Reaching Further with Reach4Reality: Continuing to Extend our Reach
A story by Reach4Reality
We delivered 1:1 and small group work with 8 autistic young people not receiving Self Directed Support, continued to provide the DofE Award scheme, delivered two of our weekend camps included family members as well as their autistic children and we ran evening and day activity sessions in a variety of outdoor activities.
What Reaching Further with Reach4Reality: Continuing to Extend our Reach did
During the year we worked with 8 young people with ASD who were not receiving self-directed-support: 6 already known to us, 2 from our waiting list. This involved regular 1:1 activities with the Project Worker (including walking, biking) plus longer small group activities ranging from day activities-overnight stays-weekend and a 5 day camp, depending on the needs of the individual. Activities took place outdoors locally to the young people or using local outdoor centres.
We continued to provide the DofE scheme and supported 5 young people with their Silver Award, three of whom completed their Silver practice and qualifying expeditions last autumn and have now completed their remaining sections. They are now working towards their Gold award together with another young person. The other 2 are continuing to work towards their Silver sections and another young person has started his Bronze Award.
We were unable to run a separate Family camp due to Coronavirus restrictions but instead enjoyed having 3 family members plus 4 young people with additional support needs alongside us on two of our general weekend camps. They enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities including mountain biking, Adventure Course, Team challenges, canoeing, archery and a walk.
Due to the Covid lockdown our evening activity sessions were postponed until the autumn term. We ran 2 canoeing sessions, 3 trail biking sessions and 1 mountain biking session: the remaining sessions had to be cancelled due to the dark nights and poor weather. We also ran 1 session of badminton in December and 2 sessions of archery in March 2021. 14 young people took part in at least one of these sessions. We ran 17 half day activities (biking, canoeing, archery & climbing) and 2 full days in the summer holidays for 18 young people.
Other than on the camps including family members, we did not work directly with the carers but whilst the young people were participating in activities, they were able to spend quality time with other family members/friends or enjoy their own leisure activity. Priorities addressed were complex needs, sports and active leisure, transition to adulthood and independence.
What Reach4Reality has learned
Developing new short break activities: in the summer of 2019 we had run a few half day/day activities as a trial and had planned to run a slightly more extensive programme during the summer holidays 2020. In the end, due to the great demand after the first lockdown, we ran far more activities than anticipated, especially as numbers were restricted on each sessions due to ongoing Covid restrictions.
Although this presented a logistical challenge to organise in terms of matching the individual needs and interests of the young people and the activities, the feedback from young people and carers was extremely positive. We have therefore developed this further since the end of the project by running a similar programme over the Easter holidays 2021 and are currently planning our programme for the summer holidays 2021.
Reaching out and engaging with new families/ targeting families most in need of support: for our programme of evening, small group activities (foundation trail biking, canoeing and mountain biking) we only invited young people on our ever growing waiting list: this worked well and most of those young people who took part in this part of the project are now receiving ongoing input from Reach4Reality (both 1:1 and small group activities): the evening sessions proved a good way for the young people/their carers to gain a better understanding of what we do, as well as for us to begin to get to know the young people better and what we can offer them looking forward.
Dealing with unexpected challenges or opportunities: the impact of the covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions obviously created the biggest unexpected challenge to us in running the project. This included the need to find alternative ways of supporting the young people and carers during the initial lockdown through individual phone calls, video calls, extra emails and group online activities such as a quiz, Bingo with a Difference, online games evening.
We also had to adapt and be creative in resuming 1:1 sessions and in developing the programme of small group half day/day activities over the summer. We also had to adapt our residential camps once we were able to run them, to take into account the Covid requirements of the outdoor centre we used, for example having to stay in the main house rather than one of their chalets. As we were unable to run a family camp as planned in the original project, due to Covid restrictions, we invited a few families to come on one of our general camps: although this meant that they did not benefit from the mutual support and sharing with other families, it gave them a much better idea of what our camps are like and gave them greater confidence when their son/daughter came on future camps. We learnt that as an organisation Reach4Reality has been resilient and able to adapt, and that our young people, with the right support, have also been able to adapt and develop resilience
How Reach4Reality has benefitted from the funding
Reach4Reality has benefitted from the Better Breaks funding in the following ways: It has helped us to develop further the new service of half day/day activities during the school holidays as referred to above. This has also added to our skills and understanding in how best to offer a similar service during future school holidays. It has also enabled us to reach out to a limited extent to some of the young people on our waiting list by offering them places on some of our evening activities: this has helped us to get to know them and for them to get to know us so that when we are able to provide more ongoing activities for them, they will already be more confident and comfortable in taking part in the activities that we can offer. It has enabled us to secure other funding towards the staffing aspects of providing the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme; and overall it has helped to continue to strengthen our reputation locally.
Up to 42 young people/adults with autism will have participated in fun, active outdoor and leisure activities through the 1:1 sessions, day activities, weekend or 5 day camps, short activity sessions or DofE award scheme, as well as developed friendships.
This was more or less fully achieved: 33 young people/adults with autism or another social communication difficulty took part in a variety of fun, active outdoor and leisure activities, ranging from short 1:1 sessions locally through small group half day or day activities to weekend camps and a 5 day camp, plus 2 Silver DofE 3 day canoeing expeditions. After months of lockdown the half day activities during the summer holidays were particularly popular and we ran more than we had initially proposed as part of the original project.
John is a 15 year old lad who has autistic spectrum disorder and anxiety. He lives at home with his Mum and younger brother. Due to his autism he struggles with the mainstream school environment and spends most of his time in his own room in the learning support base. He finds it hard to make and maintain friendships with his peers. His anxieties increased during the first Covid lockdown and pressures at home were getting towards breaking point. As John did not receive self-directed support (SDS), his activities with Reach4Reality were initially funded through our Better Breaks grant: he has now been granted a small amount of SDS so has been able to continue activities with us long term. From June 2020 John has been having weekly 2-3 hour mountain bike sessions with one of our Project Workers, as he was interested in mountain biking but never really had the opportunity to develop this interest. Also, during the summer holidays 2020, John joined in 4 half-day mountain bike sessions with one or two other young people, giving him more opportunities to interact with his peers - something that he doesn’t get much of. Although this has been challenging for him, he has had to learn to share (the adults’ time and attention), become more patient (waiting for the slower members of the group) and according to his Mum it has helped him to realise that he can do things for himself and can fit in within a group such as Reach4Reality. As well as developing his biking skills, fitness and stamina, to varying degrees, the biking has helped his emotional and mental wellbeing and has helped to “ground him” in the real world -as well as providing a positive male role model, something he does not have in his life.
Up to 8 carers/family members will have had the opportunity to try a variety of outdoor activities on a family camp; up to 65 carers will have had the chance to enjoy a break from their caring role, for example spending time with other family members, enjoying their own leisure time activities.
This was more or less fully achieved: 57 carers benefitted from having a break from their caring role, again something they greatly welcomed after the first national lockdown when stresses at home escalated. This gave them a chance to re-charge their batteries, enjoy some quality time with other family members or just enjoy being able to go for a walk or bike ride on their own Due to Covid restrictions we were unable to run a specific family camp as originally planned. However, 2 families (7 people) joined us on two of our general weekend camps. The 3 carers enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities ranging from canoeing to mountain biking and archery, as well as getting some time to themselves in the evenings.
Sharon (Mum) and Ian (Dad) came on one of our weekend camps at an outdoor residential centre with their 3 youngest children (Nick, Annie and Jon, ages 12-16) each of whom has complex additional needs. Nick and Annie took part in activities with their Mum for example, archery, walk, adventure course, Mission Impossible; whilst Jon and Ian joined another small group of young people for canoeing and a full day’s mountain biking. Sharon says: “We first stayed for a family weekend which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. It was great to see the children relax and become more confident over the weekend and we really had a great weekend, I would highly recommend it. The Reach4Reality Team take a slow patient approach, very child centered, to build trust with each child”. On the weekend Sharon and Ian were able to enjoy activities which they would not usually be able to participate in due to the needs of the 3 children: this gave them some time outside their caring role. Since their weekend camp all 3 children have been on at least another overnight or full weekend without their parents which has given Sharon and Ian further opportunities to live a life outside their caring roles. Sharon also says: “Reach4Reality has had such a positive effect for our family. For us as parents it has given us much needed breaks, whilst not making us feel guilty or the children feeling pushed out as they see the breaks as adventures for them, and we get time on our own or to spend with other family members”
Up to 65 carers will feel better supported to sustain their caring role, through being involved in the planning of the activities their young person/adult receives to ensure that they are tailored to the young person’s individual needs.
This was more or less fully achieved. 57 carers were involved in planning activities for their young person/adult which ensured that the activities met their individual needs. They were involved in pre and post activity discussions and planning which gave them the confidence to relax during activity breaks knowing that their son/daughter was well cared for and having fun. This enabled them to feel better supported to sustain their caring role.
Toby (15 years) is an autistic young carer who lives with his Mum, Lorraine, who has her own health needs. He has been supported through our Better Breaks grant for a few years and enjoys weekly 1:1 walks with a Project Worker as well as coming on small group half day/day activities, weekend camps and a 5 day camp. These activities enable both him and his Mum to sustain their caring roles, as this feedback from Lorraine illustrates: “Reach4Reality provides an excellent service that is tailored to our family’s personal needs. I feel that each time Toby is included in an activity or camp he has been matched with activities he will enjoy and people he will feel comfortable with. We are always provided with plenty of information beforehand so that Toby feels well prepared for what to expect, and I know that he will be well looked after. With the weekly one to one sessions Toby benefits from the continuing relationship with staff between activities/camps which he needs to feel confident about going away. This also boosts his self esteem each week and gives him the chance to get out the house since he wouldn't normally go out socially. In turn this helps sustain my caring role as he is much happier and settled when he has something to look forward to each week. The camps are amazing for Toby to encourage his independence, push his boundaries and have positive social interaction with both staff members and his peers. He particularly struggles to chat to his peers on an informal basis so the evenings at camp give him opportunity to develop this. When Toby goes away to camp it gives me an opportunity I wouldn't otherwise have to relax and not have to follow the strict routines Toby has in place each day. This helps sustain my caring role as it can be a lot of pressure to get things "right" for Toby so a short break gives me respite and I always feel ready to get back to our routines on his return. Without Reach4Reality Toby would not interact with his peers beyond school hours and would not have the confidence to try new things. I also would never have a break from caring for Toby which can be exhausting. The continued support throughout the pandemic has been invaluable too!”
Up to 65 carers of young people with communication difficulties will have improved well-being due to having a break from their caring role. Up to 42 young people will have improved well-being (fitness, confidence, physical, social & independence skills) due to participation in outdoor activities.
This was more or less fully achieved. 57 carers benefitted from having a break from their caring role, again something they greatly welcomed after the first national lockdown when stresses at home escalated. This gave them a chance to re-charge their batteries, enjoy some quality time with other family members or just enjoy being able to go for a walk or bike ride on their own. 33 young people had improved well-being as a result of participating in activities. For example: improved confidence and fitness as they improved their biking, archery or canoeing skills; or team work and independence skills as they undertook and achieved their DofE Silver expedition. Several young people said that doing activities with us during the summer holidays greatly helped their confidence in gradually going out more after the first lockdown and in returning to school in August.
This case study refers to the family highlighted in outcome/case study 2: Sharon (Mum), Ian (Dad); Nick (12 years ASD & ADHD), Annie (14 years learning disability) and Jon (16 years, ASD & ADHD). Reach for reality has had such a positive effect for our family, our 3 youngest children all have complex needs. Sharon says: “For us as parents it has given us much needed breaks, whilst not making us feel guilty or the children feeling pushed out as they see the breaks as adventures for them. We first stayed for a family weekend which was thoroughly enjoyed by all it was great to see the children relax and become more confident over the weekend and we really had a great weekend. The Reach4Reality Team take a slow patient approach, very child centered, to build trust with each child. Nick : the most anxious of the children has enjoyed half days/ days and we built up to a stay over weekend, this is a huge step for him. It’s great to see him grow in confidence and relax, he enjoys any outdoor pursuits and made new friends. He now asks when he is going next! Never thought this would happen! Annie: Annie has enjoyed all her 1:1 walks with Reach4Reality staff and their dog: she really benefits from any 1:1 as can be overpowered by her brothers. It has really helped with her well-being and fitness. She has enjoyed weekends away and it’s great to see her grow in confidence. Jon: Jon was very reluctant to go to the family weekend, but wow he had a fantastic time, met up and made new friends it was great to see him relax and just be himself he has very low self esteem and exercise has such a positive effect on his mental health. He has enjoyed a couple of other weekends since the family camp
Additional project outcome
There will be more opportunities and choices available for disabled children and young people and their families, including better access to mainstream activities and leisure services.
This outcome was more or less fully achieved, with 33 young people/adults with autism or another social communication difficulty taking part in a range of outdoor activities provided either by ourselves or other local outdoor providers. Activities ranged from short 1:1 sessions, small group half day/day activities through to weekend camps, a 5 day camp and the DofE award. Many young people with additional support needs do not get the opportunity to participate in the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme: either their schools do not run it or are not able to provide the level of support required, or they are home schooled. Andy is a 17 year old with complex needs including speech difficulties who, throughout 2020-21, has been working towards his Silver Duke of Edinburgh Award with Reach4Reality: he has now completed this and is working towards his Gold award with us. For his Silver volunteering section, initially during the Covid Lockdown, Andy supported family members keep their gardens tidy by mowing lawns, carrying items such as compost and helping with planting. He helped inside the house by ironing, preparing meals and clearing up. As restrictions lifted Andy was able to go out with a Support Worker and continue picking litter in his local area. Andy was praised for his 'unwavering positivity', and as well as developing new skills, he also developed an increased awareness of the Health and Safety considerations when out in different environments. An unforeseen consequence of the Covid-19 restrictions was his ability to adapt to a new learning environment – for example working virtually over a video link with his support worker to bake for his family, and clear up afterward. For his physical section, Andy took part in regular fitness activities, both at home and with 1:1 and small group sessions with Reach4Reality. Activities included walking, canoeing, fitness bike and the aim was to improve his stamina, core strength and fitness. There has been a marked improvement in Andy’s stamina and balance – resulting in an increase in his confidence. He has become more independent – most notably on his canoe expedition where he was more able to get himself in and out of the boat independently more often. Andy has now started to learn to ride a bike and continues to improve balance and core strength. For his expedition, Andy successfully completed a three day canoeing expedition along part of the Great Glen canoe trail with 2 other team members, in October 2020. The expedition was carried out as a series of 3 consecutive days in line with DofE With a Difference changes due to Covid-19 restrictions. Two canoes were rafted together and Andy was in the middle of the raft. His paddling was a bit sporadic and intermittent but despite the limited communication between the members of the team in the raft they worked well together and managed to paddle the whole route efficiently and at a fast speed! Andy coped well with the wet and windy weather throughout the 3 days, and at times could be heard singing as they paddled along! Andy took some part in their expedition aim of collecting litter along the way. This quote from Andy’s main carer highlights the benefits that he has gained from taking part in the activities of the Duke Of Edinburgh Award: “I would like to let you know about Andy's experience taking part in the DofE silver award with Reach4Reality. Andy has gained so much from this through meeting with other boys and adults and therefore making decisions regarding what they should do when taking part in the expeditions. He has more confidence in himself and what he is capable of." "His enjoyment in the physical side of things, especially the canoeing and camping and cooking has increased with each session. He is also able to do more things for himself and this is to do with the training required for taking part. His overall fitness has increased due to all the physical exercise required and he would not be able to have taken part in the DofE without the staff from Reach4Reality, I would also like to mention that the Reach4Reality group have made this possible for him and without your support he would not have the social contacts that he has met throughout.”