Learning Disability Week (15-21 June 2020)

An estimated 5861 people aged over 18* live with a learning difficulty, disability or Autism in Brighton & Hove.

Having a learning disability can make it harder to learn, understand, communicate or carry out everyday tasks. Many of these individuals already experience higher levels of loneliness and social isolation and this will have only been made worse by the Covid-19 lockdown.

That’s why the theme of this year’s Learning Disability Week is the importance of friendships during lockdown. 

Physical distancing can be difficult for some of the Learning Disability community, and those who are in isolation with little or no support will need help to understand guidelines to keep themselves and others safe, as well as to access the vital support or supplies they need.

Since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic the organisations and teams who work with people with learning disabilities and/or autism have been finding new ways to provide information and activities, support service-users to manage their anxieties, changes in routines and challenges, and help them keep in touch with their families and friends.

Local Learning Disability services and Covid-19

Have a look at some examples of what local services have been doing in response to the ever-changing challenges that the coronavirus has presented. We were inundated with good news stories from across the city and sadly couldn’t include them all, but here are a few. 

Beach House Respite and Emergency Service

The team at Beach House continue to provide respite to a number of service-users. They have also been able to offer new outreach support to families at risk of crisis, due to their flexible and responsive team approach.

Burwash Lodge

Our in-house Learning Disability provider service had to quickly turn an empty two bedroom flat into a CQC compliant one-person service so someone could be discharged from hospital without adding further Covid-19 risks to other tenants.

The team set up the person’s own bed and personal effects in the flat and she has been very happy there supported by her care team from home. 

Shared Lives carers

Shared Lives carers have been come up with creative and flexible ways to provide the extra support that has been required at home.

They have been cooking, having pamper sessions, exercising, crafting and learning about using social media to keep people in contact with friends. Find out more about what our Shared Lives carers have been up to.

Wellington House Day Service

Wellington House is continuing to offer 121 support for 4 or 5 particularly vulnerable service users every day. They have been making use of the garden and allotment, as well as learning about good hygiene, social distancing and wearing masks when they are out and about.

The team are keeping in contact with others by phone, email or group chats, and making use of Facebook and Zoom to share activities, photos and songs with people both at home and at the day centre.

Activity boxes have also been sent to people’s homes, providing information on Covid-19 as well as art and colouring materials.

A service user from our Disability Day Options service with a picture she has created

Windlesham Road

Staff have risen to the challenges of Covid-19, supporting a service-user admitted to hospital and discharged to an unfamiliar environment for isolation for 14 days.

Another team have responded to a possible Covid-19 case (thankfully tested negative) by completely adapting their normal work patterns to enable isolation and safe staffing levels.

Achieve together

Instead of trips to the shops or nail salon, staff have been helping with online shopping and had a go at painting nails. While they haven’t been able to visit the cinema, a projector has been set up in the lounge. And it doesn’t matter that they can’t go to the park or pool for exercise as they’ve created a mini gym in their garden. 

A few of their service users have also created a video for Campaign 4 Change – a group that meets monthly (virtually at the moment) to raise issues and advocate for individuals with learning disabilities. 

Aspirations Active

While following safety and social distancing measures, they continued to provide a service for all users and carers.

They chose five recognisable activities that promoted relationships and engagement that could also be delivered through audio or video links.

Those isolating at home were sent packs containing a ball, a musical instrument and music so they can join these activities. They also receive a call every morning and afternoon, so everyone can expect and look forward to participating in two activities each day with someone they knew well.

Brighton & Hove Speak Out

Speak Out continue to offer invaluable support to people with learning disabilities online and over the phone. They have also produced a range of Easy Read resources to help explain coronavirus and the rules we need to follow.

  • Telephone helpline - Monday-Friday 9-5 pm on 01273 421921
  • Check in calls - from Speak Out staff or a volunteer for people who are isolated and need this support.
  • Advocacy - over the phone or via video calls.
  • Online support including Zoom advocacy groups, virtual drop-in sessions (Tuesday and Wednesday 2-4 pm) and chat rooms where people with learning disabilities can get information about local support. Please contact Speak Out if you would like to join any of these.    

Grace Eyre

The Grace Eyre Friendship Group usually provides a safe and encouraging environment for service users to develop confidence and social skills.

Since lockdown they’ve opened their private Facebook page to all. This has allowed Grace Eyre to continue to provide essential information and support, and for service users to maintain their relationships with others.

They’ve also reached new audiences as membership has increased by 600%.

‘Friendship Group means that we can go out with our friends and meet up, like the pub or for bowling (before coronavirus) but now it’s good to chat on a Friday night Zoom Music and Chat night!’ - Becky

Join Grace Eyre Friendship Brighton Facebook Group or get in touch with Friendship Coordinator, Charlotte, on 07919 497429.

Becky from the Grace Eyre Friendship Group

Sharon Collins Resource Centre

The day service has created a Facebook page that is open to anyone to share ideas for activities which are particularly loved by the people we support.

Feedback has been fantastic, with messages saying how important it has been to hear familiar voices, take part in familiar activities and get to share moments with their carers even if they can’t see them. 

Team Domenica

Training staff have delivered over 300 virtual sessions over the past three months, to support more than 60 candidates. These include:

  • Group wellbeing and friendship sessions – include yoga, mindful colouring and film club – to help nurture friendships and prevent loneliness.
  • Journal discussion sessions – where candidates can share their ideas as well as record their feelings and anxieties.
  • One-to-one mentoring sessions – for candidates to discuss their feelings and for training staff to identify and provide tailored support.

"I am so impressed that within weeks of the seriousness of the situation unfolding, Team Domenica provided a fully flexible remote alternative for all candidates incorporating pastoral care, coaching, and even yoga! I really am (almost) lost for words at the continued support provided for candidates - parent

In line with the updated guidance, they are also now offering face-to-face walks and talk to gently ease candidates back into the local community.

The walks provide an opportunity to meet up with their friends safely and take regular exercise, as well as teach them how to socially-distance and keep safe – something that many of our candidates are feeling anxious about.

 “I can’t believe I’m finally seeing my mentor!” - candidate

Venture People

Alongside activities like virtual craft groups and socially distanced garden yoga, Venture People have worked with one of their service users who was experiencing confusion, anxiety and frustration at the restrictions to use his hobby of photography to make a fun guide for other people to learn what you can do. 

Photo of garden yoga taken by one of the service users at Venture People

If you need support 

Our Specialist Community Disability Service supports people with a learning disability and their family or carers to make choices, increase their opportunities or get help from local services. 

Please also share your stories or support on social media using #LDWeek2020.

* Based upon national prevalence rates, it is estimated that 5861 people aged over 18 years of age have a learning difficulty, disability or Autism living in Brighton & Hove.

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