Maximising outdoor space and expanding creative horizons are just some of the ways that frontline staff at learning disability services across the UK have been supporting vulnerable adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Support workers at the services, run by national 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 27 year-old Abby Howard who has been working at the charity’s Bristol service for the last four years. One of the ways she and her colleagues have been supporting people through the pandemic has been by helping them to maximise the potential of the communal spaces in their home.
This has included setting up flowerbeds and vegetable patches in the garden. Adrian (pictured left), who is usually particularly active in his community, has taken a leading role in maintaining the outdoor space, enabling him to develop his organisational skills and boosting his confidence by giving him additional responsibilities.
For people at the service with high sensory needs, a new sensory herb garden has been introduced. Based on staff members’ specialist knowledge, the new space is filled with items that stimulate the senses, ranging from a scented curry leaf plant to brightly coloured flowers for visual stimulation and nearby outdoor musical instruments.
In addition to maximising the outdoor space, the staff team has also planned activities centred around people’s interests, to tackle low moods caused by being unable to take part in their usual activities.
This included staging a concert screening for two Westlife superfans. After spotting the newly released concert DVD, Registered Cluster Manager James Baker arranged a projector, concert seating, and even homemade tickets in honour of the special showing for the whole household.
Over at an Hft service in Devon, 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, where choir members performed to their neighbours. The event was a hit, with people across the community joining in.
Another support worker going the extra mile is Janneke Bax-Pratt, who has been a support worker in Stroud for three years. She supports people including Rob (pictured above), 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.
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 Bagley, Divisional Director at Hft, said: “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.”