Social Inclusion and Skills Development Programme
A story by Options in Life
We delivered an adapted services to address the impact of Covid on carers and the adults with learning disabilities they care for. We offered more evening activities, introduced online respite activities and adapted operations to increase capacity while working with smaller groups.
What Social Inclusion and Skills Development Programme did
The young adults we support all have a learning disability and/or autism. The isolation and disruption to routine during two periods of lockdown was very traumatic for them, and families and carers struggled to cope. Options In Life has worked tirelessly to provide support to our families.
We have been running 8 Zoom sessions per week, with our own staff delivering arts & crafts sessions, quizzes, cookery and baking.
We have also been delivering Zoom sessions with partner organisations whose facilitators are well known to our service users, and have a special rapport with them. These include Pilates classes, an MCCI “Seed to Plate” project, visits to Edinburgh Zoo, Bowbridge Alpaca Farm, 5 Sisters Zoo, Highland Wildlife Park, National Aquarium and Our Dynamic Earth, Arts & Crafts with East Nook Studio, Maritime studies with Taymara and Outward Bound Courses and Heritage studies with the Tay & Earn Trust. The sessions are fun and everyone engages well. Parents and carers have been welcome to take part, as such have got to know each other, and have come to look upon Options in Life as their “extended family”. They feel that the online sessions have been a great source of support.
We restarted outdoor group activities in May, and are now running six days a week. With smaller groups and an increased staff presence, it’s all working well. Cycling expeditions and heritage sessions have been taking place in Tentsmuir Forest, conservation work with the Murton Trust, all sorts of outdoor activities with the Tay & Earn Trust, visits to Edinburgh Zoo and 5 Sisters Zoo, work experience projects at MCCI, Bowbridge Alpaca Farm, Craigtoun Park, and St Andrews Botanic Gardens, and Arts & Crafts evening classes at East Nook Studio. Our pop up café also reopened in May and has expanded to 2 days each week to allow us to offer more supported volunteering opportunities.
Apart from providing carers with a much needed break after months of 24/7 caring responsibilities, our service users are coming home from their activities happy and fulfilled, and behavioural issues, which escalated during lockdown, have considerably improved, making family life generally much easier.
What Options in Life has learned
We probably would never have considered offering online activities if it had not been for COVID and lockdown. All of our adapted services have been very well received. We are hearing from families who lost their other regular services as well as from Options in Life, that none of their other service providers offered any alternative form of support service. Our live group video sessions have gone down so well, and have become so much part of our service users' lives, that our intention is to keep running these regularly, even after all of our services return to “normal”. These sessions are now part of "what we do".
To offer the best we can to our young people, we have always worked with partners. Our main partnerships pre COVID were with Taymara, the Tay and Earn Trust and the Murton Trust. These organisations have given us invaluable support over the past 18 months. However, we reached out to other organisations as well and now have fantastic relationships with the Education Departments at 5 Sisters Zoo, Edinburgh Zoo, the Highland Wildlife park and Bowbridge Alpaca Farm, all of whom ran several zoom sessions for us, some with our staff on location. Our groups have all been treated to days out with these organisations since live activities restarted and we look forward to continuing to work with them. We are also extremely grateful to the East Nook Studio for the many many fun craft sessions, both online and in the studio, which have kept our service users and families occupied for hours. The Xmas craft sessions started last night ! We can offer so much more thanks to these wonderful organisations.
Since we have resumed outdoor activities we have been running two minibuses each day. One challenge has been making sure that we have enough drivers to cover all of the trips. We were really struggling for cover, and reluctantly emailed the parents asking if anyone might be prepared to help out occasionally. We were astounded at how many offers we had and the parents who have volunteered with us for an odd day have all had a whale of a time. They have all said going out with our groups has given them a real insight into how valuable our service is, and how much fun the young people have. One dad enjoyed the experience so much that he has applied for a support worker position with us !
How Options in Life has benefitted from the funding
During lockdown, our service users not only lost access to their normal activities with Options in Life, but access to ALL of their other services as well. They were deprived of all of their social contact and were completely isolated, many not understanding what was going on. We realised very quickly that we had to adapt our services and do everything we could to support our families. No other services in our area offered any kind of adapted service. One other support organisation closed its doors permanently and the main support provider in Fife, Fife Community Support Services, run by Fife Health and Social Care, closed its doors in March 20, and their services are still on hold. Our staff and Trustees have worked tirelessly to support our families in every way we can. Our efforts have been recognised and appreciated by everyone and as such the reputation of Options In Life has grown and our services are in demand. We would not have been able to achieve as much as we have without the Creative Breaks funding. Some comments from our service users and carers on our outdoor programmes : We are so impressed at the support he is receiving. My partner and I both work with adults with learning disabilities in various guises and really feel that Options in life is a far above average service and we are really pleased that he is getting such great support. He’s honestly loving being back out on the minibus, and I do not think his mental health would have coped through these times without the zooms Thank you so much Options and Willowgate! He just loves these outdoor activities and the zoom sessions, it is fantastic that you have been able to do this and we can’t thank you all at Options enough. One of the things I have realised these past months, and most like and value with Options, is that the young adults clearly feel part of a ‘group’ and value their friendships, whatever form these take. This is particularly heartening to witness, as for many of these young adults, such opportunities to enjoy the company of others and to form friendships are not always easy or present themselves readily. Thank you so much, I am so glad you have all these outdoor activities and live video sessions organised for the service users. It’s so amazing what you have managed to pull off. Really appreciate all your efforts On our live video sessions: Your team has been an absolute godsend over the last few months and the regular sessions have kept us all going - thank you so much!!! L said she really enjoyed today, she also said, I think that's what we all needed, a good laugh, and to say thank you to everyone involved today We are so glad that Options is still going on through this pandemic, I can honestly say it is one of the highlights of our week. Thank you, Options has been nothing short of a life saver during lockdown and shielding! "Thank you very much to you and all the wonderful staff who have kept going, despite all that has been thrown at us". We wouldn’t want Options to have to stop as it’s the most valuable service that is provided by a fantastic team. P is so pleased with his face mask and name badge. That’s amazing. You guys continue to amaze and put a smile on our faces. Sock sloth and veg as well! What can we say but wow!! Thanks Thanks for all your doing - you are making a real difference at a challenging time. Many thanks- you keep coming up with brilliant ideas These sessions are the highlight or her week He enjoyed the baking today and loved seeing his friends Thank you for looking after me I don’t know what I do without Options in life I will let you know when I need you again big hugs and love to everyone at Options in life Thank you so much, I am so glad you have lots of sessions organised for the service users. It’s so amazing what you have managed to pull off. Really appreciate all your efforts. It really boosted his morale seeing some of his friends from Options. He's looking forward to the next session. Thanks to everyone who organised this, delivered the kit, ran the session. You’re all doing a great job.
After lockdown carers will be at desperation point. Our main goal is to meet the increased level of need and help carers back into a more balanced lifestyle by providing consistent weekly respite to give them the opportunity get their lives back on track and start enjoying a life outside of care.
A 2nd long period of lockdown at the beginning of this year meant face to face activities were put on hold once again. Our daily Zoom sessions were immediately ramped up to 8 per week, and our staff kept in touch with service users and families to offer whatever support they could by phone and Zoom, also delivering materials for arts & crafts and baking/cookery zoom sessions weekly. Parents and carers said these sessions were a Godsend and a lifeline, allowing them a few hours to themselves while the person in their care was entertained, socialising with peers. From May, live outdoor activities resumed and are running 5 days a week. We run 2 minibuses each day to accommodate more service users. Our cafe is offering volunteering opportunities 2 days each week. It has become a popular meeting place where our service users gather as well. We are also running evening craft classes and group cycling excursions. All of these give families a day or an evening's break from their caring role.
P said of Lockdown : Our life has been very busy, tiring, frightening at times, feeling abandoned, emotional and worrying. I have not had any support apart from my husband. I have been unable to work due to looking after my daughter who has learning difficulties. We have had no financial support as we did not qualify for any benefits or government payments. Options In Life has been wonderful, a lifeline for us, our only support. It has been lovely seeing everyone and getting to know them better through the private members Facebook page. We've enjoyed the amazing creations, the fun challenges and all the photos. My daughter loves the zoom sessions, taking part in the activities while catching up with her friends - that has given us a bit of time to ourselves. When live activities started again she was so happy to be back out on the Options bus, seeing her friends and having fun days out – and at last we are getting a proper break and are taking the opportunity to enjoy days out together ourselves.
With some support services for carers closing down, others remaining closed or operating at reduced capacity/functionality, we are determined to return stronger and fully prepared to deliver an increased level of support during these difficult times. Achieving this will be considered a success.
We have been supporting our carers in every way we can, by phone, email and Zoom. Daily group activity Zoom sessions for young adults with LD have been in full swing throughout. These include quizzes, crafts, bingo, cookery/baking, delivered by our own staff. Our partner organisations have delivered Pilates classes, a gardening project,. educational visits to Zoos and wildlife parks, an Alpaca Farm, Murton Nature Reserve, Our Dynamic Earth and The National Aquarium, Crafts at East Nook Studio, Maritime studies with Taymara and Survival and Natural Heritage studies with the Tay & Earn Trust. When restrictions have allowed, our own staff have travelled to the remote location and have taken part in the session. Many of our carers take the opportunity to have some down time to themselves during the sessions– but some have actually joined in, and as such parents have got to know each other and have struck up friendships outwith Options in Life.
L’s mother was extremely stressed and worried about her son, who was convinced he would catch COVID and die if he left the house. He refused to go out, felt there was no point in getting dressed and spent most of his day in bed. He was depressed, felt isolated and was missing his friends and the social contact. He refused to take part in the zoom sessions because he said it wasn’t real contact. One of our volunteers was liaising with L’s mother. The volunteer knows L well, and was aware that he enjoys watching films. After a couple of telephone conversations with L, our volunteer suggested that they agree on a film for them both to watch, they’d each watch the film then have a zoom session to discuss the film. This went so well that after a few films our volunteer managed to persuade L to join one of our activity zooms. That’s when he turned the corner, he absolutely loved it and since then has been first in line to take part in every one of our online sessions. He is happy and chatty and his mother says he is a different person. She takes the opportunity to go out and walk the dog while the sessions are running and says “This has been a lifesaver, for the whole family”. L and our volunteer are still watching and discussing films every week !
Success will be the reported improvement of mental health as a result of our influence and also people with learning disabilities are likely to an experience in physical health as a result of all the physically challenging activities they will be participating in each week.
Adults with autism and LD have suffered more than most throughout the pandemic. Deprived of all social contact and completely isolated, not understanding what was going on, their mental health suffered. As mentioned, our charity ran online virtual activities throughout and families have reported that these were a lifeline. Outdoor group activities launched early summer, much to the delight of our young people. On the first day back, one service user announced that it was the best day of her life ! We are running two minibuses each day, to allow for more participants and social distancing while travelling. Some of the activities and places they have visited : Water of Leith, Willowgate Outdoor Activity Centre, Bowbridge Alpacas, Murton Farm, various zoos and wildlife parks, Aquariums, minigolf, parks, cycling excursions, walking, sailing. Initially some found the unaccustomed freedom difficult, but over time everyone has bounced back and new participants have settled in very quickly.
A father said: Life has been progressively stressed. Our son did not understand what was going on and why his normal routine with Options In Life and other services just stopped. His behaviour was steadily deteriorating and his OCD intensifying. Some days were awful. He was also eating constantly, raiding the fridge and cupboards whenever our backs were turned. He gained a lot of weight. However, he absolutely lit up when the Options zoom sessions were on, and at least during that time we knew he was engaged and happy. We were nervous about face to face activities starting up again, because our son has underlying health issues and he does not understand the need for social distancing. In balance however, he would have been devastated if we had denied him the chance to join his extended Options In Life family. Since returning to live activities he is much more like his old self, more confident, his OCD has diminished again, thank goodness, and with all the physical activity he is losing weight. We are so grateful for your support during some very dark times.
Additional project outcome
People who are cared for will have a greater level of independence and will be less reliant on their carers. Our service will give an opportunity to build confidence and self esteem and develop new skills and abilities that advance our young people towards more independence and employability
Until 3 years ago R, 24, was unemployed and anxious about what the future held for him. Today he is a peer leader with Options in Life and excited about finding a job after getting valuable experience through Options in Life’s projects. R was diagnosed with ADHD and Epilepsy at the age of four and has struggled with a number of learning and emotional difficulties throughout his young adult life. As a result, R found school to be a very difficult time. He said, “School was really tough - I had additional needs that weren’t supported and I was also bullied. I was eventually taken out of school and went to a centre that provided support for my additional needs.” Despite these challenges, R has always had hopes of pursuing a career. He said “My three loves are computing, art and most importantly, cooking. The turning point came when R was signposted to Options in Life, where he enjoyed a wide range of volunteer employment opportunities. Courses have included cooking and baking, digital printing and ceramics and glass fusion. He also joined the Options in Life Cookery programme, and during lockdown took part in all of our virtual activities. During R’s time with the projects his confidence blossomed and since live activities have restarted this year, he has accepted a role as a peer mentor/buddy for other young people joining our projects. R says, “Since joining Options in Life I’m not so depressed anymore, I have friends and a structure to my life. When I first joined I was too nervous and shy to work in groups, but this year I re-joined the programme as a buddy, which is great!” Rob Burns, Project co-ordinator at Options in Life, said “R has always shown an interest in finding employment so our projects have been perfect for him to build new skills to add to his CV. R now needs some more hands on experience to help him find a future career. He has demonstrated most joy when working with food and in a café environment. We hope that R will be one of the many service users that will benefit from hands on experience in our café project.” From sitting at home doing nothing, to cookery and peer mentoring – R says Options in Life has changed his life.