Learning Disabilities Befriending Project
A story by Interest Link Borders
We provided Short Breaks for 75 adults with learning disabilities and 120 family carers in the Scottish Borders through volunteer befriending.
Members and volunteers enjoyed friendships, and carers had time for themselves, knowing those they care for were enjoying themselves safely.
What Learning Disabilities Befriending Project did
The project went to plan and all groups & 1:1s met face to face from October 2021. We continued social media and telephone calls and two Zoom groups throughout the year.
Beneficiaries: 75 members with learning disabilities were supported during the year (target 70). There were 27 1:1 friendship and 50 members were in befriending groups (some members had both). This provided short breaks for 120 family carers (target 115).
12 new members came into the service, and we recruited 10 new volunteers.
Four new befriending groups were started: a lunch club in Duns, an art and healthy eating group in Kelso, a Gardening & Outdoor Crafts group in Peebles and a young adult's group in Hawick. This brought the total number of groups to 13.
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.
Befriending groups met fortnightly on weekday evenings for 2 hours doing a wide variety of activities such as arts & crafts, cooking, drama, filmmaking, gardening, healthy eating, games, and parties. We now have 3 gardening-related groups, and their produce is used for other groups’ activities. 2 groups put on theatrical performances for family and friends.
120 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.
We carried out our annual survey in June 2022 and produced an Adult Service Impact Report which can be seen at https://www.interestlink.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/Documents/Impactreports&surveys/Interest-Link-2022-Adult-Impact-Report.pdf
What Interest Link Borders has learned
Everyone involved in the project was very relieved to return to face-to-face delivery. Distance contact during lockdown was effective (and elements of it have been retained long-term), but nothing beats personal contact. There was a pent-up demand which emerged after the pandemic ended and has resulted in a steady flow of new members.
Volunteer recruitment after the pandemic has been sluggish however and needs to be boosted. The environment, climate change & food sustainability is prominent in members’ and volunteers’ thoughts and there is a great appetite for activities on these themes. We complemented this by producing more from our allotments and using produce in healthy eating and cooking groups.
How Interest Link Borders has benefitted from the funding
Creative Breaks funding helped us launch four new groups during the year. These either filled obvious holes in provision (Duns & Kelso groups) or took a new approach (Hawick daytime group and Peebles outdoors group). We are now looking at starting new lunch-groups providing food and warmth as well as friendship activities.
115 carers of adults with learning disabilities and 70 adults with learning disabilities will be happier/have greater mental wellbeing because of the project.
120 carers and 75 members were supported. In our annual June survey 91% of family carers said their mental wellbeing had improved and 100% of those they cared for said they had more friends and were happier as a result of our service. Carers said: “Just to see her happy and making friends makes us happy.” “It makes us all happy to see how much she enjoys it all, she looks forward to going, she can't wait.” “To know he is enjoying himself without a member of the family being present we can relax.” Members said: “I feel happy when I am at the group and speaking to my friends in the group.” “Seeing my friends makes me feel happy If I don’t see them regularly I can get socially anxious. I trust them as I can speak to them and have a laugh with them.” “I would have been very isolated & lonely if it hadn't been for Interest Link over the past 2 years.” “I feel like I belong to a big family I feel really happy to be with my friends at Interest Link”
James lives with his elderly parents on an isolated farm. James is in his 50`s and has Downs’ Syndrome. He has been a member of Interest Link Roxburgh for many years and attends the Caledonian Group. The group is the only opportunity that offers a social outlet for him and a chance to meet up with his friends in the evening now there is no day centre. During the pandemic Interest bought an iPad for James so he could pop into a scheduled weekly “Banter Group”, Bingo and Karaoke sessions. This undoubtedly enhanced his mental health and well- being. James facial expressions sum up how happy it makes him feel to be reunited with his friends face to face and he loves Drama and Music. “I like to speak to people and tell them about me and where I go this makes me happy. I enjoy the Banter Group and meeting new friends from everywhere. I like singing with the group on Music Group. I like drama and shows.” James`s parents have felt isolated and let down by services for James as they get older, and the respite time is vital as it enables them to have a break in the knowledge that he is in safe hands. James’ mother Elizabeth especially enjoys coming along to open parent’s nights at the Caledonian Group where she is able to catch up with other elderly parents who they have known for years, and to see James perform in small Drama Performances. “If it wasn’t for Interest Link Roxburgh James would have had no connections with friends especially in the evenings and during the pandemic.” When James returned from a recent Silent Disco she said “It was party time, now it`s talking time, he is on a high! Thank you to all at Interest Link“
115 carers of adults with learning disabilities will have had more opportunities to see friends, spend time with spouses and the siblings of those they care for and pursue other interests.
120 carers were supported. In our annual June survey 91% of carers said they were able to have more of a life outside their caring role. “It has allowed me to spend time on the things I like to do like swimming, a dance class and just relaxing in the garden.” “I can now arrange to go out for a meal with my husband.” “Because Stephanie can dominate family time, it gives us time with our sons when we're not at work.” “Able to play tennis with friends” “We enjoy our time when Elliot is away as a couple, we enjoy walking dogs and having a meal out”
M is a 30-year-old autistic man with a significant learning disability. Several years ago, he moved into his own home a couple of doors down from his parents. He lives alone with his dog and is gradually gaining independence skills. Although he still relies heavily on his parents, he has come some way: initially he would spend all day at their house and only return to sleep. The farm the family live on provide work for M full time in the summer and part time in winter doing gardening. He loves being active; is fit and strong and lives a full life thanks to his amazing family who are wonderfully enabling giving M many opportunities. Friendship and socialising with peers is where Interest Link steps in… M has been involved in different ways with Interest Link Borders since he was a teenager. Presently, he has a one-to-one befriender who he goes to the gym with to lift weights fortnightly and occasionally they meet for walks with their dogs or have a coffee out together. M also attends the Coldstream Club monthly in the evening to go for meals out, do drama/music, have parties, do crafts or whatever the members choose. He loves going to the Club, meeting his friends and trying new things in the supportive environment where we have some terrific volunteers who are highly attuned to his particular needs and are able to adapt things to suit him. As M still enjoys being with younger people, he sometimes helps out at the Youth Club which Interest Link run fortnightly. M’s Mum has recently joined the Board of Trustees for Interest Link and said: “This gives my son a chance to meet friends he has made and enjoy the activities they take part in. We live in the country and not many people his age live nearby. I can now arrange to go out for a meal with my husband. We know M is enjoying himself without a member of the family being present, and we can relax. It helps with his independence, and he is more prepared to communicate with others. Keeping in touch through lock down with zoom was very important and helped us as a family.”
115 carers of adults with learning disabilities and their families will be more resilient and better able to cope with and sustain their caring role because of the project.
In our annual June survey 91% of carers said we had eased their role as a carer or made it more sustainable. “Makes it a lot easier for me and gives my son a break from me too.” “It allows us to get some down time and feel more energetic” “We both enjoy the break and peace and quiet and we are able to recharge our batteries.” “We relax when she's at Interest Link” “Sarah is very happy and elated when she returns and is always in a better fettle after group nights.” “She can talk about something different after interest link rather than stay in her obsessional topics of conversation or by talking to herself. This is very good for everyone!”
Craig is 32 years old and lives at home with his mum and dad. Craig has learning disabilities, a speech impairment and epilepsy and is a wheelchair user. Craig is in our Motivators social group for young adults and much enjoys the activities, including games evenings, cooking, art and crafts, music and drama workshops, movie nights, tenpin bowling, fish and chip suppers and meals out at Wetherspoons. Craig is also in the Make That group, our Thursday afternoon craft and chat group, and really enjoys the craft activities and catching up with his friends at this group too. Last year Craig also joined our new Outdoors Group and has particularly enjoyed helping out at our local community garden and growing crops in our two raised beds. Regular contact with Craig’s mum was also maintained all the way through lock down, and as soon as groups at our venue re-started, Craig returned to the groups. Craig gets on really well with everyone in the groups and has made friends for life. He has a great sense of humour and is happy to give all activities a go. Craig says, “Going to Interest Link helps my confidence and communication. I chat to everyone. I feel like a valued member of the group, and this makes me feel happy. I love going to Interest Link and making nice things, seeing my friends and having a blether”. Craig’s mum says, ‘Craig needs to be going out and interacting with other people, and he can do this with Interest Link. Since attending the groups, he has come on a lot, is definitely happier and just talks away now to people’. Craig’s mum also says that Craig’s attendance at the groups helps her role as a family carer. She says, ‘it gives me a wee bit of breathing space when he’s at the groups, which makes it a lot easier for me and gives my son a break from me too’. This has contributed to her family’s overall happiness and general wellbeing.
Additional project outcome
Adults with learning disabilities will have more confidence and better social skills. What success will look like:70 adults with learning disabilities will be more confident and better at communicating because of the project. Results: 98% had more confidence and 98% had better social skills.
Chris is 33, has a learning disability and suffers from epilepsy. Following an accident two years ago he needs support in walking He lives with his elderly mother Agnes, is isolated from friends and has very little access to any social life in the evenings and at weekends. Agnes is anxious about Chris but very happy with a new fortnightly group of ours, Best Friends Forever, as Chris has settled into the group perfectly. The group was created for members over the age of 26 and meets 1pm-4pm in local cafes, where they can be socially active and feel safe. Members are encouraged to be as independent as possible, traveling to venues, ordering and paying for their own lunch and drinks. The group share their news and talk about things that are important to them. During the pandemic Interest Link found different ways to connect Chris with friends through Zoom. Chris`s mum Agnes is a sole carer and was very grateful for the support that the organization gave her and Chris during this very difficult and challenging time. Chris was very excited about getting back to normal and meeting up with his friends face to face but continues his interaction through our WhatsApp groups and posts his many drawings on Facebook. Agnes says “connecting with other members is a great idea. I know how much it has been a benefit to Christopher, thank you Val and Becca”. Chris says “I feel I am really good at saying things online now and it’s great to see my pictures on Facebook. We have great banter at the café group, and I am very excited when it is the next meeting, and I can see my friends”.