Although this year’s Learning Disability Week looks a little different, we want to celebrate the people we support and everything they’ve achieved over the last year.

During the pandemic, people with learning disabilities across the country have not only adapted to the changes to their lives, but also demonstrated their commitment to maintaining friendships, supporting each other and their communities, and taking parts in acts of kindness.

With a little help from my friends – Luv2meetU members buddy up

When the Coronavirus pandemic meant that Luv2meetU, Hft’s friendship and dating service, had to transform its programme of events into a virtual calendar, members of the service stepped up to support one another through a difficult time.

One of the people reaching out to help others is Neil, who has been a Luv2meetU volunteer for several years, regularly providing travel support for other members, and running a regular quiz. Since lockdown, he’s been quick to adapt and is now flourishing in a new role, where he runs regular quizzes from home and contacts other members as a telephone buddy.

Responsible for checking in on five Luv2meetU members who often don’t have access to social media or find it difficult to use, Neil calls each person once a week for a friendship catch-up. Neil never misses a call, and, alongside other support offered by Luv2meetU staff, has become a vital source of support during a period when people might be struggling with isolation.

Neil said:

“The pandemic is difficult for people who are lonely and isolated and stuck indoors with nothing to do. I wanted to be a buddy so I can support people who are isolated and lonely. I support five people and the responsibility is ringing people up and chatting to them. The success is having a nice chat with friends. I like helping people because I get recognised and it also allows me to get over my own loneliness during lockdown.”

Sacha Samms, Project Development Worker at Luv2meetU, said:

“Neil is an absolute legend – he’s motivated, dedicated and organised, and this skill set makes him the perfect member volunteer. Before the pandemic, Neil was a bus buddy with impeccable navigation skills and also our resident quiz master. He’s adapted to the changes caused by the pandemic fantastically, and his virtual quizzes are always a crowd favourite! Most importantly, the calls he makes really do keep people going. During a time that is already challenging for everyone, it’s been amazing to see Neil lending important support to other people with learning disabilities, who might really need a friendly ear.”

People in Bristol build an outdoor kitchen

When routines were disrupted as a result of the pandemic, people supported at one of our Bristol services found an inspiring solution. Following the introduction of lockdown, people struggled with the change to their lifestyles; they weren’t able to enjoy activities in their community, they couldn’t get their weekly communal takeaway, and regular visits to the pub to socialise were no longer possible.

That’s when they came up with the idea of creating an outdoor kitchen in the garden, setting the challenge of taking on all of the building work themselves! People supported at the service immediately got to work, and were supported to take ownership of the whole project from start to finish. From picking up woodworking skills and learning how to use power tools safely, to deciding which tools to use and making design and decorative choices, the project was completely guided by the people at the service. Staff observed how the initiative has helped to relieve anxiety and boost wellbeing by providing people with a sense of structure, and an activity to look forward to each day. Through developing new practical skills, people have also enjoyed a boost of confidence, with project leader and support worker James photographing the whole initiative so everyone can be reminded of their hard work.

Building work is now complete, and everyone at the service is enjoying the fruits of their labour. Complete with an outdoor pizza oven, barbeques and comfortable handcrafted seating areas, the new space has brought everyone at the service together. The group’s weekly Wednesday takeaway has been reinstated, but now takes the form of a communal meal cooked outdoors, while a new seating area resembles a pub garden where people can catch up, socialise and play games. Thanks to the hard work of everyone at the service, they are all now able to enjoy a shared space that will last long after the pandemic.

Dionne, who is supported at the service, said:

“I really liked working hard on the outdoor kitchen and garden project. I’m proud of my new skills and am going to tell my mum what we did. It’s good to eat outside.”

Heather steps up to the challenge

Heather is supported at an Hft service in Stratford upon Avon but is currently staying with her family to avoid the risk of infection. When she heard about charities losing out on valuable sponsorship due to the cancellation of many fundraising events, she was keen to do her bit and make a difference. After some research, Heather decided to raise money by walking 26,000 steps as part of the 2.6 challenge, a nationwide fundraiser encouraging people to raise money for UK charities in creative ways.

The 33 year old stepped up immediately and, joined by her dog Molly, began taking daily walks around her village. After five days of walking, Heather was delighted to have raised £125 for Hft by beating her target to complete 36,000 steps!

Heather’s generosity means Hft will be able to continue purchasing essential supplies to support staff and people with learning disabilities through the pandemic.

Heather said:

“The highlight of the challenge was reaching the end goal. I’ve written a letter to my three housemates to tell them about my fundraising.”