Frontline staff at learning disability services run by national charity Hft are finding creative ways to support some of the most vulnerable adults in society during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Support workers at the Devon-based services are going the extra mile to ensure they are able to keep people safe and provide reassurance during this unsettling time. They include Lorraine Bishop, who has been a support worker in Chudleigh for a year, and is also a qualified hairdresser. The 42 year old has recently used her additional skills to help make a positive difference to one person’s lockdown experience. For Gill, who is supported at the service, having her hair cut every two to three weeks is a hugely important part of her routine, with an added head massage providing pain relief from recent mobility issues. Although maintaining this initially seemed impossible, Lorraine came to the rescue by offering to provide her hairdressing services to the people she supports. Thanks to her, Gill can now keep one aspect of her day to day routines intact, while also enjoying the relaxation and respite that comes with a visit to the hairdressers.

Also near Newton Abbott, a support worker has used an imaginative idea to create a new space for people to enjoy. When lockdown first began, Brian Lopez noticed people were missing their weekly trip to the pub, which forms an important chance to get out into the community and socialise with one another. In response, he decided to transform the shed in the service’s garden into a ‘pub’, complete with pool table, where people can now enjoy a change of scenery and a chat with housemates over a drink and some refreshments.

Emma Bagley is the Divisional Director for Hft services in the South West, and said that in the current climate staff are critical:

“I’ve been so impressed by the creative ways our staff teams have been supporting people during the pandemic. Support workers like Brian have made a huge difference by reducing the sense of anxiety people feel about the loss of activities important to them, and by helping to prevent social isolation, which is currently a particular challenge for people with learning disabilities.”

At another Hft service in Bampton, support worker Dawn Chamberlain noticed that one of the people she supports, 61 year old Glenn, was missing the groups and activities he usually attends on a weekly basis, and was keen to provide a solution. Instead of accessing the community as he normally would, Dawn created a cardboard putting green for Glenn in the garden, complete with six holes and putting flags. This has lifted Glenn’s spirits by minimising disruption to his routine, and he’s benefited from spending time outdoors and doing some exercise.

For others in Bampton, performing in a choir is an important part of many people’s day to day lives. The Holler Choir, which includes 15 people with learning disabilities, is a regular fixture at local events and members thrive on singing in front an audience. Being part of the choir has been a huge confidence booster for its members and provides a regular chance for people to get together and learn something new. While the full choir is no longer able to meet weekly to practice, registered cluster manager Kay Nicholls has replicated this routine by visiting a service to hold singing sessions. As well as boosting people’s mental health, the sessions have prevented people from feeling too far removed from their usual hobbies. Kay even led a socially distant singalong at one service earlier this month, where choir members performed to their neighbours. The event was a hit, with people across the community joining in.

In response to the pandemic, Hft recently launched Care to Join Us?, a recruitment drive calling on anyone who may have found themselves temporarily unemployed or out of work to apply for relief support worker roles.

Emma, who has been working at Hft for 13 years, added:

“Staff are the bedrock of care. In these challenging times we all have a role to play. The need for people to provide care and reassurance for adults with learning disabilities is greater than ever. Even little things can make a big difference, from supporting someone to stay in touch with loved ones to ensuring they have essential supplies, like food or medication. We are calling on anyone who may be temporarily out of work or seeking alternative employment due to the pandemic to apply for relief support workers roles at Hft and help care for some of the most vulnerable adults in society.”

For more information about permanent or temporary roles at Hft visit: www.hft.org.uk/jobs

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About Hft

Hft is a national charity supporting more than 2,500 adults with learning disabilities across England and Wales to live the best life possible. Established in 1962, the charity uses its own unique Fusion Model to consistently deliver high quality, person-centred support across all its services.

Services range from supported living to residential care – from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day. Hft also helps people with learning disabilities to take part in daily activities, make friends and develop relationships and to find work.

For more information about Hft, please visit www.hft.org.uk

Information about learning disabilities

A learning disability can be mild, moderate, severe or profound and is defined as having a reduced ability to:

  • Understand new or complex information
  • Learn new skills
  • Live independently

For more information about learning disabilities, please visit www.hft.org.uk/resources-and-guidance