Frontline staff at a learning disability service in Stroud are finding creative ways to support some of the most vulnerable adults in society during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Support workers at the service, which is run by national learning disability charity Hft, are going the extra mile to ensure they are able to keep people safe and provide reassurance during this unsettling time.

They include Janneke Bax-Pratt. The 23 year old senior support worker has been working at the charity since 2017, and supports seven people at a residential Stroud service which was rated as ‘Outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in 2018. Janneke supports people including Rob, an avid painter whose exhibition at a local gallery was cancelled in March as a result of the pandemic. Staff were keen to ease his disappointment and encouraged him to use the extra time at home to experiment with new artistic techniques. They sourced new materials for him to use and as a result, Rob has started using mixed media to enhance his work, with support staff noting that this has had a positive impact on his mental health, expanded his creative horizons and helped him to remain motivated to work towards a future exhibition.

Other people supported at the service include Sally. Routine is important to help her manage her anxiety so staff have supported her to make use of a dedicated space where she’s been encouraging her housemates to share her creative interests and join her in sewing, pottery and painting. This has helped to minimise the disruption to her routines caused by social isolation and provided calming and creative activities for everyone at the service.

People supported by the service also usually love spending time outdoors, and regularly visit local attractions including parks and butterfly farms. While this is no longer possible, staff have encouraged the group, who are all self-isolating together, to spend time outside and helped to identify ways to maximise the facilities they already have. During the sunny weather, the group have been mowing their lawn, planting seeds and exercising in the fresh air. Janneke Bax-Pratt said: “This has boosted wellbeing by bringing the group together, resulting in new friendships and a distraction from the often overwhelming outside world.”

People at other Hft services in the Gloucestershire area have been doing their bit by knitting mask straps for healthcare workers to use. After hearing that Shelagh and Linda, who are also supported in Stroud, were keen to make a contribution to those on the frontline, support worker Lindsey Davis suggested the pair knit mask straps to send to local NHS staff. Lindsey brought in knitting needles and wool from home and gave Shelagh and Linda step by step guidance on how to put the straps together. The project has been a huge success, boosting morale by providing the ladies with new skills and a creative outlet. The pair have now produced more than 20 straps and were delighted when a local healthcare team has requested the first batch.

Janneke Bax-Pratt said:

“This is a really troubling time for people with learning disabilities especially and it feels good to use my skills to reassure people and provide some much-needed emotional support. We’ve also worked hard to come up with more creative ways to support people to do the things that matter to them during this difficult time. My job satisfaction is at an all-time high at the moment and it’s great to know that I’m contributing to the national effort to keep vulnerable people safe.”

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.

Janet Humphry, Regional Manager at Hft Gloucestershire, said:

“Staff are the bedrock of care and 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