million building and gardens extension as it celebrates its 50th anniversary.

"The plans came back from the architect and our families immediately sent them back," explains director Blanche, whose parents set up the charity in 1963.

"The people we work with here did not want a finished, polished product – they wanted to do some of the work themselves, have a say in how it would look and feel when it was complete."

Blanche adds: "That's really what Hansel is good at – putting people first, giving them control over their lives."

Hansel has come a long way since its early days as a residential community for adults with learning disabilities.

Blanche's parents formed the charity because their daughter Lindy had Down's Syndrome and they were keen to change the way disabled people were viewed and treated.

Blanche's mother, Isobel Murdoch, is a former Evening Times Scotswoman Of The Year, having won the award in 1967 for her pioneering charity work, and Blanche was one of the 2012 finalists.

The Ayrshire-based organisation employs 450 people and provides a dynamic and diverse range of services supporting about 600 people with learning disabilities.

For the last five decades it has quietly led the way in the social care sector, working in partnership with local councils, social work departments, health boards, employers, schools and the Ayrshire people.

Managing director Gerry Lindsay says: "The whole social care sector is changing, facing up to the challenges of budget cuts, stretched resources and the new personalisation agenda that gives people, for the first time, control over how their money is spent.

"So we also need to change. People still talk about the Hansel Village – but while we still have a small residential element at our Broadmeadows Estate in Symington, most of our services are spread across Ayrshire.

"These provide care in the community and support people in employment – things such as specialist care for older people with dementia, for example, short breaks, support for young people with autism - it is a diverse mix."

At Broadmeadows, the £1.5m Our Space facility is nearing completion.

Offering specialist support to people with learning disability-related dementia, it will be used for lots of activities, including horticultural therapy, arts and crafts, music, dance and learning.

The site is also home to Lindy's tea room, a commercial laundry and a grounds maintenance team, all providing employment opportunities for people with learning difficulties.

Maggie Magee, from Troon, said the support she and her daughter Rhona received from Hansel has transformed their lives.

"Through Hansel, Rhona started working in a coffee shop, just 16 hours a week, and she loved it," says Maggie. "The growth in her confidence was incredible.

"What Hansel has achieved over the years is remarkable – learning difficulties were very much the 'forgotten disabilities' years ago, with families left with no choice but to put loved ones in hospital or residential care.

"Hansel has transformed so many lives by enabling people to live independently. As a parent I will always be very grateful."

Kay Montgomery, 60, got support from Hansel to allow her to move into her own home.

"Blanche is a very special lady," says Kay. "I would not be here without her. She always took a special interest in me and helped me become confident."

As Hansel celebrates its 50th anniversary with a raft of community activities and events throughout the year, Blanche, Gerry and the team are far from daunted by the challenges ahead.

"It is an exciting time for us," says Gerry. "Hansel is all about creating life opportunities – what is more exciting and positive than that?"

Blanche adds: "We can't replace family, but we can help families to cope. As we move ahead, we are still doing what we have always done – filling in the gaps, helping people when things go wrong.

"If something needs to be done, we can usually find a way of doing it."