North Lanarkshire Befriending Project Short Breaks
A story by Volunteering Matters
We ran residential trips for disabled young people aged under 20 and their carers during the Easter (3 days) and Summer (5 days) holidays. During the residential trips the young people engaged in a range of outdoor adventure and team-building activities that were active, fun and challenging.
What North Lanarkshire Befriending Project Short Breaks did
We held two residential breaks for cares and cared for children. The first was in June at SU Gowanbank for two days, and another in October at Auchingillan for five days. We took young people who were referred to us from social work and Action For Children as they had a need for befriending for varying issues including their disabilities leading to social isolation, bullying and various other ongoing issues.
Our carers used the time when their young people were with us to have a break themselves and participate in activities that they normally would not be able to due to their caring responsibilities. One parent used the time to submit a successful college application. Another used some of the time to complete decorating to her home which was a huge relief as the family had struggled to find the time to do so. Our other parents and carers advised they were able to focus on spending quality time with their other children, family and friends which they normally could not find the time for.
We used existing Volunteering Matters staff and volunteer befrienders who are experienced and trained working with young people. They were known to our young people to ensure they felt supported to attend the short breaks with familiar faces. This helped alleviate the anxiety that most of them felt about leaving the security of their day to day support network.
We reached YP who had varying disabilities and who also come from deprived areas. We provided activities that they have not experienced before such as tubing, bowling, survival skills, outdoor baking, climbing, orienteering, tree climbing, abseiling, kayaking and many more. We also focussed on team building activities to encourage maintaining peer relationships which a lot of our young people struggle with in their day to day lives, particularly in the education setting. This was extremely successful and our young people made friendships which they have maintained since the trips.
Our project went to plan entirely. Extra planning had to be put in place to ensure Covid guidelines were adhered to.
What Volunteering Matters has learned
We have run residential trips for young people for three years prior to receiving this funding (pre-Covid), therefore we pulled upon previous experience to ensure that the trips were a success and ran smoothly. We were able to target families most in need of support due to our existing partnership working with AFC, social work and education. They could also help signpost us to new families who were in need of this support and short break.
Changing Covid guidelines was our greatest challenge. These were continually changing on the lead up to our planned trips. We postponed our Easter trip until June and pushed our Summer trip back to October to allow for the relaxing of Covid restrictions. We changed the sleeping and travel arrangements to allow for the first trip to take place.
How Volunteering Matters has benefitted from the funding
By providing residential trips and working closely with existing partners we were able to further strengthen these relationships. This was also true when working with the families. We were able to get to know our young people better after spending extended time away with them and develop a greater understanding of individual families circumstances. This in turn led to us being able to signpost them, to other agencies for further support, or offer befriending to YP previously not identified as requiring this support. Overall this will strengthen our reputation around our commitment to working with and supporting children, young people and families in North Lanarkshire.
Participating disabled young people will begin to recognise their own potential and abilities. This helps them to have greater aspirations for their future and will be more able to make positive choices
Every YP received 1:1 support to participate in the activities they chose. Each YP chose to attempt every activity. Some of these activities were demanding physically and emotionally. We're proud to report that over both residential trips each young person participated and/or completed everything. They all went home with a huge sense of achievement and pride in their participation. Whilst this was challenging, the activities were held in a positive and fun way. At the end of each trip, we held group meetings where our young people could reflect on their experiences, likes and dislikes, and their achievements. We used this opportunity to highlight the progress and challenges that they had overcame without even realising it. We collated this information for each young person and were able to feed this back to their parents/carers. Each young person received a personalised certificate with their outcomes and the activities they took part in. Our YP made lasting friendships with others.
One of our YP that came on our first trip suffered from autism, extreme anxiety, but also had a caring role in respect of her father who had suffered multiple strokes and had emphysema. Emma was anxious about coming on the trip. During our evaluation process Emma stated that “I won’t be able to make friends, I never do. Nobody likes me because I am different” Emma also said that “I can’t do most of the activities. I’m rubbish at those things. I can’t even do PE at school. My Mum used to write me notes. She doesn’t even bother now because my teachers know I won’t do it, so I sit and watch”. Emma was too anxious to go on the bus in a larger group, so we offered to drive Emma separately. We did everything to encourage Emma to come and she did with the offer of travelling by car. During the car journey Emma again stated that she would never make friends and that although she had input into the activities, she still felt that she would not be able to participate in the team building ones she chose. We arrived earlier than the large group on the bus to give Emma a chance to get to know the onsite staff, pick her room and show her around the house and the grounds. This helped Emma settle in and alleviated some of the anxiety she had without having the pressure and noise of being in a larger group. Emma’s volunteer befriender arrived with the larger group, and this also helped. Emma then began mixing with the other young people and to her surprise, soon became fast friends with the other young girls and disappeared off with them during the “settling in” period. After this we began with team activities where the YP were put into groups and had to do challenges to gain materials for the “egg drop” challenge we were having at the end of the day. Emma was in a group with her befriender and other YP. Although Emma was not keen to get involved in activities where she was too close to other YP, it soon became clear that she had excellent problem solving and leadership skills and was nominated as the group leader. This allowed Emma to participate fully. Emma’s confidence was boosted by this, and she soon came out of her shell and was keeping everyone focussed on the task at hand. Emma had a very kind but authoritative manner throughout her role and this led to her team winning the “egg drop” challenge. By the end of the first day, we had all observed the change in Emma already, and that evening she was relaxed and was friends with everyone on the trip. Emma also supported another young girl who was homesick. Emma was able to share her own feelings and anxiety and went out of her way to ensure that the other YP was included in the evenings activities. This positive progress continued throughout the whole trip and Emma took part in every activity. This also led to Emma returning home on the bus with her friends. Throughout the trip we had to reassure Mum more than Emma with phone calls to alleviate Mums concerns as she was expecting Emma to return home early. Upon returning home, Emma was delighted to see her parents and Mum could not believe how much Emma had achieved in a short time. We held follow up conversations with Emma and her parents. They expressed to us how grateful they were for Emma having this opportunity. They also advised that Emma had made a great friend who was in a similar situation to her, and that they were chatting regularly through social media and that it was lovely to hear laughter coming from Emma’s bedroom. Emma had a more positive outlook on school and had even asked for a new PE kit which Mum said “shocked” her. Mum also stated that Emma was leaving the house to socialise more in the local community which Mum said she did not do at all before. Overall, Emma’s confidence and outlook on life in general was extremely positive compared to before.
Carers will have improved their wellbeing through being able to participate in external interests as a result of the respite provided by the residential trips
All our parents/carers used the respite as a chance to relax knowing that their YP were cared for and having fun. We kept in contact with them daily. They used the time to relax and spend time with family members, friends and participate in activities that they did not normally. One parent completed a college application that they had not had time to focus on. Another parent was able to spend time with her elderly parents, taking them out on a day trip which would not have been possible on a weekend. Another parent used the time to redecorate their bedroom which had been frustrating them. Nights out with partners/friends were a common activity. Having 1:1 time with their other children and long lies were enjoyed. Parents told us that being able to carry out day to day tasks such as shopping, washing the car, walking the dog, at their own pace without the worry or stress of taking their child or having to finding alternative care arrangements free of guilt.
One of our YP who came on our trip was referred to us by Action For Children due to his caring responsibilities for his parent. He himself suffered from severe anxiety and ADHD. He had a very chaotic homelife due to his Mum having a bipolar diagnosis and borderline personality disorder. As a result of having some respite, Mum used the time to access mental health support for herself and took the time to receive support to improve their household conditions. Prior to the trip, the atmosphere at home had reached crisis point and the view of other agencies involved was that Mum may have to spend some time in hospital for support surrounding her own mental health. Mum used the five days to receive help around the house whilst knowing that YP was in a safe environment and was accessing activities that he had not previously. Mum had been reluctant to do so previously whilst the YP was at home. This YP had never spent time away home, or had the opportunity to take part in extra curricular activities. Due to Covid, his P7 trip, and a planned trip with Action For Children had been cancelled. They were both delighted that he had an opportunity to have this experience. Upon his return home, he was delighted to see the improvements Mum had made and that Mum had also accepted support from other agencies. The time-out this offered them both was extremely positive. This YP continues to have a befriender and still speaks about his trip away with us and the impact that this had on his home life. Another parent gave positive feedback on how the trip had impacted her whole family. Whilst her YP was with us for three days, they were able to spend quality time with their elderly parents, which they could not normally do at the weekend. Their YP requires 1:1 support at all times to manage their behaviour, particularly in public settings, which meant that she could not spend time with her parents who also require support with mobility when they are out and about. She could not thank us enough for giving her this break and allowing a chance to relax, recharge and make lasting memories with her parents. Through gaining feedback from all of our parents and carers 100% of participating carers felt that their feelings of wellbeing had improved as a result of the residential trips we offered.
Disabled children/young people and their carers will increase their mental health and general wellbeing as a result of the worthwhile and enjoyable residential trips
Every young person, parent and carer invited to both of our residential trips gave us extremely positive feedback in regards to their own and their YP mental health and well being. Prior to the trips we had lenghty discussions and group meetings to alleviate concerns and discuss the activities that each YP would and/or could participate in. This alleviated any fears and concerns that both the YP and their parent/carers had. This meant that on the lead up to the trip they were looking forward to and could plan how they would spend their time-out. It gave them all something to look forward to. By having the break, they were all able to focus, recharge and enjoy new experiences which their disability or caring roles would not normally afford them.
One of the single parent families that we worked with had three children, ages 13, 6 and 4. The YP referred to us to participate in our 5 day residential trip was 13 and had a diagnosis of autism. The YP requires 1:1 support in daily life. Mum felt that his two younger siblings often missed out on her attention and family activities as these were often cut short or dominated by their older brother. This meant that simple activities such as watching a film were often led by and chosen by their older sibling and going out in the local community was often not an option depending if their older sibling was having a good or bad day. Mum was reticent at first of the idea of us taking Adam on the residential trip as he had not spent much time away from home except with other family members. Through the group work prior to the trip we were able to alleviate Mums concerns as she could see Adam interact with the other YP and staff and how we interacted with him. We assured Mum that at any point, if needed we could bring Adam home but at no point did Adam want to do this. Whilst on our five day trip Adam thoroughly enjoyed all of the activities and showed a particular talent on the climbing wall. He made friends with all of the other children and managed the five day trip much to Mums delight. Upon returning from the trip Mum noticed that his relationship with his younger brother and sister had drastically improved. Mum also felt more confident in Adam joining other groups in his local community and Adam now has a befriender who he spends 3-4 hours a fortnight with doing activities and going to a local climbing wall where he continues, along with the support of his befriender. This gives Mum a time-out fortnightly where she can plan activities with his younger siblings. Mum has advised that as a result of this it as made a significant impact to their family life.