A story by Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians
We delivered Au-some Animators a Friday evening club for young people aged 13-18 with autism, giving their parents two hours of regular short breaks from caring a week.
Taking place in the Artlink studio in Mayfield, Midlothian this club supports autistic school aged young people to socialise around their interests.
What Au-some Animators did
We delivered 50 Friday night Au-some animators sessions - Midlothian was in tier 4 or lockdown for 6 months of this year meant 25 of these sessions were online using Houseparty and 25 were socially distanced face to face workshops in our studio in Mayfield.
6 young people aged 13-18 took part in weekly Friday night workshops 5-7pm. These young people are referred to Au-some through wellbeing meetings at school, social work or community lifelong learning. 12 carers used the time to take a break from caring, run errands, or go for a walk with a friend. One parent used the time to catch up on an online Photoshop course.
We developed relationships with other providers like Teens Plus and Edinburgh College to support the transition of these young creatives into new opportunities like ACE courses and supported adult education. One young person particularly affected by the pandemic was sent resources throughout the week with personalised comic books of ideas to develop new animations.
Au-some animators addresses priority area
P1- complex needs, P3- independence, P4 Transition to adulthood and P5 Diversity
Au-some animators was created to give parents of young people a break from caring because mainstream clubs and groups are often too large, unpredictable and sensory overwhelm for autistic creatives. The lack of opportunity to socialise around something meaningful leaves parents with little time to themselves, and few opportunities to develop friendships. This year above all has bonded and supported genuine caring relationships between the young people who felt the strain of isolation and boredom.
Weekly workshops became a mainstay, highlight and 'holiday' from Groundhog Day. Using simple tools like Houseparty's white board became a hilarious way to kickstart the evening by everyone drawing something the others had to guess. Fridays aren't Fridays without the gang! So although lockdown prevented half of our workshops being online, it strengthened the identity of the club, and protected the wellbeing of the members.
"You've been the only social outlet out of the house during lockdown and having club on Fridays was ideal."
What Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians has learned
We have learned that the generosity of our animator Tyler Carrigan knows no bounds- this year he offered to work weekly instead of fortnightly at no extra cost allowing us 50 weeks of his time.
We have learned that being part of a strategic wellbeing/ mental health and youth forum in Midlothian helps us target the young people most in need.
Partnership working helps young people reach their goals if we can support them to get to know new people from college and further education.
We found new funding through showcasing the work.
We embraced lockdown and are better for it, despite its challenges.
How Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians has benefitted from the funding
We have built better relationships with the young people and carers as we saw into their lives at the most challenging of circumstances. We have successful nee relationships with Edinburgh College and Teens Plus. We have been given new referrals in East and Midlothian. We have new skills and infrastructure to endure online working.
6 young disabled people (aged 20 and below) will have more opportunities to have fun, develop friendships and do activities they enjoy.
We delivered 50 weekly x 2 hours of specialist social support for 6 young people. We delivered 50 weekly x 2 hours of specialist animation tuition per young person (the animator throughout this year offered to work weekly instead of fortnightly to support the group - at no additional cost) The club protected and nurtured the young people's friendships through weekly online and face to face sessions, allowing them to catch up on each other's experiences and share games and animation tools. We used stop frame animation open source tools like apps for iPhone and on desktop. People could try using a graphics tablet to draw directly into a vector graphic to manipulate using industry standard software like Creative Cloud's Animate.
One young person was referred by community lifelong learning who wasn't attending school and couldn't engage in online lessons. Mum and dad were deeply concerned about his mental health. We created videos of what Au-some animators looked like, and gradually involved him in workshops. He has been attending regularly in face to face workshops but struggled online, so we sent him projects out weekly to post back to us. He has kept his connection to the others and is very excited about lockdown disappearing.
12 carers will have a weekly opportunity to enjoy a life outside of caring.
12 carers enjoyed 100 hours each of caring free time, in a consistent Friday night escape from responsibility. The regularity of the Au-some animation club allows carers to anticipate this short break and plan for catching up with a friend or book in time to go for a dog walk or gym. In lockdown, carers of young people bore the brunt of online learning, having lost the regular respite of school. Most carers were offered. hub place for their child in lockdown, but 4 our of 6 of the club's young people were too anxious to be in school and couldn't engage in online learning, so club was the only form of respite across the week. Carers said their fear this year was a regression for their children's social life and independence, but club maintained the friendships which lift mood through out the week. Three out of six of the young people made contact with each other outside of the Friday night session.
One parent loves photography whose son was on a waiting list for specialist further education since leaving school at 16. At age 17 he was still waiting, and mum had no respite. Since Au-some animators started, she's been able to sign up for a Photoshop course to adjust images taken on walks with her son. She's used these to help us illustrate Artlink's latest website www.discoverysenses.com - a resource to find activities which appeal to the senses.
12 carers will feel better supported to sustain their caring role.
We created 50 weeks of regular 2 hours respite, making 100 hours available for each carer. Here's a list of some of the things our carers did Enjoyed cooking a family meal instead of rushing to get something on the table, met up with a friend to have regular coffee time , went food shopping like it was a mini break. Studied Photoshop and took new images of sunsets and caught up with my own friends online without interruptions. Had a bath and relaxed All carers said the support made a difference to 'recharging batteries' and 'helping me reboot after a stressful day trying to be everything to everyone'.
One of our carers works in a school which operated all throughout lockdown. She talked about the stress she felt before, during and after this year of Au-some animator involvement. "I don't have time to get stressed usually but this year was so different, I was out all day, he was doing online school and I felt so bad I wasn't always around. His life reduced to a screen and he really missed out on being part of a social scene and the only time he felt lifted was Friday nights. It's helped him prepare a portfolio for college and helped him develop long term friendships with the others because there's consistency of support. He's just been accepted to college for a visual arts course and I'm so happy, A weight off my mind"
12 carers will feel the project has brought greater wellbeing.
50 weeks of 2 hours respite, 100 hours in total. All 12 of our carers did a before and after questionnaire to measure how they felt in themselves about their own wellbeing. 10 out of 12 carers said their wellbeing had been improved, citing the following as reasons behind this change - regularity of consistent respite - knowing my child's social and skill life is being supported - enjoying the short break from caring responsibilities
One of our new carers was finding clubs really hard to find for her daughter who is socially anxious in new situations. Lockdown exacerbated the sense of isolation for her daughter and concerns were raised through school. She was referred through school and we made a welcome animation for her. She has been attending weekly sessions and is using an app on her phone to stop frame animate modelling clay. Her mum feels sense of relief and also excitement that new chapters have opened for her. "I didn't think a club like this would be so important but she feels she belongs and as a result I feel so much happier about the future"
Additional project outcome
6 young people will have improved wellbeing as a result of appropriate meaningful activity
Although we were unable to host an event/ exhibition in person as described in our application for February 2020, we showed one person's work in a variety of locations including the Scottish Autism Strategy Evaluation Event in March 2020. Both the young person and their carer took part in discussions with a company conducting research on behalf of the Scottish Government to assess the impact of the Scottish Autism Strategy on families. Both son and mother talked about the impact of loneliness and lack of support on mental health and a lack of opportunity for autistic creatives to socialise or develop friendships since most resources are targeted to schools or social work. A social life they said is as important as medication or social care. We have also show the work of the group to educational psychologists in Midlothian who supported us to apply for Community Framework Funding to support the mental health of young people during the pandemic.