The Recreation Program
A story by Options In Life
Options in Life ran social activities and skills development programme for isolated young adults with learning disabilities living in Fife.
The programme ran 2 full days each week, plus an extra half day most weeks, and regular evenings. Up to 15 adults with learning disabilities were accommodated on each outing.
What The Recreation Program did
We recruited 4 part time support staff, University students, on a job share basis. They brought a wealth of different sporting skills (sailing, rock climbing, skiing, kayaking, golf, football, ice hockey) to our program, as well as youth, enthusiasm and much good humour.
Our pool of service users has increased by half, with referrals from ENABLE Scotland, Fife College, Fife Social Services and Fife Employability. We have run our Recreation Program two full days a week, plus an additional half day of activities and some evenings.
Our Recreation Program concentrates on character and team building activities, and facing challenges. Activities have included sailing, rock climbing, tank driving, tubing, go karting, animal handling, kayaking, survival skills training, maritime skills training, archery, paint balling, laser tagging and team building exercises on a farm, also visits to museums and science centres.
Our extra half day per week focused on developing employability and independence skills. We have had more than 30 young people taking part in activities, in blocks of 8-10 sessions. These included work experience opportunities on a country estate, a farm, at a country park and a zoo, at Kellie Castle where the participants gained experience of working in all areas of the castle, grounds and tearoom.
We have a link with Dundee Science Centre who ran a series of CSI workshops for us, and with 4ARTS who delivered blocks of glass fusing workshops for us. In addition we supported service users to attain certificates and qualifications in various areas, including Food Hygiene and First Aid.
Carers in general have reported a marked improvement in behavioural issues due to our service users’ increased confidence and self worth, and consequently a reduction in stress within the family and improved family life. The time carers have gained for themselves every week means they are better able to cope in their caring role.
Some carers are using the time to meet up with friends or relax, some have increased their hours at work, two have taken on voluntary work, to try something different, and one has taken up golf.
However, now that their son has grown up, their lives are very different from other people’s. Most families expect their children to grow up, become independent, leave home and lead their own lives. That doesn’t happen when you are the parents of a young adult with special needs.
These parents described how that had gradually lost all their friends, and become very isolated. The friends, who no longer had responsibility for their families, had moved on into a very different type of social life, which these parents didn’t fit into with their son.
We invited the family to one of our family get together's. They immediately became regulars, have become friends with other families in the same situation and have now developed a social life together, outwith Options In Life.
This is actually a very common story amongst our parents, and it’s very rewarding to know that we have been able help isolated parents make friends and develop a social life again.
Since then, he had become completely isolated, with no friends, no social life and no interests outside the home. He spent more and more time in his bedroom on his own, didn’t even want to go out with his parents, was depressed, and, out of frustration, was becoming increasingly aggressive towards his parents and siblings. He joined our programme, one day per week – and is loving it.
He is very popular with the other service users and has become “best friends” with one of the other young men in the group. Alan is happy and smiling, has become more confident, has an increased self worth and his behaviour at home has changed completely. Alan’s mum has a whole day to herself every week.
When our minibus picks Alan up in the morning, she has plans to spend the day with friends, go shopping, or just relax and have a break. Alan’s whole outlook has taken such a turn for the better that, for the first time ever, he has been away on holiday for a week with another family member, which allowed his mum and dad to have a week away on their own.
Alec joined one of our employability projects, at a National Trust property, where he had various work experience opportunities in the grounds, in the castle and in the tearoom. He really enjoyed working in the tearoom, and our staff supported the castle staff and Alec to work together and understand each other. The result was that Alec was offered a permanent part time job there, and it’s all going really well.
Alec is really happy and having a job that he can cope with has given him a real confidence boost.
What Options In Life has learnedBy expanding our service to include work experience opportunities and employability skills development, we have realised how great a need there is for that sort of service. There is not enough support available to ease people with additional support needs into employment demand for places on our sessions has far exceeded expectations, and by offering blocks of different activities, young people have been able to choose to attend what they are interested in.
We have been surprised at how many organisations, international companies like IKEA, as well as local estates and businesses, are keen to engage with these projects. There are some very strong personalities in one of our new groups of young people.
This group presented a new set of challenges, with completely different and challenging behavioural issues, mostly stemming from rivalry within the group. Working with this group requires a different set of skills and our support team has had to adapt their approach. Over time, and with focus on team building, the group is settling down, however, and friendships are developing.
Families are struggling more and more to get any support at all from cash strapped Fife Council. We were very taken aback to learn that 3 of our young people (who had been funding their day with Options In Life via Self Directed Support) had their Self Directed Support withdrawn without notice. On enquiring, the families have all been informed that they are no longer eligible because their situation has been reassessed and is now not considered to be critical.
None of them had been advised at the offset that their Self Directed Support funding was short term, or that it could be withdrawn without warning. These are young adults with learning disabilities who have no other provision.
Without the funding from Creative Breaks we would not be able to continue subsidising these young people who have no access to other support or funding. Increasingly we are being contacted by carers who are not only looking for provision for a young person they care for, but are also looking for advice and help on how to go about accessing other funding and support.