Learning Disabilities Befriending Project
A story by Interest Link Borders
We provided 1:1 and group befriending for 65 children and young people with learning disabilities in the Scottish Borders, with respite for 110 carers. Members and volunteers enjoyed friendships & opportunities, and Carers had short breaks knowing their children were enjoying themselves safely.
What Learning Disabilities Befriending Project did
Beneficiaries: 65 members with learning disabilities were supported during the year (target 60). There were 15, 1:1 friendships and 60 members were in befriending groups (some members had both). This provided short breaks for 110 family carers (target 105).
We registered 8 new members, and recruited 10 new volunteers from schools and Borders College to replace those who left in summer 2021. A new befriending group with 6 members was started in Duns towards the end of the year.
In April-May, we continued to deliver our distance service involving Zoom, social media, telephone, pen-pals, newsletters and home-delivered activities. In June and July, groups and 1:1s started meeting for outdoor activities. In August-September we continued outdoor activities but started meeting indoors as well. From October all groups & 1:1s met face to face. We continued social media and telephone calls and some Zoom meetings.
1:1 links met fortnightly for 2-3 hours and did a variety of activities including walks, going for coffee, shopping, playing pool, going to theatre & cinema, games & crafts. A few met at members’ homes for cooking and games, with background supervision from family carers. There was social media and telephone contact as well in 10 of the 15 links.
There were 9 befriending groups (including a new group in Duns). They met fortnightly, mainly on Zoom till the summer and then face-to-face. They did a wide variety of youth club activities such as arts & crafts, cooking, drama, film-making, gardening, outdoor adventure activities, healthy eating, games, and parties. There was a particular focus on arts projects, with each group doing at least one 6-session drama/film/art/music project. Most had a performance or exhibition at the end, though some of these were postponed because of high Covid levels in March.
132 family carers largely used the respite to spend quality time with their other children and spouses, but some met up other parents, went shopping or just had a rest, happy knowing their child was having fun with friends.
All Better Breaks priority areas were addressed apart from that dealing with children aged 0-5.
What Interest Link Borders has learned
We reached a good balance between distance and face-to-face activities: as face-to-face activity got back to normal in autumn 2021 we retained Zoom sessions on a fortnightly basis that were open to everyone in a branch. This increased opportunities for contact and also kept people used to Zoom in case we had to go back to the distance service.
Our private social media groups on Facebook and WhatsApp have kept going at full-strength: as well as a way for our whole community to interact, it has enabled us to provide special interest groups such as Rugby Banter & Cooking Buddies.
Our public Facebook activity has greatly increased and it is now as good a channel as our website at attracting new families & volunteers.
How Interest Link Borders has benefitted from the funding
We have made a new partnership with Langlee Primary School in Galashiels, in an SIMD 10% area and registered a number of new members and volunteers from it. We were able to run an Arts programme with drama performances and exhibitions for family & friends: an excellent way to come out of lockdown and back to normality. We have started our first Duns community youth group.
60 Children and young people with learning disabilities will have made friendships with each other and volunteers that they see regularly and trust. They will have done a wide range of activities of their choice that were fun and also developed their confidence, self-esteem and social skills.
In our 2021 annual survey: 100% of members surveyed said they had developed their friendships. 95% had greater confidence. 100% improved their self-esteem 95% reported better social skills Feedback quotes from March 2022 include: “I love coming to the group, and have made new friends.” “I like all the activities we do and was very proud of myself when I did acting.” “I talk a lot more in the group and have fun with everyone.” “I achieve more with my friends, I can talk to them easily as they accept me and value me. They don’t judge me and they are there to support me.” “I am proud of myself and how far I have come I can now act in front of people friends and family. I have learnt scripts with support and I don’t feel so overwhelmed and shy” I love being on zoom with baking friends and being out with my volunteer doing things I would have never done otherwise. A Carer said: “It provides opportunities that don’t seem to be available anywhere else.”
J is 17 and has learning disabilities which leave her isolated, especially during the Covid lockdown. She needs to have constant supervision and cannot access the community independently due to her vulnerability. J has embraced the zoom meetings, taking part with confidence and speaking up in the group discussions. She will now initiate conversations with other group members, as well as being supportive, asking people how they are and how are and how they were doing with the mosaic. Being in the group has kept J socially connected to people who she has been unable to see during the lockdown, due to the Covid restrictions and her geographical isolation. She has had fun and something to look forward to, which has sustained her mental health. She initially did not think she would be OK on Zoom, but we provided her with an iPad and she had no problems, so she has learnt a new skill for the future. J likes to do practical tasks and enjoys arts and crafts so the mosaic project was ideal for her. It also allowed her to spend constructive time with her Mum and sister as well as the other members in the group.
80 Carers of children and young people with learning disabilities (75% of the total 105 carers) will have had more opportunities to see friends, spend time with spouses and other children or do activities because of our project
The scope for outside opportunities was limited during lockdown, as parents often joined in with the Zoom and other distance activities but feedback included: “We love asking him what he wants to contribute to the newsletter and helping him with his photos and contribution. We also love looking through the newsletters to find out what everyone has been up to.” “It has been great having all these group activities. So good keeping everyone in touch and still able to interact with everyone.” By October 2022 carers were feeling the full benefit again: “It’s been good to do other things with my other daughter.” “We spend time with the younger children.” “It is really useful. We use the time to go to the gym, catch up on housework or just relax.” “I do activities with my other daughter like bake, play a game, read a little or prepare thing for the next day.” “We love coming as a family to all the special nights, outdoors at Wild Woods and all the drama shows."
C is 17 and has a learning disability. She has been with Interest Link since 2019, when she joined the Kelso children’s group. C can get very anxious, and gets muddled & confused very easily, so it is important she knows exactly what is going on. Despite this, she settled well into the group and has become an active lively member gaining in confidence and independence. She is always friendly and supportive to other group members and enjoys helping them with arts and crafts cookery and drama activities. C is always willing to try new things and take up every new opportunity offered to her. C said she felt she had been able to keep up all her friendships during Lockdown through our Zoom sessions and was now much happier communicating at a distance. C’s Mum said “the group took pressure off me and let me spend more time with C’s younger brother and sister. I am delighted that face-to-face meetings have restarted, as the impact on all the family is higher.”
80 Carers of children and young people with learning disabilities (75% of the total 105 carers) will have more resilient families because of our project
In our June 2021 annual survey, 81% of carers surveyed said the project had helped them to sustain their role. June feedback included: “Thank you for providing these groups - they have been a lifeline at a really difficult time!” “We have enjoyed being part of the group and feeling valued and cared for.” March 2022 feedback: “Yes, it has been a huge support as always for so many years: a big thank you to all.” “It has been amazing the support you give even with the new ways when the covid came with the online activities.” “Looked forward to daily messages of inspiration from Co-ordinator, always something topical or uplifting.” Teachers feedback: “Interest Link is an amazing support not just to the people with additional needs but also their families.” “Daily input. A real lifeline for young people in trying times”
Sam is 14 years old, has a learning disability and is hyperactive, tends to over-react to situations, and struggles to stay calm. He needs lots of reassurance. He was a member of our Children’s Group before lockdown, and had formed good friendships, particularly with peer mentor Jake. Sam has found it very difficult to cope with Covid restrictions. He’s worried incessantly about what might happen. His mother reported that he had been anxious, frustrated, angry and at times, very low. In January I asked Jake to be a Zoom Buddy for Sam, and they meet on a weekly basis. During their chat Sam and Jake talk about all sorts of things – hobbies, sport, school, Covid restrictions, and other world issues. They also, importantly, discuss how Sam is coping. Jake has formed a strong, supportive relationship with Sam. He is calm and reassuring and deals with whatever subject comes up in a friendly, interested way. They also laugh a lot. After each Zoom chat, Sam is smiling widely, is much calmer and says how much he enjoyed it. Sam’s mum says how very appreciative she and her husband are of this support. It makes a massive difference to them to know that Sam is able to share his concerns and feelings with another young person who is a great role model and who understands him; and how beneficial these chats are for her son. I have seen how much the stress has lifted from Sam’s mum. Now restrictions have eased further, I am hoping to set up a 1:1 link for Sam and Jake so they can meet up and enjoy activities together.
60 Children and young people with learning disabilities and 80 carers of children and young people with learning disabilities (75% of the total 105 carers) will feel happier because of our project.
In our June 2021 annual survey: 100% of members surveyed said they were happier because of the project. 66% of carers surveyed had greater wellbeing Feedback quotes from March 2022 included: “Seeing my friends makes me feel happy. I trust them as I can speak to them and have a laugh with them” “I feel happy when I am at the group. I walk round from home and come to every group. I tell my mum and dad what I have been up to as well. They like to hear my stories.” “Yes I am always happy when I meet new friends and also spending time with my friends in the Teenage Group. I like to spend time with my friends in the group they are all very supportive.” Carers: “We’re happy as we know Ryan is in a safe environment, enjoying himself and getting the opportunity to do so independently, away from his parents.” “I don’t have enough words to say how pleased I am that my daughter is been part of this fabulous group.”
Robbie is 16 and lives with his mum, brother and grandparents –he has Distal 22q Deletion Syndrome, Autism, Significant Learning Disabilities, ARFID and a hearing impairment. Robbie has been with Interest Link since 2015 and has recently joined the youth group after 4 years in our children’s group. He is a bright and chatty boy with an encyclopaedic knowledge of Star Wars, vampires and werewolves as well as Marvel superheroes. During his time with us, he has formed a very strong bond with one of our volunteers Declan who shares similar interests and this friendship has brought huge benefits to Robbie as he is home-schooled so the social aspect is a particular advantage. Throughout lockdown Robbie and Declan had weekly phone calls and also joined in with our Zoom social groups. After recently turning 16, Robbie has moved into the youth group and Declan also volunteers within this group so their friendship continues, something which Robbie’s mum Susan particularly appreciates. Robbie is very much encouraged by Declan to try all the activities in the sessions and we love seeing them chat and banter! Susan says she is very pleased that now Robbie has moved into the youth group, he has settled quickly and he comes home and tells her all about the other members and volunteers and what we have been doing. Susan also enjoys the respite element of Robbie’s time with us and enjoys herself swimming or spending time with her oldest son. “A wee swim and a sauna revives me and gives me a much needed boost when Robbie is at ‘youth club’!” During lockdown Robbie said “I look forward to the Zoom sessions every week: its very exciting to chat to friends” and more recently “I like the new group and everyone is very friendly: it’s easy to relax”. Declan commented: “One of the best parts of volunteering is seeing exactly how happy the service users are and how much they need the activities. Our service provides fun just as much as it provides support and stability and for a lot of service users, it's a big part of their routine. In 2020, with the Coronavirus and all the other issues, it's important that we have the good along with the bad. We're a community that thrives together, not apart, and the fact that we can still provide sessions and activities is an important part of that.”
Additional project outcome
Outcome: Volunteers will feel more confident making friends with children and young people with learning disabilities. What success will look like: 60 volunteers will have made friends with children and young people with learning disabilities and become comfortable with them socially.
Please see case studies for outcomes 3 & 4 In our June 2021 annual survey, 96% of volunteers surveyed said the lockdown service had meant friendships had been maintained and developed. June Feedback: “The Facebook and Zoom has helped keep us all connected during these difficult times, helped us know we are not alone and still have all our friends from the groups!” “Volunteering at Interest Link is really fun and I think it’s helped me not only understand other people better but also myself.” March 2022 feedback: “I have made really good friendships with everyone and would be very happy to continue being friends with all members in the group.” “I have made strong friendships with members over the years. It has been nice to see them grow and mature into the lovely young people that they are now. I would feel very confident to make friends with people with learning disabilities in the future.” “Seeing everyone regularly gives us the chance to really connect with the members and create real friendships.”