The Recreation Program
A story by Options In Life
Our Recreation Program provides the social network and purpose to life which our adults with learning disabilities were sadly lacking.
While providing respite to carers, it allows our service users to have regular interaction with peers who understand what it means to struggle with social interaction or communication or not being as physically able as they would like to be.
The aim is to build confidence and self esteem and to help our service users achieve their full potential.
What The Recreation Program did
We expanded our Recreation Program to 2 full days of activities per week plus additional half days and evenings. Initially the new referrals came from Fife College students in their final year who had no future provision. We have gradually added new members to our groups, and are now at capacity with a list of new requests.
The expansion has helped raise our profile within the local community and as a result, Fife Council have referred several people to us. The groups have the opportunity to participate in many exciting activities, such as tubing, tank driving, rock climbing and animal handling sessions which encourage our service users to challenge themselves in an environment where they feel safe and supported. They constantly surprise themselves and us by overcoming their nerves and achieving things they would not have thought possible.
The boost in confidence this gives them helps to build their self-esteem, even changing the way they view themselves. The emphasis is on team building and peer support and we see people who were once nervous of new tasks or situations throw themselves into the activities, quick to offer encouragement to their friends.
We have expanded the range of activities this year, largely due to new partnerships with local organisations. Our service users have enjoyed music therapy sessions, willow weaving and survival courses at Cambo Estate and battle re-enactments at Bannockburn. Recently we participated in workshops run by the Dundee Science Centre. We are lucky to have patient instructors who allow our young people to go at their own pace and adapt their lessons to suit.
We have recruited 6 support staff via the St Andrews University student job shop. This has been enormously successful with the students job sharing flexibly, and being young and enthusiastic they are a huge asset to our team. We also recruited several Volunteers through Fife Voluntary Action, and have developed a very successful partnership with St Andrews University Student Voluntary Service.
Working towards sustainability, we are supporting our service users to access funding to pay for our services while subsidising those who cannot self fund.
John joined the program reluctantly, and was very withdrawn and uncommunicative initially but gradually over time he opened up, and became more sociable. Now he is one of the group's team leaders and will try anything. With our help he has gained a first aider certificate and has become an outdoor volunteer, with our support at a local country park.
John's father has been able to take a part time job which means they have some money, and are looking forward to taking a short holiday together next summer. He says John is a different person at home now, confident, outgoing and happy. Family life is settled and upbeat.
Joining our program gave him an opportunity to attain accredited training qualifications (First Aid, Health and Safety, Food Hygiene), attend an Employability course, learn how to support others less able than himself, and become a group leader.
This has given him the confidence to successfully apply for a part time job, which he said he would never have done if he hadn't joined our program.
Pam has lost a stone in weight, feels much better about herself, is keen to lose more weight and now takes regular exercise outwith the program.
What Options In Life has learnedBy running regular family events we have given carers an opportunity to network and socialise together and have realised how important and appreciated these opportunities are. We have discovered there is a common thread where as disabled children become adults, parents find that they lose the friends they had when their children were young. Life becomes very insular and there's a great need to meet families and make friends with carers in a similar situation, who understand the problems and who are non judgmental.
We were surprised at how difficult it was to recruit new high calibre support staff. It would seem that this was due to the part time and flexible nature of the posts. In the end we decided to try advertising in the University Student job shop and have never looked back. Last year we had 5 students job sharing and this year we have 6. They are young, enthusiastic, extremely popular with the service users and willing to go the extra mile. The downside is that we would rarely be able to keep the staff for more than a year, but the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages.
The staff have given their own amazing comments about their experiences and what they have learnt along the way, and through them, we were nominated last year as one of the charities to stand for election to benefit from the Student Charities Campaign. We didn't win but it was a wonderful opportunity to raise our profile.
We had not realised how extremely difficult and almost impossible it has become for families to access funding for support or respite or indeed support from Social Work in Fife in any shape or form. Unless there is a "critical need" or a "danger to life and limb" then families are not eligible for Social Work input at all.
Families and carers are left to struggle on their own and cope as best they can until they are in crisis. As millions are being cut from Fife Council's budget, this situation will only worsen. The Creative Breaks funding has allowed us to subsidise service users who have been refused Social Work or Government funding, and has given carers respite they so desperately need.