Learning Disabilities Befriending Project
A story by Interest Link Borders
We provided 1:1 and group befriending for 62 children and young people with learning disabilities in the Scottish Borders, with respite for 108 carers. Members and volunteers enjoyed friendships & opportunities together and Carers had short breaks knowing their children were enjoying themselves.
What Learning Disabilities Befriending Project did
62 members with learning disabilities were supported during the year (target 60). There were 15 1:1 friendships and 60 members were in befriending groups (13 members had both).
This provided short breaks for 108 family carers (target 105).
We registered 12 new members, and recruited 12 new volunteers from schools and Borders College to replace those who left in summer 2022.
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 meeting in Duns, Kelso, Hawick, Selkirk and Peebles. They met fortnightly and did a wide variety of youth club activities such as arts & crafts, cooking, drama, music, fashion-design, film-making, going to the theatre and concerts, outdoor adventure activities, healthy eating, games, and parties. Highlights included:
• Performances and exhibitions of our Creative Arts projects to friends and family
• Overnight trip to iFly in Manchester
• Queen’s Jubilee parties
• Summer trips to the beach and berry picking
• Outdoor adventures at Ruberslaw Wild Woods
• Intergenerational Friendship Day
• Members’ birthday parties
• Halloween, Christmas, Burns Night & Easter parties
• Roxburgh Panto “Dr Where”
Our online Zoom provision wound down during the year. However an online baking group and an indoor gardening project have continued and are now longterm fixtures. Both are intergenerational and include a total of 3 young people within the Better Breaks criteria.
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 trusted friends in safety.
All Better Breaks priority areas (save re children aged 0-5) were addressed.
Statistics and quotes below come from our 2022 Impact Report and Feb 2023 Case studies.
What Interest Link Borders has learned
• Everyone involved has been relieved to return to face-to-face activities, but there is still some appetite for online activities: The intergenerational baking and gardening groups already mentioned have a fixed membership and timetable but we also have some intergenerational drop-in bingo and quiz nights.
• Hybrid groups have also been useful. Some young members who were nervous of rejoining physical groups attended by Zoom till they got their confidence back. Some Carers Chat & Craft Group members also attend by Zoom if their caring role prevents them attending physically.
• Statutory day provision for school leavers with learning disabilities has not been restored after the pandemic: Almost all of our members used to progress to Borders College after school but the College’s Lifeskills course no longer runs. There is also no longer a Social Work Transitions Officer, and statutory day support is limited. The Duns Group was set up in response to this: it mainly comprises 16-18 year olds who the school has identified as needing preparation for life after school. We are also looking at setting up two intergenerational groups in Hawick catering for ages 18 and upwards and delivering lifeskills classes.
How Interest Link Borders has benefitted from the funding
• The fact we have secured support from Better Breaks funding makes our other funding applications stronger. • Funding for continuing work enables us to gradually develop our service rather than introduce novelty for the sake of it. • Competition for funding has increased due to the cost-of-living crisis and mental health after-effects of the pandemic. Better Breaks’ focus on benefits to carers has broadened our organisational culture and equipped us to apply to a broader range of funders.
60 children and young people with learning disabilities will have 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.
Lawrence and David are twins, they are 9 years old and live with their parents and younger sister Daisy. Lawrence has ADHD and a learning disability. David has a learning disability and is autistic. David has more difficulty understanding and navigating the world around him. Lawrence and David both attend Burnfoot Primary School. Lawrence attends our evening Children’s group while David attends school lunch group at Burnfoot. David enjoys one to one time with other school children and young peer mentors from mainstream school classes. Lawrence is very happy in the evening group and it offers him an opportunity to meet other children from different schools. He especially likes working with Leanne our Baking Tutor, learning to prepare food from different countries around the world. He also enjoys Drama sessions, where he is learning to express himself and think creatively. These sessions offer a great opportunity for him to problem solve and work in a team with other children and peer mentors, supporting him to feel more confident. Mum Kendra is very happy that both boys are having an opportunity where they spend quality time meeting other children as they have very limited opportunities to socialize. These opportunities also give mum and dad time to spend with other siblings. Interest Link have regular open parents’ evenings where the boys parents are invited along to see what Lawrence has been up to. Kendra also enjoys interacting with our Facebook Page looking at photos and videos from David`s group. The boys like it that they have their own special Interest Link groups and enjoy sharing stories with each other when at home.
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.
• In our 2022 annual survey, 81% of carers of children and young people surveyed said the project had given them more of a life outside caring. • Quotes: I take a yoga class while my child attends the group Respite to unwind even for a short time. I enjoy going for a swim/sauna. I can take my 2yr old for a walk before bed. I can also visit my other family members Gives me a couple of hours to catch up with friends or just have time to myself When our son is at Interest Link we have time to do things for ourselves. It is a blessing. I have been able to meet up with a friend and go walking with them We often ask a friend round for an undisturbed catchup or visit them It is really useful. We use the time to go to the gym, catch up on housework or just relax. Can spend quality time with my other daughter
Brothers J &S S is on the autistic spectrum and has been with Interest Link since March 2022, joining The Duns group first & now he is attending the Kelso Group. English is his second language. He was quiet & shy when he first attended the group, but now he has gained confidence & talks to other group members. He is kind & friendly & has a great sense of humour & gets on well with everybody. At times he has challenges with making choices & understanding game rules. Winning & losing games can be a big challenge for him but with our empathy & guidance he manages his time in the sessions. He enjoys attending the groups & tries out the arts and crafts cookery and drama projects. He has settled into the group and has become a popular member. He has is always friendly to other group members & now initiates conversations. S has gained confidence since joining the group & has asked to join group WhatsApp he has made friends in the group with people from different schools and different towns. He has also joined the local Borders Youth Theatre as he has a keen interest in drama. Interest Link worked with S & his Mum to ensure that he settled into the BYT drama group. J like his brother is on the autistic spectrum and has been with Interest Link since March 2022 joining The Duns group first & now he attends the Kelso Group. The brothers get on well with each other J will talk with S he will tell S how to behave J likes to be on the periphery he enjoys walking around, he does not spend much time on the activities but takes part as best as he can. He will sit down for a snack & enjoys the food. J has favourite subjects, it used to be talking about going to the casino, now he likes to talk about cars & gaming. J wrote a letter to the coordinator about Playstations & Xboxes: his Mum said he had never done this before. J said “I enjoy walks to the park, I enjoyed the café. I meet new people. Art and crafts are fun”. S said “I meet new friends, We have fun playing games and doing crafts and I can speak out in the group” The boys parents are thankful for the group that enables the boys to socialise. Jurgita the boys’ Mum told me how much the boys miss the group during the holidays and said “They have met new friends/people and they come home chatting, laughing and smiling. I can go out with friends or I can go shopping and have some me time”.
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 2022 annual survey, 97% of carers of children and young people surveyed said the project had helped them to sustain their role. • Quotes: Eased and sustained, given us a breather to recharge our batteries Since attending Interest Link Poppy's confidence has grown and my anxiety and worry about her happiness has lessened so I think things have become easier all round. Yes, always for so many years a big thank you to all. Even just a few hours a month has really helped as we know our son is safe and enjoying himself Seeing Christopher so happy making new friends and being more independent has given the whole family a boost It is great listening to my daughter tell stories about her time at the group and she gets excited days before she attends the next session. If she is happy it makes home life a lot easier.
Ocean is 9 years old and lives with her parents and sister in Galashiels. She was referred to us during lockdown and then we met her at our lunchtime school sessions before she then joined the children’s group - Ocean was shy when she first attended but always has a big smile. She has settled in very well and has formed a particular bond with a volunteer, Martyna. They do the activities together within the group and so far, Ocean has been involved with our calendar project and has also decorated a Christmas cake with handmade fondant snowmen. Ocean comes happily into all the sessions and is so excited when she sees her new friends – she is a lovely girl and we are so pleased to have her with us. Ocean has learning disabilities as well as communication and physical health issues so she requires a high level of care, and has previously tried to attend social/activity groups but these have not worked out for her. Mum heard about Interest Link and sent us a message – our first meeting was a Zoom hello so we could tell mum more about what we do and answer her questions. Her mum sent me this message “Ocean has very much enjoyed coming to the group from the start. She doesn't tend to like doing things. Once she's in the house that's normally it but since starting this group Ocean really likes going out. Her confidence has grown a lot. I'm so glad she enjoys going because it gives her time to socialise out with school hours but it also allows myself to have a bit of breathing space knowing that she is in a safe place and is happy to be there. This makes family life as a whole much easier and I am less stressed. The opportunities of the different activities that she does is great. I am thoroughly happy that I was able to find this group and allow Ocean to expand her skills.”
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 2022 annual survey: 95% of young members surveyed said they were happier because of the project. 97% of carers of children and young people surveyed had greater wellbeing • Members said: Yes I fell happier because I have friends that I can trust Happy doing everything at Interest Link Feel happy because I am bored sitting doing nothing at home. Seeing my friends makes me feel happy: If I don’t see them regularly I get anxious. 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. • Carers said Our son is so happy to spend time with his Befriender and we are happy he is so happy When Olivia is happy I am happy and it gives me time to spend with other siblings in the family. We do not feel so stressed when our son is busy at his groups and we have time to ourselves.
Harry has a learning disability and is 14 years old and lives with his grannie and single mum Sally. Harry attended our Wilton School Group for many years before he moved to Hawick High School. Harry was supported by staff in the Additional Needs Unit at Wilton where Interest Link ran on an online and face to face group session with 2 members and 4 young peer mentors from mainstream school. Harry enjoyed many happy years engaging with Becca from Interest Link with a variety of group activities with his friends. Harry moved to Hawick High School when he turned 12, where he continued to access our senior school service with an older group of members who are supported in the Hawick High School Unit for Additional Needs children. Harry is now in our evening Ch’s group. He settled in well although he was anxious at first and needed mum to stay for the first few sessions. He especially enjoys board games and loves to interact with staff and members of the group. His laugh is infectious and is always commented on. Sarah our sessional worker also works in the Additional Needs Unit at Hawick High School, so is another familiar face for him and makes him feel less anxious about being away from mum. Sally really depends on our service and feels happy and confident that Harry is with people he knows and now feels safe. Sally is able to have a little bit of time to herself to catch up with what she chooses to do. Sally also enjoys looking at our Facebook Page. She is delighted that Harry enjoys our activities especially Drama. Harry is always eager to come to his group and sad when the session finishes. The taxi ride is very important to both Sally and Harry. It gives Sally extra time to herself and Harry thoroughly enjoys the taxi ride with Sarah as escort and his friends. It is fun to have a spin around Hawick as the taxi driver drops off members. Sally is grateful for everything we do and the transport that we offer helps alleviate any extra stress. “Harry loves the group and has so much fun. Without these little groups our kids wouldn’t have the chance to meet and make friends in similar situation and experience these activities thank you to all of you for making this happen”.
Additional project outcome
Volunteers will feel more confident making friends with children and young people with learning disabilities: 60 volunteers will have made friends with children and young people with learning disabilities and become comfortable with them socially.
• In our 2022 annual survey, 96% of volunteers surveyed said they were more confidence making friends with people with learning disabilities. • Feedback: When I began I was a little awkward but as I met and got to know them all that went away. I would feel very confident to make friends with people with learning disabilities in the future. I have friendships now with all the people in the groups I support. Yes I would be very happy to continue being friends with all members in the group I love seeing the members become more confident and become more comfortable with me. Caset Study 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’!” 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. 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. Personally it has opened my eyes to how enriching friendships with people with learning disabilities can be and made me much more accepting and aware.”