Learning Disabilities Befriending Project
A story by Interest Link Borders
We provided 1:1 and group befriending for 60 adults with learning disabilities living in the Scottish Borders.
This encouraged friendships, improved wellbeing, confidence & social skills and provide respite for their family carers. This service was delivered entirely by volunteers.
What Learning Disabilities Befriending Project did
We provided 29 1:1 befriending links and 35 group links to 60 adults with learning disabilities aged 20+ (4 had both). 8 members had not had links before.
10 befriending groups met fortnightly for 3 hours with a month’s break in July. 6 were entirely adult groups and 4 had some members aged 16-20. They were based in Coldstream, Kelso, Selkirk, Hawick and Peebles.
Activities included drama & film projects, art, dance, cookery, crafts, scrapbooking, parties at Halloween, Christmas & Easter, games nights, day trips to Berwick, Eyemouth and Dunbar, gardening in our allotment and outdoor adventures at Wild Woods near Jedburgh. There was also an overnight trip to Belfast that involved 4 adult members.
Most of the 1:1 links met fortnightly for 2-3 hours and did community activities of all types, for example visited museums in Coldstream and Jedburgh, walked around the Hirsel to admire the autumn colours, enjoyed making crafts at home, went for a river walk, sightseeing and lunches all over the region, trips to the theatre locally and in Edinburgh, evening classes at Borders College and gym visits.
We also held a Friendship Day aimed at our adult members, 104 family carers benefited (10 were new to the Project). They did a wide variety of things with the time available, for example met other parents, went places as a couple, did shopping, spend time with members’ siblings or socialised at the same time as the groups met. We also held two sessions to give carers the chance to meet up with each other.
Creative Breaks Priorities 1 & 2 were addressed. Reports and films on our website give a good taste of what went on. We reached members and their families through Social Work, Local Area Co-ordinators & care providers and directly through local publicity and our website. We accepted requests for service in respect of any adult with a learning disability.
Volunteers were recruited through word-of-mouth, our website and a local radio campaign, and trained and PVG checked. Around 60 volunteers were involved at any one time.
What Interest Link Borders has learned
After a 1:1 befriending link has been going for some time, making a Wish List for the future is a good way of concentrating people’s minds.
Respite doesn’t necessarily mean doing things apart: a member who needs constant personal care comes to the baking group with his mother, who has had such a good time that her husband laughingly asked who the sessions were for: herself or their son?
Volunteers often value the relationships just as highly as members, and for several who have recently moved to Scotland from Eastern Europe it has been a great way to get involved in the community themselves.
How Interest Link Borders has benefitted from the funding
Creative Breaks has provided valuable core cost funding to enable us to continue our project and reach new families caring for someone with learning disabilities who is socially isolated. We have strengthened relationships with the local authority and the many local care providers we work with. The grant also helped secure other funding, including three new trusts we had not previously received grants from.
63 carers of adults with learning disabilities (60% of the total 105 carers) and 51 adults with learning disabilities (85% of the 60 total) will be happier/have greater wellbeing because of the project.
This outcome was achieved for 70% of carers. Our project gave them hope for the future that the person they care for can find friends and have a social life independent of them. They could relax happy in the knowledge that they are with friends in a safe environment doing things they enjoy. This outcome was achieved for 90% of members, most of whom would be very vulnerable if they went into the community on their own. Our groups are very similar to mainstream social groups in atmosphere and activities and the distinction between service users and volunteers faded into the background. The volunteers were often the only people in member’s lives who were there entirely by choice and entirely for fun, and this had an enormous impact on self-esteem and happiness.
Lewis is in his 40’s and has learning disabilities. He lives with his sister (and carer) Liz, and her son Samuel. He is linked 1:1 with his befriender Dave, who has become a lynch pin for the whole family. Lewis enjoys the time he spends with Dave, whom he looks to as a role model and source of advice. Liz has also grown to trust Dave and feels secure in the knowledge that the link has a positive impact on her brother’s life in many different ways, steering and guiding Lewis as the friendship has developed. She has also formed a strong friendship with Dave’s wife Avril. Samuel has benefited from Dave’s presence as a male role model and through the increased time Liz can spend with him, so the whole family’s wellbeing has been enhanced. Interest Link Branch Co-ordinator Val Reilly feels “It is wonderful to have initiated this friendship and a privilege to be part of this very special “extended friendship circle.” I never dreamt I would be writing this story about these incredible individuals who make my job so worthwhile and meaningful.”
63 carers of adults with learning disabilities (60% of the total 105 carers) will have had more opportunities to see friends, spend time with spouses and other children and do activities.
75% of carers enjoyed this outcome. Although the respite time provided by our activities was fairly short, it was regular and predictable. We also provided transport to most groups and with 1:1 links, which extended the time available. Most carers spent the time with family members or met up with friends or other members’ parents. Some just had quiet time to themselves.
Sally, who has moderate learning disabilities, and Lynnette met up last April and have been having a ball ever since with a link full of fun, laughter and giggles. At their initial meeting they chose wish list themes of ”Swimming” and “Crafts”. They met up for coffee in Jedburgh several times before going to Jedburgh Swimming Pool where they had fun and even did some swimming in between chatting and laughing. The pair have recently decorated glass at All Awards in Jedburgh and had a day trip up to Edinburgh Zoo. Sally talked about her day for many weeks afterwards and reiterated how much she had enjoyed being out with Lynnette. The current plan is for more swimming and a spa day. Sally has been with Interest Link since she was 12 and the organisation has been a part of her life as she has transitioned from childhood through to teenage years and into adulthood. Sally and Lynnette are happy to be with each other and we are very happy to have played a small part in bringing them together. Sally`s mum can`t imagine Sally`s life without Interest Link. The organisation has offered friendship connections for Sally that have spanned 10 years, and many hours of respite including overnight stays for Sally`s parents. “It has been great knowing we have a regular break coming and can spend more time with other family members and go out ourselves"
63 carers of adults with learning disabilities (60% of the total 105 carers) will feel more able to sustain their role.
80% of carers enjoyed this outcome. Some of our carers have been caring for a son or daughter with learning disabilities for 40 years or more. A befriending link relieved the pressure on them, particularly now that day centre places have been much reduced. The person they care for came back home with plenty to talk about and looked forward to the next outing, which brightened up the whole family. The opportunity to spend time with other family members had a very positive impact on the sustainability and resilience of family life and the caring role.
Mark (22) has severe learning disabilities. He rarely leaves the house and was very introverted and anxious when he and Ray first met, but now they are reaching for the stars. First they had gentle walks, chats, coffees, lunches and Airfix model making. Then they tapped into Mark’s love of local history and maps. Meetings for lunch became planning meetings, with dates fixed up, finer details and practical arrangements sorted and they then set off on an historical journey around the Scottish Borders, visiting ruined castles, walking along old railway lines, visiting and exploring prisoner of war memorials and camps. Next on the list were the local big hills: Peniel Heugh, Minto and Ruberslaw. Mark was proud of his efforts and Ray in awe at Marks commitment as he focused and reached the summits in quick succession. Mark’s mother works full-time and finds it difficult to organise things to get Mark out of the house. She said “Ray has been amazing and I’m over the moon that Mark has a friend and has managed to do all the things he has over the last few months. It gives me hope for the future and makes things easier at home: Mark is always talking about what they have been up to and looking forward to the next outing and it eases the pressure on me to find things for Mark to do”
Additional project outcome
Members developed greater confidence as relationships were built up and they achieved things individually or as part of a group. Members’ social and communication skills improved through 1:1 and group interaction.
Claire is 28, has learning disabilities and finds it difficult to communicate appropriately. She also has problems with walking and a visual impairment. Claire is unsure of new things and needs time to cope with change but after a few months in a group for young adults she loved everything about it and threw herself into the activities with great enthusiasm. She is a popular member of the Group who always makes sure others are okay, and who welcomes new members. She has made friends and looks forward to coming along. It is a supportive Group and this has enabled her confidence to grow. Her self-esteem has always been a bit fragile if she is spoken to in a way she doesn’t understand, and being part of the Group enables her to learn more about communication skills. It also gives other members a chance to explain what is meant. She has become more self-sufficient and able to cope away from her family. Her Mum says “it is wonderful for Claire to do things without family members supporting her. It gives her something to talk about with us and she is full of chat when she comes back. It gives us time on our own as she doesn’t often get out in the evening. This is effective in providing Claire with what she needs, challenging and interesting things to do and people to do them with.”