Roxburgh Learning Disabilities Befriending Project
A story by Interest Link Borders
We delivered 1:1 and group befriending for 22 children and young people with learning disabilities aged 8-20 years and their carers living in the Scottish Borders.
Members formed friendships with peer-age volunteers and 38 carers had short breaks knowing their children were enjoying themselves.
What Roxburgh Learning Disabilities Befriending Project did
22 members with learning disabilities were supported during the year (target 20). There were 5 1:1 friendships and 17 members were in befriending groups.
This provided short breaks for 38 family carers. 4 new volunteers from schools were trained and checked, and around 20 volunteers were involved at any one time.
1:1 links met fortnightly for 2-3 hours and did a variety of activities including going for walks, model-making, visiting safari parks and Dynamic Earth, going to shows & films, exercising at the gym, swimming and just going for coffee and meals.
There were 4 befriending groups which met fortnightly and did a wide variety of youth club activities such as arts & crafts, drama, film-making, outdoor adventure activities, healthy eating, games, Xmas and Easter parties. Children’s Group highlights included outdoor adventures at Wild Woods in the summer, production of a newspaper about the group’s activities and a performance of ”Three wolves And A Bad Pig” to a packed house in February.
Young people’s Group highlights included the premiere of their Still Game film to parents, an overnight trip to Belfast, outdoor adventures and a photo exhibition at Wild Woods and completion of filming of Mrs Brown’s Boys.
Hawick High School Group: high demand meant the group membership changed each term to give everyone an opportunity. Wilton Primary School, this currently has just one member with 3 volunteers, one of whom had the member to his birthday party, social inclusion in action!
38 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.
All Better Breaks priority areas were addressed apart from that dealing with children aged 0-5.
What Interest Link Borders has learned
The in-school groups have their challenges and limitation, but the broader social inclusion effect on the whole school is striking and probably couldn’t be achieved through any other means.
There is a significant profile-raising side to entering Awards and they are a good publicity tool locally and nationally. Finding new ways of approaching evaluation keeps it fresh and enjoyable for all concerned.
How Interest Link Borders has benefitted from the funding
The innovation in Roxburgh has directly resulted in 4 in-school groups in two of our other branches. It has also significantly deepened our already-strong relationships with the schools, which we rely on for assistance in reaching members and recruiting volunteers.
20 children and young people with learning disabilities will have friendships with volunteers and will have done a wide range of fun activities that also improved their confidence, self-esteem and social skills.
All the children and young people took part in activities which are fun, stimulating and rewarding, and we would regard these as outputs rather than outcomes. The outcomes we are aiming at are more friends, confidence, self-esteem and social & communication skills for these, outcomes reported at Annual Review were high at 95%. We also found the impact of the in-school groups was high despite the sessions being much shorter than for most of our groups. This was because they improved inclusion in the school as a whole: members who had made friends with peer mentors in the groups were now also friends during the rest of school time (and invited to events like a birthday party as a result).
Jade has been involved with the group for just over three years. And she is very much aware of how she has changed as a person as a result of being part of such a welcoming company. “I am a different person since I first joined the group. I am amongst people who enjoy my company and I certainly very much enjoy being around them. As a group member I have made many new friends and I now enjoy activities with some of them outside the group. We go places and do things like shopping. Without Interest Link I am not sure if this would have happened. It has made a real difference to my life. The first time I came to the group I was incredibly nervous, now I am much more confident and have learned lots of new skills. We are always participating in different activities as a group and that along with the people is what I enjoy.”
20 children and young people with learning disabilities and 26 carers of children and young people with learning disabilities (75% of the total 35 carers) will feel happier because of our project.
The outcome was reported by 75% of carers, Carers feel their children are missing out on the opportunities and social connections they should have and are worried they are isolated at school and will not be able to make friends as adults. Our groups and 1:1 friendships relieve this fear. The outcome was reported by 95% of members. It is amazing to see the difference in brightness of outlook of members, particularly given how short the befriending sessions are. Having something to look forward to, either in school time or after, and feeling part of a mainstream group or 1:1 friendship has an enormous impact.
Janet is 13 and had difficulties at school which badly affected her confidence. We felt Alix would be a wonderful fit and so started the introduction process, and the girls instantly clicked. They enjoyed a couple of home based craft sessions and then started to venture out a little, going to Macdonald’s for ice cream. Whilst out for ice cream, they bumped into some pupils form school who had been unkind to Janet but she was greatly reassured by Alix’s presence and they enjoyed their time together. Her mum says ‘My daughter Janet had been struggling with social isolation and lack of confidence before her link with Alix. Since they started meeting up she has found her confidence and is much happier. She enjoys going out for ice cream and to the cinema with Alix and loves chatting to her and being able to be just a typical teenager. It's wonderful to see and it makes me much happier knowing she has a friend her own age who will keep her safe.”
26 carers of children and young people with learning disabilities (75% of the total 35 carers) will have had more opportunities to see friends, spend time with spouses and other children or do activities because of our project.
This outcome was reported by 80% of carers. Although the respite time provided by our activities is fairly short, it is regular and predictable. We also provide transport to most groups and 1:1 links, which extends the time available.
Lewis is 16 years old and lives with his family. He is autistic and struggles to maintain friendships. His mother contacted us and asked if we would be able to involve Lewis as he had no other social opportunities outside the family. We invited Lewis and his mum to join us at our Monday baking group as Lewis enjoys baking. Lewis requires 1:1 support within the group so his mum attended at first but he now attends with a support worker. This way Lewis can enjoy the group activity but have the support he needs. He is increasingly settled in the group. His mum Frances said “I was really nervous about him joining a group but he was welcomed and made to feel relaxed and successful immediately! He looks forward to coming to the group and showing me what he has made when he comes home! I can now take up a new hobby as this is the only group Lewis attends and my only spare time.”
26 carers of children and young people with learning disabilities (75% of the total 35 carers) will feel more able to sustain their role because of our project.
This outcome was reported by 75% of carers. The combination of improvement in the brightness of outlook and engagement of a child who has something to look forward to, together with the reduction in stress on other family relationships has a very positive impact on the sustainability and resilience of family life and the caring role.
The parents of group members certainly value what is on offer at Interest Link: Joanne said: “As Ryan’s mum I love the fact that there is a club that offers a variety of topics, keeping the kids interested, and on the go. I like getting a chance to see and hear what he’s been getting involved in and having fun and it gives us more to talk about when he comes back.” While Lynne said: “The wide range of experiences provided by Interest Link is second to none. Matthew enjoys the new friendships made with non-judgemental people looking at having meaningful relationships the same as him. The staff provide a safe haven for the kids to be themselves and a release valve for their energy so things are less stressed at home.” Carer Pam is completely clear in what the group means to Blair. She said: “Blair looks forward to his ‘wee club’ as he calls it, and asks every week if it is on. I as a carer am very grateful that Blair has something to look forward to that he enjoys and is very much for him. It is nice to be invited along to see what he has been doing, like the fashion show, it was brilliant.”
We will publicise our work nationally to show how effective our befriending service model is and the benefits it could have elsewhere.
We were successful in using a variety of methods to raise the profile of our projects in and beyond the Scottish Borders. The case study looks at 3 examples, the first of which is in this section due to word limits: Accessible Evaluation Evidence, The Roxburgh Children’s Group produced a newspaper in Summer 2018 with a local tutor, Graham Ford. Group members and peer mentors did most of the reporting and the end result was 12 pages of articles, photos and feedback from members, volunteers, carers, staff and tutors. The newspaper was easy and fun to read but was also solid evaluation evidence, it looked at the specific outcomes we aim for, recent activities including the new Hawick High School group and gave a rounded view of every aspect of the project. It is now in the Evaluation section of our website and has been sent to funders and other organisations.
See Results above for first section of the case study. Publicity through a Befriending Networks event: A Parliamentary Reception was hosted by Monica Lennon MSP in November 2018 to showcase befriending projects from around Scotland. It included a filmed Interest Link interview between a member and volunteer who have a 1:1 link and lots of presence on camera. The event was attended by a large number of MSPs interested to know more about befriending’s impact. National Awards publicity: Interest Link was shortlisted for the Equality & Diversity prize at the National Youth Work Awards in March 2019. We didn’t win, but the shortlist was publicised around Scotland and garnered good media coverage in the Borders. It was a particularly good forum because there seems to be no other Youth Work services doing anything similar to us, i.e. involving peer mentors to enable children with learning disabilities to access a mainstream youth group.
Additional project outcome
Volunteers will feel more confident making friends with children and young people with learning disabilities. 100% of volunteers reported this outcome. Rest of results are in case study section due to lack of space.
The result is no surprise because there is still an effective segregation of those with learning disabilities. It is very rewarding to see how enriching volunteers find their befriending, particularly when young volunteers are involved. Hopefully their increase in awareness and confidence lasts throughout their lives, making society in general a more welcoming place for people with learning disabilities. Case study consists of Feedback captured in the Children’s Group Newspaper, Keira: “I really enjoy working with children and volunteering has helped me realise that I want to work with children when I am older as a PE teacher. I watch them come out of their shell, they get to know us better, and we get to know them. “ Niamh: “I came here to achieve volunteering hours for my Duke of Edinburgh but got new friends out of it and have really enjoyed being part of the group. I like seeing everyone have fun.” Carmel: “I thoroughly enjoy it, helping the children, seeing them motivated. The joy on their faces. Seeing children enjoying themselves.”